NEWARK – It did not surprise Justin Carter what the youngest participants in the ‘Cat Camp enjoyed doing the most.
“I think they enjoy it all, but mostly shooting,” Carter said. “I understand that. I love shooting, too.”
Carter, who will be a junior this fall, and his fellow Newark teammates assisted coach Jeff Quackenbush with Thursday’s final two-hour session. The boys and girls basketball programs have been running camps the past three weeks with the final piece being the kindergartners through second-graders, who participated four afternoons this week.
Thursday’s activities included layup drills, games such as freeze tag and sharks and minnows to help teach ball-handling and of course impromptu interactions with the several current and former players in attendance serving as instructors.
“My whole goal is that kids leave here and they like playing basketball,” Quackenbush said. “If you like doing something, you will practice and have fun doing it and continue to improve as you go through your elementary and middle school career.”
Quackenbush gave each camper a basketball to take home and said if the campers play with the ball so much that it wears out, he will replace it. In the auxiliary gymnasium, the hoops can be lowered to 8-feet, making the camp open to youngest kids in the community.
Newark did a variety of camps to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. The past three weeks, each program did camps for middle school and older elementary students. This week, the boys program did a skills camp for middle school and freshman players to get them ready for what will be expected this winter.
“There are always challenges working with young kids, but it’s all pretty much fun. It is just getting them better for the future,” Carter said. “It’s always cool to see the kids grow and achieve what they want.”
The camps served a secondary purpose. With Newark having graduated all five starters from this past season, the Wildcats next winter will be the youngest they have been in recent memory, so Quackenbush has enjoyed seeing his young players taking the challenge of teaching the same skills they are fine-tuning.
“It’s really good for our high schools to No. 1 be great role models and No. 2 have a great understanding of what we are trying to teach,” Quackenbush said. “You really notice that in the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade level where they are really teaching skills.”
“(Coaching is) fun, but I don’t know,” Carter said. “Maybe. We will see later. It’s a lot of work.”
Carter’s family moved multiple times when he was growing up, so he was never able to experience a camp such as the one at Newark each year. He enjoyed having a chance to take part in providing a great experience for those that dream of being Wildcats a decade from now.
“I never really got the chance, so seeing them do it is way cooler,” Carter said. “There is a little bit of awe.”