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Memphis Grizzlies ball kid experience connects kids with role models right here at home

What’s your favorite sports memory from childhood?

For most of us, it’s scoring our first goal in a soccer game or watching our favorite team win against their rivals at the buzzer. For Emerson Callahan, it’s a little more hands-on.

“Getting rebounds for Marc Gasol!” says nine-year-old Emerson. “Or passing the ball with Wayne Sheldon and Mike Conley. That was pretty cool, too. Being close to the players and getting to meet them is so much fun.”

Emerson Callahan throwing in the ball as a ball kid for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Emerson was able to make these memories when she was a ball kid for the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team. She and her brother, Jennings (6), have both gotten to hit the court alongside pro players, thanks in part to a BlueCross sponsorship. It’s fun because it’s the NBA, says Emerson’s father Jason Callahan, but it’s magical because of the players. 

“What I love most is the fact that the players will engage with the kids,” says Callahan, VP of HR and Risk Management for TruckPro. “They’ll pass the ball back and forth and pose for pictures and give them high fives as they’re coming out for the starting lineup. Both of my kids play basketball, so it means a lot for them to get that kind of attention.”

Grit, grind, get the ball

Connecting children with real-life heroes is one reason BlueCross has been a long-time sponsor of the Grizzlies. Passing balls, smiling on the Jumbotron, standing with the players in the lineup — the whole experience is thrilling, and sometimes even more so for the adults.

“I think my kids enjoy the hoopla of being on the floor with the sounds and the party as much as they enjoy meeting the players. It’s funny because that means I’m the one who’s star struck!” Callahan says, laughing. “There’s a real sense of community here in Memphis, and I love seeing that in action.” 

Connecting to community

To most of us, a million people is not a small town — but Memphians are not most people.

“I grew up as a military brat all around the world,” says Callahan. “Being a transplant here allowed me to see all the pride people take in being Memphians. Even though a million people live here, Memphis feels like a small town.”

Callahan got plugged into that community quickly. His wife, Emily, is CMO for ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The world-class facility treats children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases free of charge. It was at St. Jude that Callahan had some of his first interactions with Grizzlies players.

“When you see Grizz staff or players out in the community, they’re often supporting St. Jude or one of the other great non-profits we have here,” he says. “I think that shows just how much crossover there is — people want to support each other, and that starts with some of our larger local employers: FedEx, AutoZone, ServiceMaster, International Paper, and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, whose people I’ve gotten to know well over the years.”

Feeling good, doing good

“BlueCross always strives to partner with entities in the community that promote wellness, and the Grizzlies are at the top of that list,” says John Maki, VP of sales and account management for BlueCross.

“Over the years, we’ve partnered with the Grizzlies to go to underserved communities and fix up parks, playgrounds and basketball courts because we want to be sure our kids have somewhere to go to be healthy,” says Maki. “We also want to make sure they have positive role models to look up to. The ball kid experience is part of that.” 

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