Blake Wilsford of Paladin Sports

Blake Wilsford of Paladin Sports, Monday, April 17, 2023, in San Tan Valley, Arizona. (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

Jason Best didn’t know what to expect when he launched a youth sports clinic for the first time in 2008.

At the time, he aimed to service the San Tan Valley area, just southeast of Queen Creek. Both communities were nowhere near what they are today — two bustling cities with a population that continues to grow well over a couple hundred thousand families.

He had 30 kids show up for the clinic. But as word spread about a new Christian-based organization known as Paladin Sports Outreach, more families began signing up.

“Jason had an idea to see what the interest level was, but families came to him after and said, ‘What’s next?’” said Blake Wilsford, executive director of Paladin Sports Outreach. “Jason started a soccer league and it just started to snowball from there.”

Wilsford became involved with Paladin in 2011, 10 years after he moved to San Tan Valley in 2001. A year later after his kids were both already involved, he partnered with Best to become the Executive Director of the program.

It wasn’t until 2015 Paladin began seeing exponential growth into the Queen Creek community. But now, 15 years after those first initial 30 kids showed up to give a new organization a chance, more than 4,000 athletes ranging in ages 3-14 call Paladin home for recreation and club level athletics.

The organization, along with its original home of San Tan Valley and first expansion of Queen Creek, now also serves the Florence community.

“It’s been really amazing to see the growth,” Wilsford said. “San Tan Valley was all model homes and Queen Creek was just a small town compared to what it is today. As Queen Creek grew and San Tan Valley grew, we really started to explode as an organization.

“In 2019 we served about 4,000 kids then COVID hit. But now we’re back to serving the same amount.”

Wilsford, who moved from Tennessee to Arizona to be a pastor at LifePoint Church in San Tan Valley, said becoming involved was easy.

The organization uses the idea of faith to not only teach how sports are played but to help mold the kids into those who know right from wrong.

Paladin offers baseball, basketball, flag football, soccer and softball at both the recreation and club level. Families are able to sign kids up for the rec teams and they are automatically placed, competing against other Paladin teams.

Club level sports for ages 8-14 require a tryout process to make each team. From there, they compete against other organizations across the state and country in tournaments.

“We have a philosophy,” Wilsford said. “We aren’t out here to cut kids or anything like that. We’re trying to be there for every kid and allow every kid to play.

Wilsford said Paladin entered the club space in 2015 when his own kids were aging out of the program.

“At the time, we were still serving kids ages 3-8. I was like, ‘Well, what am I going to do?’” Wilsford said. “We extended the rec age to 12 and then I saw there were a lot of kids and families that wanted the competitive aspect as well. So, we started the club at the same time.”

Each recreational season is six weeks long. In those six weeks, six different pillars are taught to the kids. Some of the pillars include respect, kindness, integrity and helpfulness, according to Wilsford.

“The coaches teach examples of those character traits and that’s usually tied in with an example in a bible verse,” Wilsford said. “That’s probably the most impactful time, after practice when the kids gather in a huddle and talk about that character trait.”

Paladin’s name comes from its definition as a noble defender of a worth cause.

In the eyes of Wilsford and Best, they believe their noble cause is sharing the message of Jesus and defending youth through their opportunity and ability to play sports in both a safe and fun environment.

“That’s what we defend,” Wilsford said. “All are welcome.”

Wilsford said joining Paladin has been a blessing. All of his kids enjoyed their time with the organization before aging out.

They received top notch coaching while at Paladin, both from their father who still coaches club and the likes of David Lopez, who coached Chandler’s baseball team to the 6A final last year and is now the interim coach for the Bulldogs at Queen Creek.

Paladin has an opportunity for kids of every age and skill level. It’s part of what has allowed them to remain successful for 15 years and counting.

“What makes it so special is the impact we’ve seen in the community,” Wilsford said. “The families and number of lives we’ve touched. The testimonies we get years later is what is special and honestly why I have been with this organization for so long and plan to be for some time.”

For more information about Paladin Sports Outreach, visit

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira


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