At the Buzzer

When our popular basketball camp lost its celebrity director, my college decided not to take down the nets and close the gym doors. On the contrary, his departure became the impetus for making a great program even better.

Here are some tips from the pros at Houghton College. You, too, can make your camp one that kids and parents alike will keep coming back to, year after year.

Be willing to lose

According to Mark Pavone, women’s basketball associate head coach and administrative camp director at Houghton College in western New York, you must be willing to lose money during the first year. The college had to field such setup costs as buying portable hoops and balls.

Pavone’s philosophy is, “Get the kids in here no matter what the cost.” And the college has. Today the Houghton College Basketball Camp is the most successful camp in the southern tier of western New York. It went from 237 girls and boys in the first recovery year, to just under 600 kids currently.

They come from 14 states and five countries to attend basketball camp in Houghton, a small town an hour and half from Buffalo or Rochester, N.Y. No matter where you’re located, your camp can attract students from anywhere, if you’re willing to build from the bottom up.

Keeping Campers

Now that you’ve risked capital to get warm bodies to come to your camp, keep them coming back, so that you can begin to make money.

At Houghton, Pavone says that recruitment and retention go hand in hand. “You must flood the market with your program,” he says. In its recovery year the college printed 30,000 brochures and placed them in high schools and bookstores and mailed them to youth pastors and alumni of Houghton College. Today they mail half that many because they have built a client base that keeps coming back.

The brochure the college sent out after the celebrity director left was not just any brochure. It was a poster-brochure. While it folded conveniently for mailing, it opened into an 11″ x 17″, full-color, glossy poster, touting the great things about basketball camp at Houghton: specialized instruction with highly qualified staff, a full week of play, three full-length games per day, and a maximum of eight people on a team. Not only do participants learn basketball skills, they learn life skills, such as team cooperation and living together.

The brochure used loud colors and bold type and showcased the week’s various camps for boys and girls are offered.

Besides a flashy, large brochure, camp directors went out and met face to face with local coaches. They promoted the Houghton camp and offered discounts to schools that brought a group to camp. Scholarships for players added an attraction, as well. Also, Houghton’s public relations department promoted basketball camp via news releases to local newspapers.

Basketball camp is so popular at Houghton that they’ve added a day camp for children in grades one through three and a camp for teams. The brochure advertised early-bird specials and discounts if registrations were received by a certain date.

While that personal touch is still integral to the success of the program today, Pavone encourages directors to have a strong Web presence. “Today’s young people are techno-savvy,” Pavone says, “so use this technology to your benefit.”

To check out the Houghton College Basketball Camp, visit www.houghton.edu/sports/camps.

The college uses its Web site in many ways. Campers’ parents can register their child on-line or print out a user-friendly version to mail in. (For security reasons, the college cannot accept payment electronically yet.)

Also, the sports pages are listed on other sites, so if a parent or child is searching an engine for a basketball camp, Houghton’s will pop up.

Pavone also uses the Web to provide daily updates for parents while their child is at camp. A parent can find out how their child’s team is stacking up, for instance.

Slam Dunk

Once the brochures were out, Pavone and athletic director and women’s basketball head coach Skip Lord hit the streets. They met with coaches, youth pastors, and anyone else who would listen, to talk about their camp.

Coaches who they hired to work as counselors at the Houghton camp also received incentives for bringing more kids from their school. These coaches, in turn, became valuable spokespersons in their areas for the Houghton camps.

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