July 24, 2008
been making a difference in kids lives with
Achievements Unlimited for 24 years.
Just above the door at the Greensboro Sports Complex, hangs a sign, fluttering just slightly in the breeze.
Achievements Unlimited Basketball School it reads.
The name on the sign describes perfectly what is taking place just through the double-glass doors. Inside, 170 boys and girls ages 8-18 are getting the opportunity to learn skills that will help them achieve their full potential.
Giving kids the necessary tools to succeed has been the mission of Bobcats President and COO Fred Whitfield since he started Achievements Unlimited in his hometown of Greensboro 24 years ago.
As a basketball school, Achievements Unlimited places a heavy emphasis on learning the fundamentals of the game. Campers participate in numerous drills that allow them to perfect all the nuances of a particular skill. They then get to put that knowledge they’ve gained to use as they face off against each other in pick-up games.
“We stress fundamental basketball skills,” remarked Whitfield. “I feel like my staff teaches as good of fundamentals as any camp out there.”
Learning more about the game was one of the reasons Rashida Pugh, who plays on her school’s varsity basketball team, decided to attend the camp.
“The camp has been a good experience,” the 16-year old Pugh said. “This is my first year here and I’ve learned a lot of fundamentals. They deal with ball handling, how to shoot properly and how to get your footwork right. I’m going to use some of the drills and maybe do them at home so I can better my skills.”
Having an impact on a child’s skill level on the basketball court isn’t the only way though the Achievements Unlimited strives to make a difference in its campers’ lives.
The camp also places a high value on teaching kids the importance of obtaining an education and remaining drug-free.
To help relay these messages, Whitfield invites numerous professional athletes to visit his camp. This year, Bobcats forwards Sean May and Gerald Wallace and guard Matt Carroll, Hornets guard Chris Paul, Heat center Alonzo Mourning and former NBA star Allen Houston were just some of the stars that came by to interact with the kids.
For the athletes, being a part of this camp is a meaningful way they can give something back.
“Mohammed Ali put it simply ‘Our service to others is the rent that we pay on this earth’,” explained 15-year NBA veteran Mourning, after spending an hour with the kids going over defensive drills. “I have a place in my heart for kids. I was a child once and I know how important it is to create a positive atmosphere for kids to grow and develop and be productive citizens.”
Mourning also stressed to the campers the importance of obtaining an education, pointing out that even if the campers don’t make it to the NBA they can still be involved in professional sports in other facets by becoming broadcasters, doctors, lawyers or coaches.
“I didn’t want to destroy any basketball dreams, because without a dream, there can never be a dream come true and I started with a dream of wanting to play in the NBA. I just wanted to provide some words of encouragement and direction to them that will enable them to accomplish some of their goals.”
Perhaps the words of encouragement Mourning had at this year’s camp will have the same affect on a young camper as they did on Charlotte’s own Sean May.
“One time I was actually in Indianapolis and I saw Alonzo Mourning coming out of practice,” May relates. “He just stopped and talked to me, gave me an autograph and took more time than he really needed too. It really touched me. It was very small and minute to him, but for me at 11 years old, he was a star. That impacted my life and I will forever be grateful.”
That incident is what spurs May to continue to give back.
“For any kid, I’ll do anything for, because that impacted my life. I always try to make sure I talk to kids and ask them how they are doing and spend a little bit more time (with them).”
Attending camps as kids also had a profound influence on the lives of NBA veterans Carroll and Houston
“Growing up, I went to a lot of camps and I know what it’s like to be a camper there,” Carroll said. “I was always looking up to the guest speakers that would come there and that’s who we wanted to hopefully be like someday. To have a lot of professional athletes come back here and talk to them, I think it means a lot to them.”
“I grew up in camps,” explained Houston, after spending time with the kids working on their shooting. “ My father was my coach in college. I see basketball and camps and teaching the fundamentals as a way not just to teach the fundamentals of basketball, but to really teach about life. I think that is what’s great about this camp is that there are more fundamentals than just in the game (being taught). One that I like is education, which is very important.”
