Edson: High School Athletes – Then and Now

The other day I was asking a parent of a really good high school athlete what kind of job he had lined up for the summer.

She stopped in her tracks.

“Summer job? He really doesn’t have time for one,” she said matter-of-factly. “He’s going to three or four different camps this summer and we’re taking a couple of family trips. He just doesn’t have time.”

I’ve heard that from several parents of athletes this summer. And with all the camps available to young athletes these days, I should have realized that.

After all, how can an employer be expected to work around a kid’s summer schedule when they need all the help they can get?

But it got me thinking to how things have changed since I was in high school.

Back in 1969 – some 50 years ago – there were very few summer sports camps. And besides, our summers back then revolved around getting jobs, playing some pickup basketball and baseball, then maybe having time to date a little bit.

As a 15-year-old heading into my sophomore year in 1969, my summer job was physical labor. My folks were teachers and a friend of ours – also a teacher – was building a house. He asked me to help him for the then huge salary of $10 an hour. I jumped at the chance.

Little did I knew what I was getting into. We drywalled, using T-squares for the ceiling. We measured, we nailed and we hoisted heavy frames.

In the evenings to unwind, some friends and I would head to Wetzel Lake outside Mancelona and go swimming. Then we would meet other friends at the Dairy Queen and talk about how our summers were going.

A couple times a week we would head over to St. Anthony’s church in town and play pickup basketball in their parking lot.

My folks were fine with all that. I played football and basketball and also ran track. So I was busy with sports for nine months out of the year.

“You need a break in the summer,” they would say. “You need it as much mentally as you do physically.”

Then a funny thing happened.

My brother started going to a basketball camp up at Northern Michigan University in Marquette. It was run by NMU’s head coach at the time, Stan Albeck. He was later an NBA coach and a Chicago Bulls assistant when Michael Jordan was in his prime.

Did it help my brother? He went from averaging five points a game one year to the leading basketball scorer in our conference the next.

It wasn’t long before other camps started popping up in all of the sports.

And when I started covering sports for a living, just about every coach told me the same thing: “If you aren’t going to camps in the summer, you will fall behind.”

So in order to compete both individually and as a team, summer camps became big business. It still is today.

I realize that I’m showing my age – 65 – by talking about the days of no summer sports camps. But it just shows how the world has evolved and how young athletes have to adapt in order to stay competitive.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.