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YOUTH BASKETBALL: Model's Big Blue Camp grows in numbers, impact

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Moss Tant gets control of the ball under the net during a mini game in Model Middle School's gym at the Big Blue Basketball Camp on Wednesday, June 13, 2018. The four-day camp, in its 33rd year, includes more than 220 boys spread out over four gyms. / Jeremy Stewart

There’s 40 10-year-olds here. The other 185 campers are not too far away.

Travis, the Model High School boys’ basketball coach, is making his rounds on the next-to-last day of the 2018 Big Blue Basketball Camp, a summer tradition in the Shannon community that has been built on more than three decades of kids, coaches and volunteers.

This year’s camp, which wraps up its four-day tenure today, includes 225 boys that have spent most of each morning separated into age groups and occupying one of four gyms at and around Model High School, including the ones at the nearby middle school and elementary school.

“You’re getting a wide range of basketball, and the biggest thing is get to some of the kids that have never played basketball to get a taste of it through games and drills,” Travis said.

“At the same time, you also want to help the older kids to have the tools they need to improve on their own. But you want these kids to fall in love with it and have a blast. And with four different gyms I feel like we don’t have to sacrifice any instruction.”

Heading up each gym are guys with coaching experience at the middle school and high school level, including Travis’ dad, Milt Travis, who was the Blue Devils’ head coach when Jacob played and started what has become the Big Blue Camp in 1986.

“Just build up the culture here. That’s what we wanted to do when we started this thing,” Milt Travis said Wednesday. “We had 15 kids in that first year. Now we have kids here whose parents were at that camp. A lot of history here.”

A separate girls’ camp was started after a few years, and Milt credits former Model girls’ and boys’ head coach Andy Akin with branding it the Big Blue Basketball Camp.

“To keep it from being just Model,” Milt said. “We wanted it to be for everybody, and that’s what it became.”

Kent Howard came to the camp as a kid and then worked as a high school instructor while going to Rome High before eventually helping run the camp during his time as an assistant coach at Model.

He spoke to this year’s campers on Wednesday and said the camp was a part of his development as a player.

“I love it. I love basketball and the influence the coaches and athletes have on the community,” Howard said. “But I also know this camp teaches a lot about character. So the kids that come up through this are not only better as players, but better as men.”

Milt left Model in 2003. Jacob was named the Blue Devils’ head coach in 2012 and has overseen the camp for seven years.

Now each year comes with a new attendance record. The girls’ camp set the pace last week with a record turnout of 181, and the boys’ camp followed suit.

Jacob said he’s proud of all of the support the camp receives each year, the number of current and former coaches and players who put in their time and the fact that the number of children they’ve been able to reach has steadily grown.

But for him, the number he’s mainly focused on is one.

“And I don’t mean to sound cliché, but we want to make sure each kid is learning and having fun while feeling like they are getting one-on-one time with an instructor,” Jacob said. “It’s really been a lot of fun to see the amount of coaching we have available and the organizational skills we have here.

“It’s been fun to kind of sit back and watch some days.”