To emphasize the importance of education, 10 vocabulary words are given to the kids on the first day of camp. The campers are required to study the words and pass a test at the end of the week. Their scores on the vocabulary tests along with other factors help determine which campers will win awards and be selected to participate in the camp’s annual All-Star games.
“You have to make a 100 on the vocabulary test and you have to have a good attitude, hustle all week and play hard,” 14-year old Evan Hodges pointed out as he talked about what it took to make the All-Star team. “That is what makes this camp different from any other camp because they are teaching you vocabulary words.”
The goal of making the All-Star team or winning a camp award is something that helps keep the kids motivated throughout the week.
Tina Chestnut’s eight-year old son Austin was one of the lucky participants selected to participate in one of the All-Star games.
“He knows it’s not a guaranteed thing,” she said as she talked about what making the All-Star team meant to her son. “I think it goes to show him that if you put forth the effort, you can be an All-Star.”
As a member of the All-Star team, the players are coached by special celebrity coaches. This year, Carroll and Wallace served as leaders for the NBA Division.
Wallace’s team was able to emerge victorious, causing a little trash talk to take place between the two teammates.
“G-Force is 1-0 on Air Carroll, write it down,” said Wallace jokingly after the game.
The All-Star games are just another way that the camp allows professional athletes to interact and have an influence on the kids.
“As a coach, I told them my main thing is that I like to play hard and I like to win,” Wallace explained. I told them I want you guys to go out and play hard, play as a team and just have fun.”
Unique aspects of Achievements Unlimited such as the All-Star games are what keep the campers coming back year after year.
Kyle Confer is now in his third year at camp and enjoys every aspect of coming here.
“It’s been fun, all the players coming and talking to you,” he said. “It teaches you to stay off drugs and do good in school. Most camps just emphasize basketball, but this one (emphasizes) school and drugs.”
Confer especially enjoyed hearing from Paul. “He was talking about his family life and how he always did his best in school and in case he didn’t make it to the NBA, he always had a back-up plan.”
The experience that Confer has had at the camp has been such a positive one, that this year, he invited a friend, Logan Macon, to attend the camp with him.
“I wanted to show him about the camp and how good it was,” Confer explained. “He didn’t have a camp to go to this year, so I told him about this one.”
“I’ve been really excited about this camp, just to have the opportunity to come out here and play and meet all the players like Sean May and Chris Paul,” Macon added. “I’ve learned to play together and play as a team. I’m getting better at my fundamentals and it’s something I can work on this summer and get ready for basketball this winter.”
The parents also appreciate the lessons that Achievements Unlimited strives to teach their children.
“I’m a school teacher, so I love anything that is going be education-oriented in the summertime,” said Chestnut. “I am very impressed with that because I think it’s important that our kids see it’s not all about sports. If you don’t have the academics or the social skills to go along with your athleticism, you’re not going to succeed”
“Like they say, not everybody is going to be a professional player, so they are going to have to fall back on their academics,” remarked Kyle Confer’s mother, Leeann. “It’s good for them to realize that.”
Parents also think it’s beneficial for their kids to hear important messages from someone other than themselves.
“My kid may not learn from me, but he might he might learn from someone else,” explained Jhon Williams, who brought his 12-year old son Jhon to the camp. “Hearing it from someone other than a parent, it may encourage him where I might not be able to encourage him in that area.”
Every athlete that visited the camp encouraged the kids to become the best people they could be.
“I always try to stress character,” said Houston. “In this world that we’re living in, I don’t like to say it’s rare, but it’s something that is highly regarded and it’s something that will get you a long way when you have it. In basketball you have to be able to shoot and in life, you have to have strong character. It’s not easy to have that, but the reward is great.”
The players also challenged the kids to continue to work toward their goals.
“Just keep your hopes up,” Wallace explained when asked about the message he wanted to give the kids. “Always believe in what you want to do and always reach for your dreams. Never let anyone tell you, you can’t make it.”
