This summer marks a couple of milestones for the White Sox and Bulls summer camps. That might come as a surprise to some people, according to Thad Gentry, senior director of marketing of the Chicago Bulls/Sox Training Academy.
"The White Sox summer camps started 15 years ago and the Bulls summer camps started 10 years ago this year," Gentry said. "A lot of people don't know that. They might have been to a camp, but they don't realize how long it's been going on."
The academy began having baseball summer camps in area communities in 1994 as the brainchild of academy president Tim Rappé.
"Tim Rappé loved baseball and had this idea that the White Sox should have summer camps all over the market," Gentry said. "He went out and made a proposal to Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf saw the value of it and off it went becoming the White Sox Training Center summer camps. Five years later they started with the Chicago Bulls basketball schools because (baseball) was such a success."
In 2001, the Bulls/Sox Training Academy came to be and today operates year round in Lisle in a facility housing more than 50,000 square feet of practice space. In addition, this year there are more than 300 camps taking place in 150 communities in the Chicago area, including nearly 20 towns in DuPage County.
Gentry estimates more than 50,000 kids will have come through the White Sox Training Center summer camps over its 15-year history. More than 400,000 visitors pass through the training academy in Lisle every year, many of those participating in basketball leagues and tournaments, as well as lessons and camps in baseball, basketball and fastpitch softball.
It's not too late to sign up for summer camps, Gentry said. With prices ranging from $149 to $205, there is something for everyone at various age levels.
Baseball camps start with the fundamentals of throwing, fielding, hitting, base running and defensive skills for 5- and 6-year-olds. Ages 7 to 10 focus on base running, throwing, hitting, bunting, fielding and pitching. Travel player camps for ages 10 to 13 concentrate on advanced, specialized skills such as bunting for base hits and advanced outfield and middle infield.
Fastpitch summer camps also are divided into three age groups - 5- and 6-year-olds, 7- to 9-year-olds and 10- to 12-year-olds - with the focus advancing with each level. Thanks to a partnership with the Chicago Bandits, one day of each camp will feature a Bandits player leading on-field drills, answering questions and signing autographs.
The baseball and softball camps also include six tickets to a White Sox home game, a training center hat, T-shirt and graduation certificate. Players 7 and older will be allowed to participate in a skills competition with a chance to play in the finals at U.S. Cellular Field.
Basketball camps are divided by age and skill levels and are five-day training sessions covering ball handling, passing, shooting and rebounding. Players also are taught team concepts, individual moves and footwork. A skills competition with a chance to compete in the finals at the United Center is also available to everyone.
Coaches for these camps come from the ranks of former professional and college players, as well as high school and college coaches.
"Our coaches spend a lot of time teaching kids how to play baseball and basketball the right way," Gentry said. "But they also spend some time teaching them how to be good sports and good players with each other. We spend a lot of time on teamwork and those kinds of things. It seems to really work, otherwise we wouldn't have been in business for 15 years."
Parents routinely express how surprised they are at the growth of their child during the five-day camps, not only in skill level but in sportsmanship as well.
"Our number one priority this time of year is getting kids in summer camps," Gentry said. "Then through the summer camp process, they might come back to us and train year-round in baseball, basketball or fastpitch.
The training academy also has specialty camps such as the recent Father/Son-Daddy/Daughter Camp in Lisle in June. There are also Bulls overnight camps, pro player camps in Lisle, and even a Luvabulls Dance Camp.
The Bulls/Sox Training Academy lives by a simple motto according to Gentry.
"Because we love this game, and the kids that play it," he said. "That's really the guiding principle of everything we do."
To register for a camp, log on to BullsSoxAcademy.com, or call (630) 752-9225 for more information. Gentry said the academy is also offering $50 in gasoline if you bring a buddy to a camp.