Jaja Nebo

Jaja Nebo

Perhaps the only thing to match Jaja Nebo’s endless enthusiasm is his unique perspective.

The son of West African immigrants who arrived in the United States in the 1980s, Nebo has harnessed those beginnings to an enduring career of service as a public educator, coach and mentor for Memphis-area youth.

He’s also been selected as an TSSAA Distinguished Service Award winner for the 2023-24 academic year.

“My parents (mother, Jeannice Jones, father, Albert Nebo) moved to the states in 1982,” said Nebo, a national champion football player who earned all-conference honors at Delta State. “There was a civil war (on the cusp of breaking out) in Monrovia where they had to flee the country.

“They’ve been here ever since, and thinking about it right now, for my parents to come from a third-world country and for me to be where I am right now, it’s just truly a blessing. They sacrificed everything for me.”

From his parents’ example, Nebo has fashioned his own selfless approach. The Bartlett educator and coach has taught special education, helped launch the Unified track program, as well as coach in basketball, bowling, football and track.

He volunteered for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes when he first returned to Memphis at Kirby High School in 2007 and has maintained that involvement more than 15 years later.

“I’m just trying to be a three-dimensional coach,” said Nebo, whose impact has been so profound that the Tennessee Senate drafted Joint Resolution 697 to honor him. “I want to help the heart, the mind and the spirit.”

Impactful across myriad spectrums, Nebo has helped generate the most dominant athletics success in track and field. His 2022 unified team was nominated to participate in the Special Olympics in Orlando, Florida, where the squad captured the national bronze medal.

His Bartlett teams have amassed back-to-back TSSAA State Championships in the past two Spring Flings after the squads posted a trio of runners-up finishes prior to this dominant stretch.

A natural competitor, Nebo has worked hard to help his pupils reach championship accomplishments but pointed far beyond any wins and losses to his most gratifying moments.

“My coaching journey has been great, because I’ve had great kids, great parents, great experiences,” Nebo said. “I love what I do, and I know I’m called to do it because it doesn’t feel work.

“Sports is cool, but the impact on kids is life changing. I think about the Billy Graham quote, that a coach will impact more people in one year than most people do in a lifetime. I want to help inspire them to be the best whatever they choose to do; don’t compare to others, meet them at their level and help them reach their end goal. I like to say I’m the best passenger in your car that you’re driving through life.”

And Nebo is quick to praise his own co-pilot … also his sometimes lead pilot – wife, Marquetta

“She is the head coach sometimes in my life and sometimes the assistant,” Nebo said of his wife of 14 years. “But everything I’ve learned and the man I am today, she’s inspired me to do it. She was like you can be whatever you choose out to be.

“I have the confidence of a CEO, even though I might be entry level. That’s what I try to help instill.”

TSSAA is proud to recognize JaJa Nebo for his numerous contributions to student-athletes in Tennessee.