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The Sporting Spirit

There is nothing “little league” about youth sports. It is big business, and communities are investing millions of dollars in their parks and recreation departments to pull in these events that bring new visitors — and their wallets.

That was a driving reason behind Joe Maxwell launching The Sporting Spirit, a monthly statewide publication focused on youth sports. After just a few issues, Maxwell, who serves as publisher and editor, and his team are seeing response go through the roof.

“Mississippians love their kids, and they love their sports,” Maxwell said. “So, we have a winning combination.”

Finding a winner

The Sporting Spirit’s early success continues a career-long string for the 46-year-old Maxwell. A resident of Jackson, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English and psychology from the University of Mississippi before receiving a master’s degree in communications from Wheaton University.

Maxwell went on to the editorial staff at Christianity Today magazine and served as a beat reporter at two Chicago-area newspapers, where he won several awards. He served as national editor of World magazine, and still is a World correspondent, as well as a free lance writer for other national publications.

In 1993, Maxwell returned to Mississippi, where, in addition to free lance work, he has ghost written books. His non-profit publishing company, The Well Writers’ Guild, won recognition for “Camp DeSoto: A History.” He recently completed “Amidst the Fray,” the story of W.D. Mounger, and his history of the founding of the Mississippi Republican Party, co-written with Wirt Yerger Jr., is due out this fall. And, Maxwell is currently writing a biography of Mississippi industrialist and philanthropist Stuart C. Irby Jr.

Maxwell says he developed a desire to return to his newspaper/magazine roots, and started looking around for a niche. When he looked at the numbers and demographics of youth sports, he saw his opportunity. (In addition to his writing career, Maxwell served as founding headmaster of The Veritas School in Jackson, and coached football at Jefferson High School in Fayette as well as Veritas.)

In April of this year, the inaugural edition of The Sporting Spirit hit the streets, and the magazine came out of the blocks flying. Already, the publication is available at 170 drop sites statewide (metro Jackson, Southaven, Horn Lake, Oxford, New Albany, Tupelo, Starkville, Gulfport, Meridian, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, Wiggins and Laurel), and Maxwell says more are already needed. The staff is currently delivering 15,000 to 20,000 copies per month, with the heaviest concentration in the metro Jackson area.

More impressively, this success has come with the help of generally part-time workers and family. Maxwell hired a former Belhaven College student, Daniel Townsend, as editorial assistant (Maxwell is also journalist in residence at Belhaven), but the rest of the staff is part-time or family, including Maxwell’s wife, Rosanne.

More than numbers

The Sporting Spirit contains feature stories, as well as pieces on skills and techniques, sportsmanship and even injuries. However, perhaps the publication’s strongest draw is its photo pages. Each page is dedicated to a sport and specific age group, and contains a collage of photos of players from teams scattered across the state.

While thrilled with the success and numbers, Maxwell says there is higher ideal at play with The Sporting Spirit.

“It would be great if I could do this full time,” Maxwell says. “But, I didn’t start this as pure money-making idea. I’m a people person. I want to make a difference. And, I’ve been blessed to get people here who want to make a difference, as well.”

Maxwell says his goal is for The Sporting Spirit to become part of the community — add to the fabric of the quality of life for Mississippians. He says that involves joining local chambers of commerce and other efforts to make the publication more and more a household name.

He says his measure of success is a bit outside the norm.

“When I get an e-mail from a parent or grandparent saying a photo or story made their kid’s day, that thrills me,” he says. “I have five kids, and they all play sports. I know how important this is, not just to the kids, but also their parents and grandparents.”

For more on The Sporting Spirit, visit www.thesportingspirit.com.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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