Going to summer camp helped shape Fred Whitfield’s life.
The president, chief operating officer and minority owner of the NBA Charlotte Hornets went to basketball camp at Campbell University from the age of 8 until he was 18. He aged out of camp, but he didn’t leave Campbell.
Whitfield got a basketball scholarship to the NCAA Division 1 school (Big South Conference) and has been a player, coach, agent or otherwise affiliated with basketball ever since.
He’s still friends with some of the kids he met at basketball camp in Buies Creek, 135 miles east of Charlotte.
“I was fortunate my parents could send me to camp,” Whitfield said. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had. Summer camp really molded me.”
He calls it “a great honor” to be named honorary chairman of The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund this year. Not only does he know first-hand the value of going away to camp, but the chairmanship hits home because of where he works, too. The Summer Camp Fund addresses two of the Hornets’ pillars – education and wellness.
And don’t think Whitfield won’t try to enlist the help of Hornets fans in his role as honorary fundraising chair. “We are going to try to engage all of our fans,” he said. “We’ll be letting our season ticketholders and single ticketholders know about how important this drive is. We don’t care what they give; it can be $5. It can be $1. But we want everyone in our database to know about the Summer Camp Fund.”
This year, more than 500 area kids are going to 33 camps, thanks to readers and the community donating to the fund. The campaign’s official goal is to raise $215,000 to send hundreds more to camp next summer. But Whitfield’s even loftier goal is to ensure that every kid in the Charlotte area who wants to go to camp, can go to camp.
He knows it’s ambitious, but he also knows the long-term difference camp can make for a kid.
The summer camp experience shouldn’t be exclusively reserved for some, Whitfield believes. It should be a rite of passage for every child.
“Some of these kids (who attend camp on scholarship) have never even been out of their own ZIP code,” he said. “It expands their worlds to leave home for a week, meet kids from other cities, interact with different groups of people. They hone their athletic skills and build friendships. Summer camp inspires kids to dream bigger dreams.”
Whitfield has been in the dream-fulfilling business for a while. His camp days didn’t end when he turned 18. He started a basketball camp, Achievements Unlimited, that’s celebrating its 33rd year this summer. The camp has served more than 10,000 boys and girls since he began it in his native Greensboro.
For the last seven years, the one-week camp has been held in Charlotte. It serves 200 kids a summer, and two-thirds of them attend at no cost. “I’m a true believer in the power camp has to shape a child’s life,” he said.
Whitfield is more than the founder and director; he’s interacting with kids every day camp is in session. Campers think basketball is the reason they go to camp, but Whitfield’s primary goals are preaching good study habits and impressing upon campers the importance of staying off drugs. The NBA athletes who drop in during the week provide the sizzle, but life skills are the substance of Achievements Unlimited.
Whitfield has been involved with camps – as a camper, a founder/director and now, a fundraiser – since he was 8. He knows the impact of summer camp goes much deeper than just the week the kids are away. “Camp can make you a better student, a better individual and ultimately,” he said, “a better citizen.”
To give to the Summer Camp Fund
Donate at charlotteobserver.com/summercampfund. Or send donations to The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269.
Each Sunday during the drive, the Observer will list contributors to the fund. If you wish to make an anonymous donation, indicate it on the “for” line of your check or on PayPal, note your preference in the special instructions field. To donate in honor or in memory of someone, use the “for” line or special instructions field. Donations are tax-deductible and are processed through Observer Charities, a 501(c)(3).
If you have questions about your donation: 704-358-5520.