A consistent catalyst to Conway Christian’s success in both eight- and 11-man football has been a weeklong preseason camp at Beaverfork Lake.
It’s like a preseason NFL training camp — conditioning regimen, repetition and early, early mornings.
It’s like a church camp — Bible study, prayer, bonding exercises, fellowship.
A few church camp-style experiences punctuated by pancake blocks.
It’s tortuous conditioning drills with a little “kum-ba-yah.”
In any case, it has seemed to work. The Eagles were a power from the beginning in eight-man football and were a respectable 4-7 in their first year of 11-man football last year in the Arkansas Activities Association, earning a postseason berth.
“It’s really funny. The kids hate it (the camp) when we do it, but then, when they are alumni, they always call and ask when we’re gonna have it,” Conway Christian coach Chuck Speer said. “A lot of our alumni like to come out and watch. They look forward to it then.”
The players stay in cabins at Camp Beaverfork and eat and have meetings in other buildings and pavilions. There is a makeshift field.
The emphasis is on getting the players off to themselves for a time of intense learning and bonding — away from television, video games, girlfriends and families.
“It’s not just football-oriented stuff; it’s a lot of things that draw us closer to God and each other,” said Adam Ragland, one of the running backs on this year’s team.
But nobody really calls it fun.
“Last year, we had a kid step off a ledge and roll his ankle on the first day of camp,” Speer said. “He later told me he had hoped the ankle was broken so he would get out of camp. This year, he told me he didn’t want to have that happen because he wanted to go through the full week.”
One of the things that made this camp memorable was the seniors, most of whom were seventh-graders when the football program had begun.
“I think that’s one thing that made this camp special,” Speer said. “We sat around and shared a lot of memories — of how we began practice on old pastureland. How we pulled old store pallets around with ropes attached, how our blocking sled was an old, discarded one from UCA, how we used whatever we could find. We remembered those rides in the bus to Optimist Field, where we played our games. It’s amazing how far these players have come and how it’s seemed to go by so fast.”
Many of the current older players had not played organized football before.
Speer recalls the first team camp the Eagles participated in featured some 7-on-7 competition. The coaches diagrammed plays with a marker on large cards.
“We had to teach how to read them,” Speer said. “It took one of our running backs a long time to finally figure out that when the circle on his position was filled in, that meant he was supposed to get the ball.”
That’s a practical reason to have camp.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)