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Fire kindling? Nah, donated Hayward Jazz jerseys put to much better use

SALT LAKE CITY — After the #stayward campaign went #wayward when Gordon Hayward chose Boston over Utah, videos of No. 20 uniform cremations circulated on social media.

The jersey burnings gave Jazz fan Zach Harding an idea. Why not put the G-Time clothes to good use by donating them to kids in Africa instead of testing their flammability?

Utah Jazz fans burned a Gordon Hayward jersey after Hayward announced he was signing with the Celtics. (h/t @Jcougar23/Twitter)

Posted by NBC Sports on Wednesday, July 5, 2017

“We’d be excited,” Harding said at the time, “to see a bunch of little kids running around with Jazz jerseys in Ghana.”

Several months later, that vision turned into a fun reality.

Harding’s Salt Lake City-based company, Medical Review Institute of America, was already fundraising to provide hygiene kits and school supplies for residents in rural villages. They also were heading to Ghana with the Bountiful-based World Joy Foundation for the dedication of a new medical clinic, which his company funded.

Through their efforts and donations from Jazz fans and Pro Image Sports, their humanitarian-minded group recently was able to provide more than 200 items of clothing and apparel to appreciative recipients on the West Africa coast.

“It was an awesome experience,” Harding said.

Though the original idea was to collect bonfire-bound Hayward apparel, the group also received an unused autographed Deron Williams No. 8 Jazz jersey, 140 Jr. Jazz shirts (even revered numbers like 12 and 27), various Jazz T-shirts and — be sure to tell your friends on the Golden State bandwagon — shirts that pronounced the Warriors to be the 2016 NBA Finals champions (made before the 3-1 meltdown happened, no doubt).

Whether the shirts spread false news (Cleveland won the 2016 championship) or give false hope of a different reality (Hayward still sporting a Utah uniform), the donated clothes were greatly appreciated by people who mostly didn’t know the difference or, for that matter, didn’t have a clue who and what Hayward and the Jazz even are.

“I think they were mainly excited to have jerseys,” Harding said.

One Ghanaian in a village called Abomosu was particularly pleased.

Ghanaian Dennis Agyekum, an Abomosu coach, teacher and sports director, is all smiles in his white Gordon Hayward jersey that was given to him by Zach Harding after being donated. | Courtesy Zach Harding

Dennis Agyekum, a sports director, coach and teacher at the village school, organizes a sports festival for kids. Harding’s group gave him an authentic Hayward jersey to wear for himself and gave dozens of Jr. Jazz jerseys and T-shirts for the kids to use (and reuse) when they compete in the festival. (By the way, some Ghanaians play basketball, but soccer and track and field are the most popular sports.)

“When we told him we were going to give him all the jerseys, he was just so excited and grateful,” Harding said. “That was really cool to have that come together.”

Agyekum sent the Utahn photos of participants in the Jazz gear from the most recent sports festival.

A golf pro named Daniel at the Coconut Grove Golf Club ended up with a signed D-Will jersey that still had its $100 price tag on it.

“He didn’t know who the Jazz were,” Harding said, laughing, “ but he thought it was pretty cool.”

Jazz fans used to as well.

Those who went on this humanitarian trip from MRIoA and World Joy were gratified to be there for the medical clinic’s dedication in the village located in the Atiwa District in the eastern region of Ghana. Harding and co-workers had raised money to help Ghanaians in need. They sold food on pizza days and Muffin Monday, put on a BBQ and organized a summer carnival.

Medical Review Institute employees also collected thousands of dollars in donations to help villagers in need take advantage of the medical clinic. The clinic is for everybody but especially aims to help women. Medical insurance for a year costs seven American dollars per person — lunch money for Americans but more than many people in the third-world country can afford — so that Christmas gift went a long way.

World Joy focuses its efforts on "one village at a time," the organization's philanthropic mantra. They're spreading good within the Atiwa District, with hopes of possibly expanding to other villages and districts.

The group also spent time in Abomusu at a guest house, which was previously built by World Joy. Their activities there included interacting with locals, including making crafts — clothespin airplanes and popsicle stick picture frames — with kids.

The group was also part of building a bridge on a path between two villages with local villagers in Asunafo, a neighboring village of Abomosu. Myan Moon, a 14-year-old Boy Scout from Kaysville, raised $1,000 for the bridge supplies for his Eagle project in conjunction with World Joy. Moon and his father, Nathan, joined the MRIoA group on the expedition.

"The bridge experience was amazing," Harding said. "Definitely one of the highlights of the trip."

Simply spending time with Ghanaians was another highlight.

“They hardly have anything. Some live in dirt-floor huts. Some live in cement-floored homes,” Harding said. “They don’t have anything, but they are just as happy if not happier than a lot of us in the first world.”

Some of those happy Ghanaians are even happier now that they’re sporting a Hayward jersey.