Kermit Smith can give a quick example of how important summer camps can be. And it’s from one of his first few days in Boone.
As the newly hired baseball coach at Appalachian State, he and his wife, Rebecca, were driving into Boone and opted for a stop at a car wash in 2016 – with three young kids, the carnage of eating on the move needed to be addressed.
Smith noticed as one of the workers seemed to recognize him. And when he gave Smith back his keys, he told him why: he attended a camp held by Smith at Belmont Abbey, home of Smith's first college head coaching job.
“That connection right there, if it weren’t for camps, I’d have never coached him and had that small connection,” Smith said in a phone interview last month. “Our opportunity to have kids in from, really ages 5 to 18, in our community and beyond, we have a chance to impact those kids.
“Not just teaching them the finer points of baseball, but you also have the opportunity to teach them the same principles that we run our baseball program with.”
COVID-19 had its effect on many things, clearly demonstrated through the last two months of storylines that have manifested from this pandemic. But one of those is the cancellation of all athletics summer camps at Appalachian State before the fall semester start date of Aug. 17. Those camps give an economic boost (among other boosts) to different programs in different ways.
Take baseball, for example. Smith said the Mountaineers baseball program lost two camps, each that would’ve spanned about a week. There’s still a prospect camp scheduled for Aug. 22, which is more based on recruiting.
Camps like that, much like they do for baseball programs nationwide, help App State pay their volunteer assistant coach. The NCAA allows for baseball programs to have only three paid coaches – one head coach and two assistants. For a volunteer coach, income has to come in other avenues, like these camps.
The loss of those two camps played a part in the recent departure of Erik Lunde, who was the volunteer assistant the last four years. Lunde played for Smith at Lander, where the coach worked from 2009 to 2016. Lunde, who got married in the last year, opted to leave baseball and the instability that comes with a volunteer role.
“I don’t want to speak too much for him, but he’s faced with a majority of his salary being canceled,” Smith said. “So I think it was probably the crossroads of entering a new stage in his life and having a majority of your compensation being canceled right out of the gate.”
It created a similar situation for wrestling, which runs lean anyway. Coach JohnMark Bentley typically runs on a budget of roughly $50,000 to $60,000. And that has produced four straight Southern Conference titles from 2016 to 2019.
The summer camps, of which there were nine for wrestling, can bring in an additional $30,000 to $40,000 from the 1,000-plus attendees, according to Bentley.
“We’re a pretty cost-efficient sport. It’s how it’s run at App,” Bentley said. “But like I said, our budget being as small as it is, we really rely on that camp income to be able to do some extra things that we really need to do to keep putting out the kind of program that we want to put out and that our fans are accustomed to seeing.”
Bentley admitted that this upcoming year might require fundraising creativity. But the benefit that wrestling has is it exists in a regional conference footprint. App State athletics director Doug Gillin mentioned that all App State sports (most of which compete in the Sun Belt besides wrestling and women’s field hockey, which plays in the Mid-American Conference) are going to try to schedule with better proximity to home.
App State wrestling, a program perennially ranked in the top 25, has built challenging schedules while staying close to Boone and getting Power Five programs to compete in Varsity Gym.
And while there’s still much uncertainty about what college athletics will look like, Bentley hopes this can be navigated and keep his program on its trajectory while weathering the situation.
“I would say probably our recruiting budget,” Bentley said of his biggest budgetary worry. “That’s obviously one of the first things that kind of concerns me. You know, being able to bring kids on our campus, and then being able to go out, find them and recruit them.
“Those are big areas of the budget, but right now it’s so early to tell.”
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