|The Manual High School football team at their SportsLeader Team Camp.|
July 2, 2009. Oldenburg, IN. As the SportsLeader program
has grown in the past few years, it has been
making great strides toward building stronger, more united teams. One
of its most effective activities lately has been the SportsLeader
Team Camp, a bonding experience built around the mystique of
On May 9-10, the first team to attend
the camp came in from Manual High School, a public
school in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, arrived at camp with a
total of 49 football players, 5 coaches and 6 dads.
“Things got off to a challenging start,” notes Lou Judd,
the regional director of SportsLeader in the Ohio Valley. As
the boys were loading the buses in Louisville, a tornado
warning was issued amidst a torrential downpour, delaying their departure
by 2 hours.
Meanwhile up at the camp, Fr Matthew, Br
Darren, Fr Tom Weisbrod and Lou Judd were praying Hail
Marys as the rain continued to pour down.
did not look good,” said Lou. “Visions of 49 football
players trapped in a gym all weekend looking at me
for entertainment were not particularly comforting.”
The boys finally arrived that
evening around 8:30. Since Camp River Ridge sits atop a
steep hill, the buses had to park down at the
entrance and the boys had to walk up the mile-long
driveway to the camp.
|After conquering the hill or battling the Navy Seal "Don't Quit" Challenge, everyone felt as "tired as the black dog." (Hence the tongues.)|
But spirits were high and all
made it to the top alive, including a freshman on
crutches who had hurt his ankle prior to the camp
and yet insisted on "walking" up the hill with the
rest of the guys.
Once the boys had arrived at the
camp, they were told, “Welcome to the middle of nowhere”
– to which one boy responded, “So this is where
the middle of nowhere is. Cool.”
The boys were
divided up into four teams for the duration of the
camp: Offensive Line, Offensive Backs, Defensive Line, and Defensive Backs.
The competition was about to begin. This was what they
had come for, and this was exactly what they were
craving after 2 hours of waiting and 2 hours of
sitting on a bus.
“They were ecstatic,” said Lou.
“Pumped is not the word— these guys were dying to
compete. And compete they did.”
The first competition was to set
up their gear and set up the cots. The boys
did this in record time. The next competition was to
|A tug of war between the offensive and defensive teams.|
see which group could gather the most firewood in 2
minutes 30 seconds.
“I began to fear for the
forest,” commented Lou. “I think they gathered enough wood for
a week.” Meanwhile, the sky continued to look gray and
The next challenge was unplanned, but the boys tackled
it anyway with equal gusto: the lawnmower had gotten stuck
in the mud. They brought in the truck to get
it out, but then the truck got stuck too. With
49 football players and 1 serious tug-of-war rope, the problem
was solved in 10 minutes: truck and mower were both
free, and the boys were rejoicing as if they had
just won the national championship.
After some games of dodgeball and
tug-of-war, the boys went down into the “basement” of the
main building for a formation session: an intro movie clip,
a short talk, a small-group discussion, group presentations, and goal
Another unplanned surprise was waiting for them when they
emerged: instead of rain, they were greeted by a clear,
starlit sky and a full moon: perfect weather for the
bonfire. The gift of perfect weather did not go unnoticed.
Looking up at the sky, one young man said, "This
|The football team from Eastern Hancock High during a formation session at their SportsLeader team camp.|
is like God saying he knows we´re up here and
He´s watching us."
Over S’mores by the warmth of the campfire,
the coaches told stories of defining moments in their lives
of growing into manhood. After a while some boys stood
up and asked permission to speak. Some even shed some
The next morning, one young man said that night had
been one of the most amazing experiences of his whole
The next day’s events began with breakfast, a formation
session, and then more physical challenges. Two groups met down
at the bottom of the camp’s exit hill, which is
a quarter of a mile straight up – a grueling
test for even the most fit of men. The boys’
challenge was to run up it four times – once
for each quarter of a football game.
The other two
groups had the "Don´t Quit Challenge." Coach Chris Willertz, from
Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, and Lou Judd had
set up four stations with different types of physical exercise.
At each station, the boys had to keep going in
unison with their group until the whistle was blown. Although
the challenge was very difficult, not one kid quit all
|A player from Manual High School speaks at the Commitment Ceremony.|
weekend. Every single one pulled through and stuck it out
with his team.
Afterwards, one young man came up to Coach
Willertz and Lou and said, “You guys have taught me
that I can do anything in life. I so much
wanted to quit after that first time up the hill.
There was no way I could do it again, much
less 3 more times... but I did. I finished it
and so did all my teammates.”
After another formation session
and another set of physical challenges, the boys had lunch
with skits, a cleanup competition, a tug-of-war, and some time
to swim and fish. After the swim, the players got
cleaned up and put on their football jerseys for the
Commitment Ceremony. The chairs were set up in a big
circle and any player that wanted went to the center
of the circle and announced out loud what he was
going to commit to doing this season in any area
Almost every player got up to speak.
Some said they promised to host a barbecue at their
house to build team unity. One white player promised to
spend more time with his black brothers. Another player promised
|Players from Manual High's winning team show off their prize: a weight painted red, with the words "charity, humility, courage" on the rim.|
to go to church every Sunday and stay awake. Another
promised to get his GPA over a 3.5 and to
help any teammate with schoolwork that needed it…
The ceremony concluded
with some awards - the offensive and defensive leader awards
and the team competition prize. For the competition prize, Assistant
Coach Ron Allen painted a weight red with the words
“charity, humility, courage” on the rim.
High School football team was only one of several teams
that attended a SportsLeader TEAM camp this year. From June
11-12, the 8-time State Champion football team from Roncalli High
School in Indianapolis came to the camp, followed on June
24-25 by a 30-strong team from Eastern Hancock High, a
public school east of Indianapolis.
For all of these
teams, and for those that will come in the future,
the SportsLeader Team Camp offers just the right balance of
die-hard competition, formation, bonding, and of course… surprises.
more information about what the SportsLeader program has to offer
for both athletes and coaches, visit the web site at