The March 9 Duke-UNC rematch isn’t the only thing happening in basketball-crazy North Carolina next month. For North Carolina’s electric cooperatives, it’s also the scholarship selection process for middle school basketball camps.
For the past 15 summers, the Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives Sports Camps Scholarship program has sent more than 50 middle schoolers to weeklong camps at basketball powerhouses University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University in Raleigh. The scholarships pay for campers’ entire cost—$670 at UNC and $400 at N.C. State—including food and lodging in campus dorms.
The scholarships drew praise from N.C. State’s Wes Moore, head coach of the Wolfpack women’s basketball team, for providing opportunities for students from families with limited incomes. “Athletic skills and talent are not bound by where you live or how much money you make,” he said in a statement.
Each of the state’s 26 co-ops selects two students entering the sixth, seventh or eighth grades for the Roy Williams Carolina Basketball Camp for boys and the Wolfpack Women’s Basketball Camp for girls. To apply, youngsters must write a short essay and answer a question about their understanding of a co-op.
“We get to learn about what makes them excited about basketball and why they want to go to this camp. But then they also get to learn what a local electric cooperative is and how it works,” said Jennifer Heiss, a communications specialist at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives in Raleigh.
For middle schoolers looking to improve their game, the camps’ access to Division I coaches and players “is a dream come true,” said Adam Martin, a communications specialist at EnergyUnited in Statesville.
“The whole state is big into college basketball,” said Martin. “These kids grow up idolizing coaches and players and watching them every week on TV. To interact and pick up skills from these people they grow up watching…is incredible.”
EnergyUnited conducts in-person interviews in its regional offices for the top six boy and girl finalists. “You get to hear their stories about why basketball means so much to them…meeting these kids one-on-one, to me, that’s what it’s all about,” said Maureen Moore, the co-op’s communications manager and a member of the selection committee.
Some of those stories are hard to forget. One boy described how his parents met at an N.C. State basketball game and because of that he had his heart set on going to camp. “But do you really want to know why I want to go to basketball camp? I really want to go for my mom,” Moore recalled the boy as saying. “She died of breast cancer and always wanted to see me play basketball at college, so it would mean the world to me to be chosen to go to basketball camp.”
“That goes way beyond bouncing a ball on court,” said Moore. “To some of these kids, it’s an opportunity they might not ever have if not for this scholarship program.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.