Region has rare jewel in Achievements Unlimited camp
by Staff Writer
The obvious news surrounding the Charlotte Bobcats this week was the fact that they boasted a pair of first-round picks entering the Thursday, June 23, NBA Draft.
Would the Bobcats select two good rookies? Would they trade one of – or both of – the picks to acquire a proven performer? Would folks who follow the team be happy with Bobcats brass by the end of the week?
Those issues understandably will get the most attention in the coming days, because the way the team handles those type situations ultimately is how the public judges the folks in the Bobcats’ front office. But another important aspect of a team’s overall success is how it goes about showing it cares about the community.
And one of the Bobcats’ chief decision-makers, President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Whitfield, is hell-bent on making that a priority.
It’s an approach that worked for 25 years in another North Carolina city, and now our region’s most precious commodity – children – is in position to reap the benefits.
July 17-22, for the second year in a row, Whitfield will lead the Achievements Unlimited basketball camp at Ardrey Kell High School and a few other south Charlotte locations.
Yeah, I know: It’s summertime, and you’ve been inundated with invitations to all sorts of athletic camps. But this one is different. This one is, well, sort of a life camp where baggy shorts are acceptable attire.
Since starting Achievements Unlimited Basketball School in his native Greensboro back in 1985, Whitfield made sure his camp was about three things: unrivaled basketball instruction, an emphasis on academics and the importance of being drug-free. Sure, most hoops camps have those goals, but few actually are able to incorporate all of them into their daily routines.
Achievements Unlimited can and does.
The camp clearly has star power. In the past, NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Alonzo Mourning and Chris Paul, in addition to Charlotte Bobcats Stephen Jackson and D.J. Augustin have attended. The list is expected to be just as strong this year. But each day, 200-plus youths are presented with all three of the camp’s key phases. At any time, they might be quizzed on a vocabulary word they were given before camp started. And seconds after learning how to execute a pick-and-roll, a kid might be called over for a quick anti-drug discussion.
Our region is now home to what just might be the most unique basketball camp in the world.
“I just felt like it was important, after 25 years in my hometown, to really be able to bring our program down here and be able to touch some of the kids (here),” Whitfield said. “Last year, we used five gyms in the Ballantyne area: two at Ardrey Kell High School, two at the Morrison Y, and we used the one gym at Community House Middle School. It allowed us to touch a completely different set of kids than we did in Greensboro. We had about 200 last year, and we’re hoping for about 250 this year.”
Whitfield got the idea for the camp a few years after his playing career at Campbell University ended and he was about to enter law school at Durham’s N.C. Central University. He’d grown up attending Campbell’s camp since he was 8 years old, and throughout the years many of his former hometown buddies had fallen by the wayside because of poor academic performance or ties to drugs, be it using them or selling them.
Whitfield grew tired of seeing talented players become faceless statistics, so he decided to do something about it by giving basketball players the opportunity to spend a week participating in the sport they loved – with a catch.
“Our first year, we started giving our kids vocabulary words that they have to take home and learn the definition of those words and tie them into everything we do during the week, if they hope to be a champion,” Whitfield said. “So, ultimately, when we get to Thursday afternoon, each kid has to take a written test on those 10 words. If they’re in any of our championship competitions – whether it’s One-on-One, Free Throw or Hot Shot – we add the score they get on the court to the score they get on the test, and that determines who our individual champions are.
“We’ve had several years where the best kids in camp didn’t win anything. There’s no way you can win an MVP award or the Best Hustle Award in your group if you don’t score 100 on your test,” he continued. “You could be in the One-on-One championship and beat your opponent 10-2. But if you get an 80 on your test and they get a 90 on their test, and you add that to the scores, then they’ve got 92 and you’ve got 90.”
In addition, for squads playing in the team championship games, camp organizers take the teams’ average score on the vocabulary tests and add that to the score they post on the court. Then they determine the winner of the championship.
But here’s my favorite aspect of the camp.
“We never give away plaques; we always give away autographed dictionaries that the (NBA) players sign when they come in,” Whitfield said.
“One thing I quickly realized is that almost every kid had the same dream I had of being a pro basketball player. But less than 1 percent even get a chance to try out (for the NBA), so less than half of 1 percent becomes a pro athlete. We try to do our part to make sure they’re prepared for life after basketball.”
The cost of the camp is $285. And for many families in today’s economic climate, that can be overwhelming. Again, though, Whitfield has proven he cares about the community. Over the years, more than half of the camp participants have been able to attend for free. Whitfield doesn’t pick those kids; he finds local organizations and lets them use their own methods for selecting children who need assistance. Since moving Achievements Unlimited to Charlotte, Whitfield’s awarded camp scholarships to places such as the Stratford Richardson YMCA, the McCrorey YMCA, the Salvation Army Center of Hope, the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, Carolina Family Connections, Loving Our Children Agency and the Police Activities League.
One thing that makes the scholarships possible is the Hoop Tee Celebrity Golf Tournament Whitfield runs during the same week as Achievements Unlimited. At this year’s Hoop Tee event at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge July 18-19, the celebrity players will include Jordan and former Dallas Cowboy great Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson.
“Things like the Hoop Tee tournament and Achievements Unlimited are allowing me to have an impact and help others in our city,” Whitfield said. “I think that’s important.”
It definitely is. Even when the Bobcats don’t have a pair of first-round draft picks.
Want to go?
Some paid positions remain available for this year’s Achievements Unlimited Basketball School. To register, visit au-camp.com. To learn more about the Hoop Tee Celebrity Golf Tournament, visit hooptee.com.