More than just a game: Basketball, cheerleading camp teaches valuable life lessons

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, July 5, 2023

SALISBURY — Becoming a high-character person takes more skills than dribbling a basketball, but the founders of a summer camp are blending those on-the-court strategies into important off-the-court lessons.

Last week was the 8th annual Families and Communities Together basketball and cheerleading camp. It was held at Livingstone College.

“We have been blessed with a good group of coaches and counselors and an outstanding group of young people,” said coach Andrew Mitchell.

In one capacity or another, Mitchell has been coaching for more than three decades. His accolades include various championships with the women’s basketball team at Livingstone College and from stints at Salisbury and North Rowan high schools. He also played at Catawba College, so he knows about developing the fundamentals.

“You probably won’t find one of these (kids) out here who is a superstar, but we see the potential in a lot of them to become young superstars,” Mitchell said. “It was a small group, so we can give them a lot of individual attention.”

While figuring out the proper chest pass and how to space the floor is integral to improving their game, the camp also directs the kids to other life lessons.

“We told them we weren’t concerned with who could make the most shots,” Mitchell said. “We were concerned with who could get their teammate a good shot. Those are some of the things we focus on that help build good character.”

Having the right attitude will take most, if not all, of the campers farther in life than a smooth jump shot.

“We want them to be high-character people so that when they leave out of here, other people want to be associated with them,” Mitchell said. “We told them that a bad attitude will keep people from wanting to be around you. Your attitude should draw people in. For the rest of their lives, that will help them get and keep really good jobs and help them keep a good spouse. Whatever you become in life, we want them to be a high-character person.”

Shirley Holt was one of the people who helped get the camp off the ground.

“When we started the camp, we were trying to do something for the kids in the Zion Hills apartment because our two churches (Soldiers Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Moores Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church) are co-owners of those apartments,” Holt said. “The things we were doing, we decided that all the kids could benefit from that, not just the Zion Hills kids.”

Holt indicated that what began as a food service program quickly transitioned to doing enrichment activities.

“We noticed many of them were behind in reading, so we started with reading camp first, and then it led to basketball,” Holt said. “(During reading camp), we expose them to reading comprehension and teach some phonics so they can learn how to break some words down and do interpretation when it doesn’t directly have an answer, like if the leaves are falling off the tree, what season is it.”

Mitchell added, “It’s about being a student first. If you are not eligible, you cannot play. We want them to strive to make As and Bs. If you get a C and you did the very best you can do, we can accept that, but no one should make an F.”

The camp features young adult coaches, many of whom came up through the camp themselves.

“We want our instructors to put in there that they once sat in the same positions as the kids,” Mitchell said. “They got to where they are by working hard. They all have a story to tell, and we want the kids to see the coaches and know they can get to a higher level by being a high-character person.”

For one of the coaches, Jordan Oglesby, it felt like time to return the favor for all he learned as a youngster at the camp.

“It was my first time coaching,” Oglesby said. “I hope to see a lot of the kids come back.”

Carrying on that mantle meant a lot for the former camper turned coach.

“I walked every day just to make sure that I made it each time and to make sure they have someone to teach them what I learned because I was in the same camp when I was the same age,” Oglesby said. “It made me feel good for real. It’s probably the best thing I did all year.”

Oglesby mentioned that he plans to follow some of the campers as they take their next steps on their middle-school teams.

“I really connected with the kids,” Oglesby said.

The toughest challenge for Oglesby was being a neutral observer when it was his turn to referee.

“I was the referee and the coach, so I was running right there beside them during the games,” Oglesby said. “It was hard not to cheer them on.”