It’s a glorious summer evening, and the football field at Gonzaga Prep looks like a colorful street fair – if attendees at such events wore football helmets and pads and the streets were paved with artificial turf.
It’s the Overtime Classic, an evening scrimmage at the Border League Football Camp and prep teams from all over the Inland Northwest square off in three goal-line-situation drills: Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lake City from Idaho, Moses Lake along with Ferris, Gonzaga Prep, Mead and Central Valley from the Greater Spokane League. While not taking part in drills this night, University is a camper and, when Central Valley and Lake City traveled to Moses Lake for the day, Wenatchee joined to make it a foursome.
The teams divide into brackets and compete against one another under tie-breaker rules. Teams are guaranteed at least two games, with two advancing to play for the championship.
On Wednesday night, those two teams were Ferris, the defending Class 4A state football champion, and Central Valley.
In many ways, the camp began as an answer for the tough economic times all schools have been facing and turned into a better product for everyone involved.
“This is our third year and it’s been a really good camp for us,” CV coach Rick Giampietri said. “We put it on ourselves instead of going to a college camp. It ends up costing the kids about half what they pay to go to one of those camps and we get in twice the work. Everyone gets about the same number of reps, so it works out well for everyone.”
Ferris coach Jim Sharkey agreed.
“The competition here is great,” he said. “You go away to a camp and that’s not always the case. We have two state champions at this camp: we’re a state champion and Coeur d’Alene is a state champ. And the rest of the competition is first-rate. We love it. We get in a lot of good work here.”
Planning that work takes time.
The coaches get together beginning in January and meet once a month to work out details and plan which teams go where and when.
“Van Troxel comes over from Coeur d’Alene and Todd Griffith drives up from Moses Lake,” Giampietri said. “It takes a lot of planning to make something like this work.”
“It helps that all of the coaches get along so well,” Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “Sure, we’re all pretty competitive on the field. But when it comes to something like this, it’s all about the kids.”
Football camps offer something that high school teams won’t normally see until the start of the high school season: competition against someone wearing a different-colored jersey.
Coaches can test players under different situations and in different combinations.
“You get to see kids and how well they compete,” McKenna said. “That can be different from how they are in practice. There are always some eye-openers, some surprises that you weren’t expecting.”
“You get to see how kids work together,” Giampietri said. “You can start to build team chemistry, and you can look at combinations on the line or in the secondary. If a kid is going to make a mistake, you’d much rather see them make mistakes in this kind of environment than in a game later on.”
“For me, it’s all about getting better every day,” Sharkey said. “That’s what we care the most about and I think we’ve done that. You get the chance to start building team chemistry – you have some bus trips, like the trip over to Coeur d’Alene or to Moses Lake. It’s always good when you get the kids together and put them on a bus for an hour or two.”
And by managing which teams take part in the camp, the coaches say, they can make certain of the level of competition they see. Of all nine schools at the Border League camp, Class 3A University, fresh from its first season down from Class 4A, is the smallest school there.
“One of the advantages this camp has is that all of the teams here are big-school teams,” Giampietri said. “That’s not always the case at a college camp. You may get a couple big schools, but you also end up scrimmaging against smaller schools that aren’t the same kind of competition.
“In fact, we got a call from the Eastern Washington football camp, asking if a couple of us would go out there for a day to scrimmage with their two big school teams because there are only two of them and they could use some different competition.”