When Marge Griffin helped organize the first “Three on Three for JG” basketball tournament, she thought it would be a one-time event to honor her son, Jimmy Griffin, who died in September 2009.
However, it looks like she was wrong.
The eighth edition of the Three on Three for JG tourney was held on March 25 at Mother McAuley High School with the tournament, a basketball clinic, raffles, gift baskets, a DJ and a performance by the Larkin Brothers highlighting the day.
“We thought the first one would be the only one. It’s just evolved and snowballed,” Marge said. “We’ve continued doing it. Jimmy kind of thought he ran the South Side, so we thought he would run the South Side in March Madness.”
A Marist High School graduate, Jimmy Griffin continued his academic and athletic career at Samford University in Alabama. During his senior season, Griffin died in his sleep on Sept. 8 from an undetected heart condition.
In honoring their son, the Griffin Family, Marge and her husband, John, and their children, Meg and John Jr., turned to the sport Jimmy loved best: basketball.
The tribute started as just a basketball tournament, but it has continued to grow in the years since. Thousands came out for the day-long event on March 25.
Jimmy’s older sister, Meg Gardner, said she never tires of seeing the enthusiastic energy of the annual event.
“It just warms your heart to see how many people come out here year after year to celebrate my brother and support our family,” Gardner said. “It makes us proud that Jimmy’s legacy continues and lives on through the things he loved most, the South Side and basketball.”
An addition to the tournament in recent years has been a skills clinic for young basketball players in grades first-fourth. St. Laurence High School Assistant Coach Jim Sexton, an Evergreen Park resident, helped run the clinic with help from area coaches Gene Nolan of Marist, Bobby Frasor of Br. Rice, Jim Maley of St. Laurence, and Mother McAuley Athletic Director Laurie Jakubczak.
Sexton worked with Griffin on shooting and fundamentals while Jimmy was at Samford. Seeing an impressive turnout of young basketball players, Sexton could not have imagined a better tribute.
“This means a lot, and I know it would mean a ton to Jimmy to see all the little kids at the skills camp,” Sexton said. “They’re taking the exact same path where he had a basketball since he was a kid all the way to playing Division-I ball.”
The clinic had its young campers working on shooting, passing and ball-handling drills, giving young athletes an early start in improving their game.
“The most fun part is these kids learning the game,” Sexton said. “They’re getting that fundamental base. It’s nice to start at the ground floor and build that love for the game.”
Griffin’s basketball coach at Marist, Gene Nolan, couldn’t help but smile while talking about his former player. Nolan met Jimmy Griffin at a basketball camp while his future player was in elementary school.
“Jimmy loved basketball,” Nolan said. “He was the greatest teammate on every team he played on. That’s the best way I can say it. This is a great tribute to him. He was driven and passionate, and people gravitated to him wherever he was. What a great event.”
The basketball tournament and the Jimmy Griffin Legacy Foundation have raised over $272,000 in the past seven years, including $40,000 this year. The foundation supports scholarships, area churches, high schools and elementary schools with academic and athletic supplies.
A teacher at St. Bede Elementary School, Marge said she continues to see kids wearing JG shirts, kids who never even knew Jimmy but continue to talk about him and his tournament.
She could not think of a better way to honor her son.
“It’s kind of saved me to do this. I don’t want him or his name forgotten,” Marge said. “I never dreamt it would evolve to this, but it is a great testimony to him that people keep coming out.”