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The City Journals

Westridge Academy Develops Youth with Sports

Oct 07, 2016 01:57PM ● By Greg James

The baseball team at Westridge Academy has one victory this season, but that number is not what is important to the team. (Jamie Keefer/Westridge Academy)

By Greg James | [email protected]

Winning games is not the most important thing at Westridge Academy in West Jordan. Developing at risk young men and women into productive members of society is the main goal.

“We are a residential treatment center for at-risk youth,” Westridge Athletic Director Jamie Keefer said. “It is a private school, and the students live on campus. We have participated in athletics for about 30 years.” 

The school serves youth ages 9–18; it was formerly known as the Boys Ranch. Westridge Academy has been open since 1964; on its West Jordan campus there are currently 50 students, and the academy can house as many as 150. It is a program designed to help heal teens and their families struggling with drugs, alcohol dependency, behavior problems and some criminal issues.

“We won seven straight region titles in baseball and a basketball title recently, but we aren’t building athletes,” Keefer said. “We are building young men and young women. We want them to go back into society and have the skills to cope. We want to show them it is OK to make a mistake and still be a productive part of the world.” 

Westridge competes in the Utah High School Activities Association Region 18, which is part of the 1A classification. The students live on campus. They attend normal school eight periods a day and also receive counseling and additional training to cope with their outside world problems.

“The basketball games are very exciting.,” Keefer said. “We have pep rallies, a lot of good stuff. Westridge is a very special place. The young men and women here are unbelievable. I have developed friendships for life,” Keefer said.

The goal at Westridge is to help a troubled teen and their families to live happier and healthier lives. Some students come from local households; others have come from as far away as Bermuda. 

Kasia Matthews graduated from Westridge last spring. She was the two-time defending state 100-and 200-meter champion. She ran the 100 at the state track meet one half a second faster than anyone else in her classification. Her time of 12.8 seconds was the seventh-fastest time in the state last year. 

The 1A school competes in baseball and volleyball in the fall, boys and girls basketball in the winter and track in the spring. 

“At the beginning of this year, I thought we might not win a baseball game this season,” Keefer said. “We have really turned things around.”

Keefer attributes his team’s turnaround to a trip to Manilla. After losing a game they participated in a team building exercise. The Manilla head coach took them on a tour of the jail. 

“That was a turning point for these kids,” Keefer said. “Since then we seem to be a family. They saw that people care about them. They live together 24 hours a day and learned to trust each other. Westridge is a special place. I have kids that have kept in touch with me for years.”