St. Dominic Health Services in Jackson, Miss., has teamed with two professional football players with local roots to develop a sports-conditioning center for aspiring young athletes.
The center is called D1 Jackson, and it opened in May 2013 on land the hospital owns in the fast-growing suburb of Madison, north of Mississippi's capital city. It is one of 19 D1 centers in 15 states that are designed to provide college-quality fitness training. Hence the name D1, or "Division One" — the highest level of intercollegiate competition in the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
D1 Sports Holding, the parent company of D1 Jackson, was founded in 2002 by Will Bartholomew of Nashville, Tenn., a former University of Tennessee fullback who suffered a career-ending knee injury as a rookie with the Denver Broncos. Fellow professional athletes serve as partners for each of the D1 centers.
Most of the D1 centers are in the South, but they're also as far north as Columbus, Ohio, and Green Bay, Wis.
In Jackson, the partners with St. Dominic's are Michael Oher, an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens who played for the University of Mississippi; and Antonio Johnson, a defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans who played at Mississippi State University. Oher's story as a young athlete in Memphis, Tenn., was depicted in the 2009 movie, The Blind Side.
Deidra Bell, chief financial officer at St. Dominic Health Services, said St. Dominic Hospital owns the land and a majority interest in D1 Jackson. Bell said St. Dominic's wants the center to become the keystone of a larger athletics complex for youths and fitness-minded adults throughout Mississippi.
"We have a strong focus on health and wellness and we want to be able to deliver throughout our whole area," said Bell. "People here really get excited about sports, especially when you can connect to professional players with local connections. St. Dominic's is happy to be able to leverage that in a way that can help young athletes achieve their goals in a safe environment."
D1 Jackson opened in May in a 20,000-square-foot facility that includes an indoor practice field, weight rooms and classrooms. Staff members and trainers, including health professionals from the hospital, work with students to improve strength, agility and fitness. It is not a skills camp for specific sports.
The center is on part of 400 acres that St. Dominic's began buying 10 years ago with hopes of building a second hospital in the north suburbs, about 15 miles from its main campus in Jackson. Twice denied permission to do that by the state certificate of need process, St. Dominic's now has plans for the athletic complex, medical offices and other satellite health services.
Bell said St. Dominic's was drawn to D1 because of its reputation for building character as well as bodies. "We want to promote safe, healthy sports, with partners who can set good examples for the youth," she said. "We see the D1 concept as a strong cultural fit."
Bartholomew, D1's founder, said the centers always join with a local health care partner and St. Dominic's is one of six affiliated hospitals in the D1 system. Each D1 center also has partners who are professional athletes, including quarterbacks Peyton Manning in Tennessee, where he played college football; and Tim Tebow in Florida, where he was a college star.
Bartholomew said D1 is a faith-based organization that seeks partners "who have strong character and a passion for helping others." He said he was confident that D1 could work with St. Dominic's after he met hospital president Lester Diamond in their early, exploratory talks.
"Lester understood our mission, business model and goals," Bartholomew said. "I'm proud to call St. Dominic's a partner."
Ron Rickel, vice president of sales and marketing for D1 Sports Holdings, said the average price paid by a participant at a D1 center is $140 per month. Rickel said the typical participant trains three times each week, making the effective hourly rate $11 to $12.
Oher and Johnson, St. Dominic's athlete partners, both trained at the D1 center in Nashville, while preparing for the National Football League draft. Johnson, who grew up in a small town in the Mississippi Delta, spoke at D1 Jackson's opening ceremony and said he wished he could have had D1-quality training when he was a teenager.
D1's programs serve youths 7 through college age, beginning with basic fitness and moving to improvements in agility and speed. D1 also has adult programs for strength and conditioning. Bell said many of the participants are high school athletes who want to get better in their sports.
St. Dominic's already has three playing fields on the land next to the D1 center, an amenity that Bartholomew said is unique to D1's 19 locations. Bell said the long-range plan for the site is to find other local partners to expand with more fields for soccer, football, baseball and softball that can serve thousands of local youths and attract regional and national tournaments.
"There is a strong need for a safe place for youth to compete, and St. Dominic's wants to provide for that in a growing part of our community," Bell said.
St. Dominic Hospital has more than 500 licensed beds and satellite health centers in the greater Jackson area. Its origins are the Jackson Infirmary, which came under sponsorship of the Dominican Sisters from Springfield, Ill., in 1946 and was renamed St. Dominic Hospital.
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