The bouncing of basketballs, the shriek of a whistle and the squeaking of shoes on the court were all welcome sounds this past week as the Impact Sports camp returned after a one-year absence due to COVID-19.
The camp, hosted at the Mississippi University for Women, allowed more than 200 girls basketball players from 14 teams across the Southeast to come and scrimmage over the summer.
Impact is an organization focused on putting on camps for MAIS and MHSAA boys and girls basketball players. This week’s event featured teams from Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee as well as Mississippi. Plans to host the camp in 2020 fell through because of the pandemic, which stung for the coaches and players for the teams that regularly attend.
“Last year was the first year we had not done a camp in a while,” said Billy Thomas, who runs the Impact Sports camp. “We had a huge camp scheduled for last year. COVID came about, so we tried to work it in, but we just couldn’t make it work.”
Before helping run these camps, Thomas coached at what is now Columbus Christian Academy, so he is very familiar with the area and the landscape of MAIS basketball. Thomas said that the 200-plus girls that came this week were originally expected to be 300-plus, but they were unable to use one court, which hampered the amount of players who could come.
“It’s a team camp, so we’ll have upwards of 20 games on this one court; usually we’ll play on two courts and up to 60 games, so COVID is still affecting it a little bit,” Thomas said.
For some of the elite players in the MAIS, the camp is a great opportunity to get some work in with your teammates during the summer.
“Mainly, this camp has helped us bond together more and lets us run some new offenses and defenses,” Winona Christian shooting guard Bella Roberts said. “I think that will help us not only this season but also in other camps this summer.”
“It showed us all of our strengths and weaknesses, not only individually but as a team,” Winona Christian guard Olivia Brooks said.
Not having the camp in 2020 really affected the athletes, robbing them of some valuable experience before an uncertain season, with several quarantines due to COVID-19. For some teams, this summer was their first time attending the Impact Sports camp, and Calhoun Academy coach Barbara Winter can already tell the difference.
“It gives them a lot more confidence going into the season,” Winter said. “You’re playing competition that they usually don’t see. You play teams that might play something different than what you’re used to seeing. We’re seeing some zone, we’re seeing some man-to-man, and we’re actually playing a different defense than we’ve ever played, so summer camp’s a great time to put that in rather than waiting until before the season.”
Winter noted that one of the biggest benefits of her team coming in is that her players are bonding a lot more when they’re around each other all the time. Winter also said that this has been beneficial for the new players on the team to jell with the upperclassmen on the team and catch up before their first season.
She said camp was a great opportunity for her entire team to get some work in together, because her team was not able to get much work in due to the virus. The Cougars ended up canceling more games than they played.
But with so many players sharing the court during Wednesday’s camp, it was a sign that’s unlikely to happen again.