November 03, 2005

Father-Son Camp: It's About Time

[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.

I still remember the final day of camp when the boy was 8 [pictured here]. When the dad free-throw champs were announced and my name wasn't called, Lincoln assumed that I would be crushed. Hesitantly, he looked up at me with earnest compassion in his eyes and a small lump in his throat, and all he could muster was a soft, "Oh well." As in: "Don't feel bad. It's OK that you didn't win – I'm still proud of you."

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."




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UPDATES:

2014: Just returned from another camp (my 12th one). Jack Henry and I had a great time. As I lay soaking in hot water, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, I started doing the math in my head. I first took 8-year-old Lincoln to camp in 2001. Lord willing, I will take 8-year-old Oliver to camp in 2020. So I've decided that my goal now is to be the first camper to win awards in three different decades. [Lincoln and I won the Cutthroat (2-on-2) competition in 2003; Jack Henry and I won the free-throw competition in 2012; and Jack Henry and I won the Hotshot competition and the 21 competition in 2014.] Time to hit the gym! (Though, truth be told, I'm going to leave the serious training to another Dutcher.)

2015: Another great camp. Once again, Jack Henry carried us to victory in the 21 competition.

2016: Jack Henry and I had lots of fun again this year, and we won the 21 competition and the free-throw competition. Also, I took along my "Final Four" ball to be autographed by some of the 2016 Sooners. As you can see, the ball has autographs from various Sooners who advanced to the Final Four in 1988 (Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock, Harvey Grant, Ricky Grace, et al), in 2002 (Hollis Price, et al), and now in 2016. It is also signed by those Final Four coaches – Billy Tubbs, Kelvin Sampson, and Lon Kruger. This year's players thought the ball was really cool, with each of them admiring the names from years past and saying something along the lines of "I would be honored to sign this." When I handed it to Jordan Woodard he said, "Whoa, can I hold this and look at it for a minute?"

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