Plenty for everyone to gain at summer camps

July 15, 2010 8:53:00 AM

David Miller -


STARKVILLE -- There''s plenty to gain from running effective sports camps, though most of the evidence goes unnoticed. 


College coaches can gain a verbal commitment from a student-athlete who attends one of their camps or receive positive feedback from campers, parents, and coaches.  


A quality experience and value for the money at a camp helps to ensure campers will return the next year, a sign of progress for camp coordinators and coaches. 


Money gained, for some schools, is a significant benefit of hosting summer camps, Mississippi State assistant football coach Mark Hudspeth said. But for a program like MSU that is looking to re-establish itself as a winner, camps are a recruiting vehicle more so than a money-making option. 


The mind-set behind the MSU football program is strengthening the fan base and building deeper relationships with athletes and coaches throughout the state.  


The results of MSU''s football camps since coach Dan Mullen took over in 2009 are evident in this year''s rise in camp enrollees. The Bulldogs played host to 181 more individual campers, 22 more "Junior Dawgs," and 12 more kickers than in 2009. 


Those numbers reflect the growth and popularity Mullen and his staff have brought to MSU, Hudspeth said.  


"Anytime you have a football program that''s doing some good things and creating excitement, you want to be a part of that," Hudspeth said. "I think we''ve got a lot of young men in this state who want to be a part of Mississippi State football." 


Year-to-year camp success is measured differently by schools and by coaches. Former MSU coach Sylvester Croom, who resigned following the 2008 season, didn''t host the expanded camps like the current regime. The last summer of Croom''s tenure, the Bulldogs had a women''s camp and a pair of 7-on-7 camps, but brought in $4,615.97 in camp profit.  


The first year of Mullen running the ship netted $3557.60 but saw nearly 680 more kids step foot on campus. Though there were more campers, income was lower because expenses increase with headcounts.  


By providing four position-based and $20 per-person 7-on-7 camps, the Bulldogs had a chance to see some of the state''s best players at each position while keeping camper costs low. All that is required is more time from the coaching staff. 


Expenses can alter what universities add to camps, and it''s no different at MSU. The coaches are keen to keep camp prices level while incorporating technology and new methods of instruction. 


For MSU baseball coach John Cohen, running a quality camp is carrying on a team tradition. Not only is Cohen coaching at his alma mater, but he also takes pride in camps that was instilled in him by former MSU assistant and head coach Pat McMahon. 


Cohen worked MSU camps as a player in the late 1980s, and he was impressed by the level of professionalism and the attitude McMahon had in planning and conducting camps. 


"It''s going to be baseball 24 hours a day, and we try to carry on that tradition," Cohen said. "A lot of places do swimming and fun activities like that. I liked the way Pat McMahon talked to the kids. He talked about life, appreciation, and expectations.  


"If run correctly, it''s an incredible effort to handle the volumes of people and make sure everyone has a great experience. Pat really took our camps at Mississippi State to a new level." 


Cohen, who uses PowerPoint presentations for a variety of jobs, tries to incorporate technology into camps. He said video has been the greatest evolution of camps in the past 10-15 years. 


"Kids believe what they can see," Cohen said. "We try to include as much video as we possibly can. Every young man gets filmed, especially in the hitting part. They get to break down the film with coaches. I think the technological part of it is much different than it used to be." 


MSU baseball camps coordinator Nick Mingione doesn''t foresee major changes to the camp structure, outside of making small enhancements from year to year or inviting different guest coaches. Managing the experience and handling a higher number of campers is a challenge in itself, but he said keeping up with what other schools are doing isn''t a concern.  


Prices of meals and lodging will determine how much MSU''s camps grow, but the sporting instruction and atmosphere coaches and coordinators are looking to provide is the top thing campers want from camps. 


Starkville High senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson has attended camps at MSU, East Mississippi Community College, and the University of Alabama. He has been camping since his ninth-grade year, and while part of his goal is to show his skills as a quarterback, he wants to enjoy his time on each college campus and return to Starkville with information that will help him grow. 


"They tell you why you do it instead of just telling you to do it," Johnson said. "I like all the instruction I get. At MSU, we got to compete against a lot of good schools and I saw I can play with the quarterbacks there.  


"Everything ran smoothly, too. All the schedules were set and everybody knew where they playing. It was an easy transition from one game to another."