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EAST GARFIELD PARK — Jason Ferguson is an aspiring Black historian, a poet, track coach and Marine Corps veteran. He recently added 11-time Senior Olympic medalist to his resume.
Fresh off his wins in the Illinois Senior Olympics this summer, the East Garfield Park resident is now working to instill his love of physical fitness and friendly competition in West Side kids.
Ferguson, 57, has always enjoyed staying active, including playing basketball and racing against – and even beating – people half his age. Never lacking in his competitive spirit, he decided to try his hand in the Illinois Senior Olympics over the summer.
As one of only three Chicagoans at the games, he participated in eleven different events and won medals in every competition in which he participated: One bronze, four silver, and six gold. The Senior Olympics is held over the summer in Springfield and is open to residents aged 50 and over.
He competed in jump rope, basketball free throws — where he made 22 of 25 shots — bowling, ping pong as a single and doubles competitor, pickleball and multiple track events.
Ferguson is now hoping to have as big an impact training others as he has had in organized competition.
His wins in the Senior Olympics coincides with his GOlympians Track Team group expanding its efforts to help Black West Siders discover opportunities for sports they may not have been previously given opportunities to play.
After 8 years and spending roughly $100,000 of his own money, Ferguson said he recently made GOlympians an official 501(c) nonprofit and has received Chicago Park District approval to host practices at the Garfield Park field house, 138 S. Hamlin Blvd.
Hoping to expand the types of sports available to West Siders, Ferguson’s GOlympians encourages young men ages 6-to-18-years-old to consider “alternative sports” outside the classics offered at most parks and schools. GOlympians trains kids in tennis, badminton, track and pickleball.
Ferguson believes many young Black men in the neighborhood lack confidence and hope. Through his nonprofit endeavor, Ferguson said he seeks to inspire men and women through athletic competition to be their best selves and learn to take care of themselves and others.
Exposure to sports has plenty of practical benefits, including possible college scholarships, networking and an increased sense of community, he said.
“I think it’s important to show young kids out here different sports besides football and basketball that provide the same opportunities to get a college education,” Ferguson said. “Not everyone playing those sports can go pro, but they will get a far better opportunity in life with the exposure.”
Born in Shaw, Mississippi, Ferguson remembers using outhouses and buckets to bathe in while his white neighbors used toilets and a hot shower. He moved to Chicago and settled in East Garfield Park when he was 14-years-old.
Ferguson attended John Marshall High School and enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduation, serving more than a decade as a maintenance clerk in countries including Japan and Korea.
After retiring from active duty, Ferguson became a track-and-field coach and teacher at Marshall High School, even crossing paths with NBA basketball player Patrick Beverley.
After a stint working an administrative job at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, Ferguson was recently hired as a physical education teacher at Jacob Beidler Elementary School in East Garfield Park.
When he is not playing tennis or pickleball – a sport he recently has grown to love – Ferguson is often learning and writing about Black history, particularly military history.
Ferguson graduated from Northeastern University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He plans to write a book detailing Black military leaders and outfits, ranging from the Harlem Hellfighters in World War I, to Black Union soldiers in the Civil War to the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.
Ferguson is not entirely new to writing. He most recently recited several poems about Black history during the grand opening of Urban Essentials Coffee Cafe in Austin.
“These stories of our deaths and our sacrifices are not new to us, but I’m hoping to really expand that to those that want to learn our history,” he said.
And though Ferguson has ventured into history and poetry writing, he still finds time to participate in athletic events.
After his success at the state games, Ferguson said he plans to participate in the USA Track & Field Masters Indoor Championships in March and hopes to qualify for the 2025 National Senior Games as well.
“I know there’s no guarantee that I’ll win any of the events, but I know I’ve got the long jump down,” he said. “That’s definitely mine for sure.”
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