[This column was published on Father’s Day 2003 in The Sunday Oklahoman.]
This is the third Father's Day in a row that I've woken up sore.
But it's worth it, because I love spending time with my 10-year-old son at Kelvin Sampson's annual Father-Child Basketball Camp, held on the University of Oklahoma campus over Father's Day weekend.
Lincoln and I are among the 100-plus campers living in Walker Tower, eating at the Couch Cafeteria, and playing ball in the Sooners' extraordinary practice facility adjacent to the Lloyd Noble Center. We practice our shooting and ball-handling, engage in sadistic stretching exercises, and battle other father-son combos in the two-on-two "Cutthroat" competition.
In a recent interview, Sampson told me he first got the idea for a father-son camp while running summer camps as a young head coach at Montana Tech. He even participated with his own son, Kellen.
"Kellen thought that was the neatest thing to stay in a dorm with his father," Sampson recalls. "To see me when I woke up in the morning, we're both brushing our teeth in the sink, getting dressed, going to eat in the cafeteria, coming back over to camp. He thought it was the funniest thing when his dad hurt his back and his legs were sore and he couldn't raise his arm above his head in the morning. And then going back to bed again that night and getting up."
Indeed, those are the very things Lincoln enjoys. Going through the cafeteria line with dad, getting Fruit Loops and pizza and green Jell-O. Sleeping with dad on dubious mattresses in a stale public dormitory. Being lifted skyward by Johnnie Gilbert and hanging, triumphant, on the rim.
It's not so bad for us dads, either. Seeing how much fun Lincoln has fraternizing with 19- and 20-year-old superheroes. Feeling the camaraderie during "Cutthroat," realizing that the little guy is genuinely proud to have dad on his team, and is pretty much counting on me to carry us to victory.
Moments like those come when you least expect them. But they don't come if you don't spend time with your kids.
Growing up in North Carolina, Kelvin Sampson had a father who spent time with him. "Kelvin and I spent so much time together," Ned Sampson once told The Oklahoman's John Rohde. "We were together all the time. I enjoyed the heck out of it. I don't know if he did or not."
He did. "Little things you remember," Kelvin says. "Taking me to service stations and getting a Baby Ruth candy bar, or getting a soda on the way home, little things you associate with treats. But the treat for me was just being able to hang out with him."
He says his dad would work several jobs in the summers, but at night would always have time for the kids. "No matter how tired he was, he would always have time to pitch us baseballs, hit us ground balls, and that rubbed off on me. No matter how tired you are or whatever, you just always have time for your children."
Sampson says the public sees him as a basketball coach, but has no idea how much he enjoys being a father. "That basketball camp is a chance for me to share that," he says. And now that Kellen is too old for camp (he will be a freshman at OU this fall), Sampson savors "the joy I get from the other dads doing it with their sons. Because you have such a small window where you can share these kinds of moments and memories, and they're gonna be gone.
"And those are times you just can't get back."