WATERTOWN — Jeff Robbins wasn’t sure if he was going to hold his annual basketball camp this summer, so he sent out a feeler on Facebook.
“I think it’s important for kids (and adults) to get back to healthy activities,” the Sackets Harbor boys basketball coach wrote to close out a post June 6. “Please comment if you have a son or daughter who might be interested, and feel free to share.”
He wasn’t sure what to expect. COVID-19 had derailed the idea of his traditional camp being held at a school, but he envisioned possible smaller camps at another location.
“I didn’t want to dive into something if people weren’t interested, if because of COVID, people were going to be hesitant with face to face,” Robbins said. “The response I got back was pretty resounding. There were comments and people were messaging me and texting me, ‘My kids would definitely be interested.’”
Over a month later, the camp is set to begin Monday at the Children’s Home in Jefferson County. The camp is two separate weeks, Monday through Thursday and July 27-30, with two sessions per week for a total of four. Each session is being capped at 20 participants to keep the group small.
Along with Robbins, Matt Richmond of the CHJC and Andre Brown, former Watertown high school basketball standout and current Jefferson Community College men’s basketball assistant coach, will be running the camp.
“I think it’s a great thing that we can do, we’re operating under the guidelines, we’re doing everything we can do to ensure safety,” Richmond, who works in public relations for the Children’s Home, said. “The biggest most important thing is that it’s a way for us to give back to the community, it’s great for the kids. You have some of these kids who probably haven’t been around peers in who knows how long.”
Robbins will be taking additional precautions to keep the kids safe and healthy.
“We’re going to sanitize in between sessions, each kid is going to get their own basketball so there will be very little if any sharing of equipment,” Robbins said. “We’re going to have water bottles to be handed out to kids so they don’t need to be drinking out of a water fountain or anything like that. There are going to be daily health screening forms, so we’re really taking it seriously, we want to make sure we’re following the safety protocols.”
Robbins secured the venue when Karen Richmond, executive director of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County, reached out to him.
“Because of that post, Karen Richmond of the Children’s Home reached out to me privately and was just like, ‘I think this is great, I support your vision and what you’re trying to do. We might be able to help you,’” Robbins said. “So, I met with her and her son, Matt, and they generously donated their facility.”
For Robbins, the camp is, most importantly, an opportunity for youths to enjoy physical activity after being cooped up inside and away from organized athletics for such a long period of time.
But it’s also going to be a chance for him to practice coaching in the COVID era, something that might be the norm if there is a basketball season this November.
“This will kind of be trial by error,” Robbins said. “I started doing workouts with the kids in my program, modified age up, and we’ve been kind of rotating from kids houses, we play in their driveway, we get nine or 10 kids. It’s kind of same thing, each kid brings their own basketball.
“It is going to be different, we’re not going to be playing any games at camp because we can’t right now, so it’s going to be a different style camp. I’m going to let the kids know the first day, this isn’t going to be — I don’t want to say it’s not going to be fun, because basketball is fun — it’s not gonna be just roll the ball out and play a bunch of games, it’s gonna be a lot of skill instruction.”
Robbins plans on doing drills that focus on footwork and shooting. Shooting drills could allow for more social distancing, plus it’s part of the game that Robbins is most passionate about since that’s the area he specialized in when he was a player.
While they can’t play games, Robbins has tried to develop drills that are more fun and can keep the attention of the kids participating.
“Since the quarantine, I’ve had a ton of time, I’ve been looking things up on YouTube, different types of drills and just in the back of my brain, the things I’ve done in the past,” Robbins said. “I’m going to really work on, starting this week, developing a plan for each day. It’s going to be different than what we’ve done.”
Robbins feels this could be the beginning of a nice relationship between him and the Children’s Home. A few of the youths through the Children’s Home foster care and residence will be attending his camp for free.
“My wife worked up there a couple of years ago and she was just amazed at not just what they do, but how broad many areas they affect, whether it’s mental health or the troubled youth they work with,” Robbins said. “They work with moms, young moms, single moms, they’re very extensive, not just in Jefferson County but I know they reach out to a lot of neighboring counties too.”