“I never really had an opportunity to go to a camp as nice as this,” says Paul. “I think when these kids see guys like myself come by, it gives them hope. They know they have the opportunity to do whatever they put their minds to.”
“I try to help them realize that I’m a regular person. I’m not 6-8 or 6-9 like a lot of other NBA basketball players. I’m just as regular as the next guy. I just worked a little bit harder.”
The camp also strives to give hope to some kids in need by providing opportunities for them to attend the camp. To do that, Whitfield holds an annual celebrity golf tournament, HoopTee, at the Grandover Resort in conjunction with the camp. At the tournament, celebrities like Bobcats Managing Member of Basketball Operations Michael Jordan, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, Bobcats Ambassador Dell Curry, Bobcats guards Adam Morrison and Carroll were paired with teams in a scramble format.
“It’s been great,” said Whitfield as he discussed the impact HoopTee has had. “It provides us with an opportunity to have underprivileged kids come to camp, but also provides some scholarships for some local Greensboro kids to go to college. We’ve also endowed and funded a scholarship at Bennett College. It’s been an opportunity to do a lot of good stuff for some kids that are eight years old as well as some teenagers and some young college students.”
Because HoopTee is able to benefit so many people, it’s a perfect event for businesses in the community, like the Mitre Agency, to rally behind.
“The company that I own has been involved with both Fred, HoopTee and AU for years,” explained Troy Tyner of the Mitre Agency. “As a sponsor, there’s nothing more fulfilling than to be part of something philanthropic.”
“The golf experience was wonderful. The weather was great. Everything was great except for my game,” he joked. “We don’t go there and play golf to do well. We go there for other reasons.”
Those reasons are the kids at the camp, which this year, included his son Bailey.
“They have a lot more exposure and a lot better role models,” Tyner said as he talked about his son’s experience at the camp. “The athletes that come here are not just talking about how to improve their game. They are really emphasizing education and academics and teaching them how to be better young men and women.”
It is seeing these young kids develop into great young men and women that makes all the work put in by Whitfield and his counselors all worthwhile.
One of the counselors, Garry D. Howard, the assistant managing editor for sports at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, originally came to Achievements Unlimited to do a story on Whitfield’s unique approach to his basketball camp. Since then, he has returned as a counselor for 15 of the last 17 years.
“I think Fred has really put together a great concept with the drug awareness and the academic side to it. I brought my nephew here for the first time when he was eight years old and now he’s finishing up college. I think it gives kids a really good foundation.”
“Every year when I come down here, I get the feeling that maybe, I can touch someone and help lead them and change their lives so they can stay on a path that will get them where they need to go.”
There are many success stories that have come from the camp.
Whitfield beams with pride as he talks about one young girl who came to the camp for 10 years beginning when she was eight years old. Now, she is planning to attend the University of Florida.
“It’s great when I bump into kids and a kid comes over and says ‘Hey, I went to your basketball camp four or five years ago and it had a positive affect on me’,” relates Whitfield. “I’ve also had some of my campers come back as staff members and to see them playing college basketball, it’s just a great thrill to know you’ve touched some kids.”
But it isn’t just those kids who earn college scholarships that the camp benefits. Sometimes the greatest successes come from just seeing a kid being able to enjoy life again.
“There are two stories that really stand out that make me feel good about some the things we’ve done,” he relates. “There’s one kid, he and his mom were burned very badly. His mom actually died in the fire. He was burned very badly from head to toe, third-degree burns. He’s really come out of his shell and now to see him (at camp), having fun and playing and raising his hand to answer questions, it’s great.”
“Then we had another kid from High Point. His mom was murdered. We found him and brought him in and watched him get through a very tough time.”
“Those two stories stand out because those kids were really going through traumatic experiences in their lives. To be able to bring them in a fun environment and have people putting their arms around them and hug them and tell them they care about them, it’s just a great feeling.”
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