Whitfield Continues Legacy of Learning at AU and HoopTee
By Grace Hurt
July 17, 2013
Twenty-nine years ago Bobcats President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Whitfield experienced a moment of impact that would change his life forever.
“At just 25 years of age, I looked back and saw that almost half of my original teammates, from my first basketball team as a 7-year-old, were dead because of some sort of drug-related activity,” said Whitfield, as he reflected on his days as a youth in Greensboro, N.C. “It was enough to get my attention.”
Whitfield knew immediately that something must be done. As a result, that same year, Achievements Unlimited Basketball Camp was born.
“The realization that I had lost so many of my first teammates because of drugs was the impetus behind Achievements Unlimited,” Whitfield continued. “AU began as a program that used basketball as a hook to get young people to come to a camp that also stressed how important academics are in our future and how important it is to stay drug free.”
July 8, 2013, marked the 29th Anniversary of AU Basketball School. Since its inception in Greensboro in 1984, the program has reached more than 10,000 student athletes ages 8-18, making it of one of the most impactful summer youth athletic programs in North Carolina.
“Study. Hoop. Repeat.” read the back of this year’s camp T-shirt – three simple words that became the mantra for more than 200 campers arriving at Ardrey Kell High School for their first day.
“My dream as a child was to become a professional athlete,” said Whitfield to an auditorium full of this year’s campers and coaches. “And although this never happened, my education and basketball skills allowed me to go to college for free. It is our goal to inspire you all to achieve your athletic and academic dreams by living a great life - healthy and drug-free - both on and off the court.”
AU’s mission is comprised of three principle goals: to teach fundamental basketball skills, to encourage academic success and to instill a powerful anti-drug message in today’s youth. On the first day of camp, each student athlete is given a dictionary and list of vocabulary words to look up and study. Midway through the week, the campers are given a test on the words, which they have been assigned according to age group. In order to be considered for prizes such as signed dictionaries and other special contests, campers must attain an outstanding score on the vocabulary test in addition to their performance on the court. Vocabulary test scores are also factored into the championship game, as each team averages their players’ grades before calculating the final team scores.
One of the most exciting parts of AU happens at the end of each day, when heroes and legends from the athletic world attend camp and speak to campers in order to share valuable life lessons, good advice and positive influence. This year’s camp, which took place from July 8-11, featured professional athletes such as Kemba Walker, Brendan Haywood and Ramon Sessions of the Charlotte Bobcats, as well as Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers.
“Without a proper education, there was no football for me. My mother, my biggest hero, made that clear from the beginning,” said Stewart, when asked what role education played for him in his developmental career.
The time spent with these role models plays an invaluable part in each student athlete’s AU experience. But it is not just the celebrity athletes that inspire AU campers to do their best in school and in sports. More than 25 counselors from all over the country attend camp each year to help Whitfield in making AU successful.
“One of the most important lessons offered by Achievements Unlimited Basketball School is the value of opportunity and making right decisions,” said Kendall Smith, a two-year AU counselor and recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “As coaches, we encourage good sportsmanship and attitude on and off the court. In essence, AU really focuses on making the campers well-rounded individuals.”
Smith also asserted that early education covering basketball fundamentals is essential to the future success of these young athletes.
“I love being able to teach the campers fundamentals that I didn’t learn until the later stages of my basketball career,” said Smith. “If young basketball players start learning the basic fundamentals of the game earlier, their chances of success in basketball will be greater.”
More than 80 percent of the children who attend AU are able to do so thanks to scholarships provided by various community partners and individuals. Local organizations including the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Police Athletic League join AU in providing underprivileged youth the ability to attend the camp, which otherwise they may not have been able to afford.
As AU entered into full swing at the beginning of the week, preparations were being made a few minutes down the road for the 11th Annual HoopTee Celebrity Golf Classic, a charity event benefitting various local youth camps in the area. HoopTee is hosted by Whitfield and his colleagues at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge in Charlotte.
This year’s HoopTee Celebrity Golf Classic featured more than 30 of Whitfield’s closest friends and celebrity supporters, including Hall-of-Famers Bruce Smith and Joe Morgan. Others present on the course included retired NBA Star Dell Curry, retired NFL Defensive Tackle Warren Sapp and Charlotte Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera.
“To see all my friends come back out and support us again for our 11th Annual HoopTee Celebrity Golf Classic is really inspiring,” said Whitfield just before heading out to take his first swing of the day. “This event allows us to do a lot of things in the community for kids by providing scholarships for them to go to various camps, including Achievements Unlimited Basketball School.”
“Ultimately, I want these programs to teach kids how to live a good life,” Whitfield concluded as both AU and HoopTee came to a close. As the program’s 30th anniversary approaches, Whitfield and the rest of the community eagerly look forward to touching as many young lives as possible. “The last 10 years have been as fulfilling, if not more fulfilling, than the first 20 were. So, I’m as energized as ever to go into our 30th year. I just can’t wait to get there!”