BY: CON MARSHALL
CHADRON, Neb. -- More than 2,200 aspiring football and basketball players and wrestlers from the four-state area participated in camps in June at Chadron State College designed to help the youths improve their skills at Chadron State College.
That's about twice the number who participated in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and also many more than a year ago when Colorado teams were still forbidden to leave the state. This year the ban was lifted and numerous teams and athletes from that state attended the Chadron State camps.
CSC Head Football Coach Jay Long said this year's participation at the three camps he and his staff conducted was the largest since he became the Eagles' mentor 11 years ago.
The first of the three football camps was made up of "smaller" 11-man teams. Chadron, Alliance, Gering and Gordon-Rushville were involved. Chadron native and former Chadron State Academic All-American Zach Sandstrom brought his Highlands High team from Eaton, Colo.
Other Colorado teams participating in the opening session included Holyoke and Poudre High at Fort Collins. Poudre is a large school with than 1,800 students, but came to the first camp because it fit the school's schedule better.
Also in the first group were teams from Burns, Newcastle, Thermopolis and Tongue River in Wyoming and St. Thomas More of Rapid City.
The second session was comprised of teams from eight large schools. Scottsbluff was the lone Nebraska school involved while Campbell County High at Gillette, Casper Natrona, Cheyenne East and Sheridan participated from Wyoming along with Rapid City Stevens and Severance High, which is located near Windsor in Colorado's Front Range.
The final session that took place June 12-15 drew players from 32 schools which have 9-, 8- or 6-man teams.
About half of the teams were from Nebraska. They included Arthur County, Axtell, Bridgeport, Crawford, Dundy County at Benkelman, Garden County at Oshkosh, Minatare, Mullen, Potter-Dix, Sandhills-Thedford, Sandhills Valley at Stapleton and Tryon, Sioux County at Harrison, South Platte at Big Springs and Brule, Southwest High at Bartley, Sutherland and Twin Loup at Sargent and Taylor.
The Colorado teams involved were Arickaree/Woodlin, Caliche, Crowley County at Ordway, Fleming, Haxtun, LaVeta, Otis and Sedgwick. The Wyoming participants included Encampment, Farson-Eden, Kaycee, Pine Bluffs and Rocky Mountain at Cowley.
The Little Wound Mustangs were the lone South Dakota participants.
"We got a lot of good feedback from the coaches," Long said. "They said they felt their teams got better. It helps them get ready for this fall. They can move their players around and try different things during the camp. They get two full days and two half days of instruction on different phases of the game from our coaches and players, and also get to scrimmage against other teams. The teams' own coaches are in charge during the scrimmages.
Long said about 15 CSC players who are planning to become coaches returned to assist with the camps.
He added that by having so many teams, the match-ups for the scrimmages worked out well.
"Teams that are young and are rebuilding can be paired with similar teams," the coach noted. "Some of the larger schools also had junior varsity teams. A team that thinks it may be a contender for a state championship this fall can be matched against another team that has similar aspirations.
"We had a lot of really good players in the camps," Long said. "We hope we can get some of them to come play for us. We let quite a few know that we're interested in them. Another good thing is the camps gave more than 1,500 young men a chance to get acquainted with the college. Most of them won't play college football, but they found out a lot about Chadron State. They slept in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria and got see and use our athletic facilities."
Long commended the college staff members in housing and the food service, as well as Shellie Johns, the college's conferencing coordinator, and her assistants for their assistance during the camps.
Janet Raymer, the CSC women's basketball coach, and her staff hosted five hoops camps during an eight-day period the forepart of June. She said more than 300 campers participated. They were accompanied by at least 20 coaches from the various schools.
"They were a great success once again," Raymer said. "We love bringing young athletes here. Our players do a great job of mentoring and coaching, helping the players improve their game. We also had a team camp that lasted two days and included teams from Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado."
A wrestling camp comprised of 38 teams and 385 grapplers began on Monday, June 20 and concluded Thursday at noon. A highlight took place Wednesday evening when 17 duals between the wrestlers who had emerged as the best in their weight classes took place. It was open to the public.
The first girls' wrestling camp took place at the same time at the college, directed by CSC Coach Alijah Jeffery. Two of the duals Wednesday night were between girls.
Still to come at Chadron State are four volleyball camps that Coach Jennifer Stadler and her assistants and players will host in July. A youth skills camp is slated for July 11-13 for 1-4 graders, the middle school camp for grades 5-8 follows the 14th and 15th, a team camp is set for the 23rd and 24th and a high school skills camp will be July 25-26.
A softball camp is scheduled for July 26.