More than 160 young men from Basha and Mayer High schools discovered going to camp is not all fun and games when they attended football camp in Mayer this past week.
A group of seniors from the Chandler school were of one accord that new Bears’ head coach Bernie Bushkin was “busting our butts” on the field and in the weight room.
Dhane Cumberledge observed the first-time camp in Mayer was a decided departure from the one he previously attended in Show Low.
“It always seemed challenging before, but once we got to this point – wow!” said the Basha defensive end on Thursday, the camp’s final full day. “And it was mentally tough. When we were tired and hurting, we had to push through.”
Fellow defensive end Joseph Granado called the camp “very, very tough.”
“Some people were slacking when we started, but we came together and became a family,” Granado said.
“This camp was well worth its money. Coach got us ready to play. No game will be as tough as what we just went through,” agreed wide receiver Nick Vorpahl.
Wide receiver Ethan Klaseen said he thought the coaching change accounted for the training method difference.
“This is a rigorous camp. Once our heads hit the pillows at night, we’re out. But we’re more ready for the season. I look forward to the first game against Casa Grande (Sept. 3),” Klaseen said.
That game comes early in September, because Basha is a year-round 5A school.
Coach Buskin explained his methods.
“The whole thing is, we wanted them to be tired. You feel good about yourself when you work hard,” Buskin said. “Football is a tough game, and hard bodies don’t get injured as easily.”
Buskin and his 13 coaches rousted their 157 players at 5 a.m. for a 1-mile run around the track and offensive cadence drills before breakfast. The rest of the morning was devoted to offense. After lunch – and a quick nap in the darkened gym – defense was the theme, with more conditioning and drills. Heavy conditioning and team play took place in the evenings when the temperature dropped a bit.
Rick Lashley, 7-year Mayer football coach who’s been head coach for the past four years, said the camp was helpful to him and his players.
“I’m learning a lot of stuff,” Lashley said. “Coach Buskin is a stickler for doing all things right. The bottom line in football is you have to block and you have to tackle. He just reinforced techniques I’ve been trying to teach for seven years.
“It’s been a good experience for all the kids that have been here.”
He said the half dozen or so Wildcats who came out each day learned what it was like to have competition for a starting position on a team. Small schools typically have to scramble just to get enough players for the 8-man league.
“It brought our level of play up,” Lashley said. “And the kids now are interested in watching Basha on Friday Night Lights (local TV high school sports highlights show) this fall.”
He noted the Basha presence was intimidating for the Mayer squad.
“They have more kids on their football team than we have in our whole school,” Lashley said.
Mayer senior Dimitri Campbell described the initial meeting as “nerve wracking.”
“When I first got here and didn’t see anyone (I knew), I called the coach and said I’d wait for him to come,” Campbell said, smiling.
Although not exhausted, Campbell admitted to having some sore muscles.
Incoming freshman Wildcat Bryce Atkerson aptly described the difference between Mayer junior high football and Basha’s camp as “going from walking to a full sprint.”
They got to go home each evening, while the Basha contingent showered in the locker room and bedded down on blow-up mattresses or cots in the gym. Some of the Basha team’s parents came up to offer their support, staying in RVs in Cordes Junction and riding their quads to Mayer.
“It’s a great camp. The weather’s been a little warm, but the kids are enjoying it,” said David Marxman, father of Brandon, a JV player.
Coaches got their own classroom to sleep in and give themselves and the team a break. But campers ate all their meals together in the cafeteria.
“The food’s great, and the Mayer people have been great to us,” Buskin said.
Susie Allen, Mayer Unified School District‘s Food Service director, coordinated the meals, said Lisa Hawkins, an elementary school aide to autistic children. Allen, Hawkins and Donna Porter, who works in the elementary cafeteria, concocted homemade meals, such as chicken enchiladas, cheeseburgers and breakfast burritos, with the assistance of a cadre of volunteers.
“It was our first football camp, and we fed 200 people each day,” Porter said. “We did it by trial and error, but I think we did OK. Nobody turned anything down.”
“The kitchen staff did a great job,” said Lashley, as he prepared to wind up camp by helping them grill 200 steaks for Thursday evening’s dinner.
Mayer hosts The Orme School Aug. 27 to open the season.