BY BARRY WONG
During a drill at one of Durango High School’s annual summer basketball camps, former Blazers Paris Estrada and Greg Gentry are guiding kids through a set play, weaving little bodies through screens and directing traffic.
Years ago, they were in these kids’ shoes.
“We were always hanging out at this age, hanging and playing basketball for fun,” Estrada said.
It’s a day full of drills, games and simple fun, but these camps, which are now being held for the 22nd year at Durango, continue to grow more important for the program.
“High school basketball has become a really big deal,” Durango head coach Deshawn Henry said. “Costs are forever rising.”
As interest and costs rise, funding continues to fall. Athletic funding from the Clark County School District has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past five years.
Durango’s three summer camps and summer tournament help fill some of that void. Each camper pays $135, with anywhere from 50 to 100 kids attending each session. For Durango’s Summer Shootout, participating teams pay $360 each. After paying the bills, gym, electricity, referees, etc., Durango’s basketball team keeps around 70 percent of the money made over the summer.
“Our camp and tournament in the summer is huge because we’re able to raise a good amount of money that helps supports us during the season,” Henry said.
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Much of that money helps pay for travel, the biggest expense for nearly every athletic team in the city. Henry likes to schedule one out-of-state trip each season, in addition to competing in local tournaments prior to league play.
For Henry, tough trips and tournaments equal games against top competition and that helps translate into a better Durango basketball team. During that same five-year span, Durango has remained as one of the top teams in the valley, winning nearly 70 percent of its league games since the 2009-10 season.
“We really take the summer seriously to help secure those funds,” he said.
Along with Durango alumni, current Blazers also work the camps as counselors.
“It’s a lot easier to come in and work camp, as oppose to having to sell candy and sell T-shirts,” Gentry said. “This, it’s just doing something we love.”
“It’s great because our kids get to see that hard work that it takes to fundraise, to put on camp, to put on tournaments,” Henry said. “We get a sense of unity out of it.”
With the prospect of continuing budget cuts always on the horizon, the Durango program is always thinking forward. You can already find information about the 2015 Summer Shootout online, and Blazers Camp info is sure to follow.
Counselor Estrada is already one step ahead.
“I try to have a positive energy,” he said. “(So) they come back, keep coming back every single year.”