Jerry Davich: Gary summer camp pushes NWI youth to their potential
Jerry Davich firstname.lastname@example.org June 29, 2012 2:42PM
Marquis Carlton bolts to the direction pointed by Butch Martin during workouts Thursday afternoon at the Roosevelt High School track. Barnwell and Butch Martin run Urban Suns Community Development Speed Camp, a not-for-profit mentoring and tutoring program for youth in Northwest Indiana. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 3, 2012 6:09AM
In the shadow of Michael Jackson’s boyhood home, a group of young men run wind sprints around the beat-up football field at Roosevelt High School.
I had to slide through a ripped fence and walk around litter and broken glass to get a peek at them sweating under a hot sun.
On this late afternoon, the sports-minded teens and college-bound student-athletes listen intently to Butch Martin and Rashaud Barnwell. The two Gary men run the Urban Suns Community Development Speed Camp, a not-for-profit mentoring and tutoring program for Northwest Indiana youth.
The speed camp teaches balance training, including strength, flexibility, coordination, explosiveness and quickness. But beyond that, it teaches responsibility, accountability and, above all else, hard work.
“Did ya’ll finish all ya’ll drills?” Martin asked the young men as they hustled up and down the track.
“Too many of these kids don’t know their potential,” he told me in between barking out similar instructions. “It takes hard work to reach their potential. This isn’t play time here.”
Barnwell, who’s thick as a tree stump, coaches weightlifting and strength training. Martin handles the cardio workouts. His T-shirt pretty much says it all. “Don’t talk about it, BE about it.” And on its back, “No Day Off.”
It’s a no-nonsense camp with no helicopter parents hovering over their pampered kids like you see at other youth camps. In fact, on the day I visited I didn’t see any parents watching from the stands or from their vehicles. Unlike with other communities, parental support is an oxymoron for many of the kids here.
Referrals come from parents, school coaches and other rewarded teens. Word of mouth has been the program’s best advertising. The phrase “old school” comes to mind often while watching the workout and listening to Martin and Barnwell.
“It’s all based on taking this camp seriously,” explained Martin during a break in the two-hour camp that takes place three days a week. “The kids who don’t take it seriously don’t stick around too long.”
If they’re not training at this high school track or running its towering bleachers, they’re at the Hudson-Campbell Sports Center in downtown Gary. Or climbing Mount Baldy at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the true measuring stick of the program.
Many of the kids who attend the camp may at first resist the tough-love, hard discipline approach. But most of them also quietly yearn for it. They need it, too.
“It’s not just about a speed camp. It’s about a way of life,” Barnwell explained as a dozen or so teens ran through obstacles on the track to improve their foot speed. “It’s also about building camaraderie with the kids. Many of them are from different places, Gary, Hobart, Merrillville, Schererville. It tears down those walls.”
On this day, a parent arrived at the school’s track to find Martin. The man heard of the speed camp and wanted to enroll his teenage son.
“How soon do you want him to start?” Martin asked the father.
“How much longer will you be here today?” asked the eager father, noting that his son is leaving soon for college.
The speed camp, which was opened last summer to the public, coincides with the group’s myriad mentoring programs.
“Mentoring is a big part of what we do,” said Martin, whose group is in need of sponsors, volunteers and donations.
Let me state that again. The group is in need of sponsors, volunteers and donations. Martin and Barnwell are investing in the deepest and most promising resource in the city of Gary, its youth. This is where Post-Tribune readers can make a difference in the lives of young men such as T.J. Axle-Guy.
When his mother died in 2009, the now 20-year-old Schererville man wasn’t sure what path to take with his life. Then he met Barnwell and was introduced to the Urban Suns program.
“It’s incredible, actually,” he told me. “They invest their time in us to help get us to the next level. Whatever level that may be. It boosts our confidence.”
“It’s serious business here. They teach us life aspects and how to value hard work,” said the Calumet High School graduate who’s been with the program for three years. “Nothing is given to you in life. You have to earn it.”
Here, you must have the desire to earn it. Or you won’t last. Period.
“We have some kids who come and go. They can’t handle it,” Martin said. “But the ones who stay get rewarded.”
Many of the teens want the structure that the program requires, instead of being allowed to shrug off their responsibilities, as too many parents do with their kids.
Consider it an under-the-radar boot camp, of sorts, for youth who need it and those who want it to rise above mainstream mediocrity.
And get this. The group’s five-week summer session costs only $120, or just $5 per session, a fraction of the cost compared to other youth sports camps across the region.
“If we were in it for the money, we’d take our business elsewhere and charge a lot more,” Martin said squarely. “We’re here for the kids.”
For more info on the group and its programs, call 614-3009, email email@example.com, or visit www.urbansuns.org.
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