Detroit camp founder: NCAA decision punishes kids

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
“It is in no way in the best interest of the kids, that’s my takeaway,” Curtis Blackwell said of the NCAA ban on satellite camps.

The initial reaction to the NCAA Council voting to ban summer satellite camps is it was a direct shot at Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and intended to slow his recruiting efforts outside the Midwest.

And at its core, that might be accurate.

A proposal to forbid universities to use secondary sites for camps was voted on and approved, and satellite camps are no more, effective immediately, the NCAA announced Friday. According to a report by ESPN, the Big Ten, AAC, C-USA and MAC conferences voted to keep the camps, while the ACC, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, MWC and Sun Belt voted for the proposal to ban them.

What this means is Michigan and other schools planning to work summer high school camps must abandon those plans.

But what does it mean for the high school athletes?

NCAA bans Jim Harbaugh’s camp tours

Curtis Blackwell is the director of college advancement and performance for the Michigan State football program, but he also is the passionate co-founder of the Sound Mind Sound Body (SMSB) Football Academy, which is entering its 12th year of trying to help young football players get exposure to Division I coaches while also teaching them important lessons about day-to-day life.

The academy, with its roots in Detroit, is set to return to the city at Wayne State’s facilities June 9-10. Blackwell said it is important to understand why he calls it an academy, because not only does it teach football skills, but those who attend spend a considerable amount of time in life-skills lectures with big-name coaches and break-out sessions that delve into more specifics.

Sound Mind Sound Body has expanded and is set to hold camps this summer in Atlanta, Houston, Tampa, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

The decision announced Friday shocked and disappointed Blackwell.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio speaks at  the Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy last June at Dakota High School.

 “It is in no way in the best interest of the kids, that’s my takeaway,” Blackwell told The Detroit News. “No one is an advocate for the kids. Who asked the kids? This is much bigger than just recruiting, that’s the whole thing. We are adamant about young people, and this is really unfortunate.

“The biggest losses are for the kids, the under-the-radar recruits. They get exposure at these camps. You get schools like Youngstown State, Bowling Green and Kent State and they find kids they normally wouldn’t get a chance to see. Kent State doesn’t have a camp. They go to other camps. If you take them away from (Kent State), how do they effectively recruit?”

Blackwell said he has already heard from many parents of kids who had booked flights to attend the various SMSB camps. He said about 1,000 already have registered for the six camps.

The camps will go on this summer but without FBS coaches, who have been a significant draw in Detroit. Harbaugh, MSU coach Mark Dantonio, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly have been speakers at the SMSB here.

Flint Powers Catholic football player Daurel Tolbert, 17, and other defensive linemen yell out during a welcoming ceremony last June at Sound Mind Sound Body.

Blackwell plans to ask the NCAA if it will allow FBS coaches to attend SMSB because classroom and life-skill lessons are such a big part of the academy. For now, though, coaches from the FCS and smaller divisions will attend, along with junior college coaches.

“There’s some hope because of our unique curriculum they will consider our program a benefit for young people,” he said of the NCAA.

Clearly, SMSB has been a crusade for Blackwell.

“I love my job at Michigan State, but I’m a representative of the city of Detroit,” Blackwell said. “I can relate to their struggles. Parents are distraught over this. They don’t understand why this is happening.

“These camps keep hope alive for some of these kids. They promote opportunities for young people. That’s what we’re supposed to be about. What do you tell a single mom in Detroit? You think about what we’ve created in Sound Mind Sound Body, we created this in a bankrupt city, and we brought 300 coaches here to give opportunities to kids they might never see.”

Blackwell stressed that while SMSB in Detroit has attracted some big-name high school recruits, this has been about giving under-recruited players a chance.

“Malik McDowell is going to get discovered,” Blackwell said, referring to the highly recruited MSU defensive lineman who played at Southfield. “But how many Malik McDowells are there? That’s the bigger issue I have. These are the type of kids who are going to miss out. I don’t want to take that hope away. We always tried to have as many people as possible impacted by this program.

“We will still do the Sound Mind Sound Body, we will still help out young people, but it’s a matter of how many will get opportunities now. My biggest concern is there are fewer opportunities for kids. You can take one year away and it could be 100 scholarships in that year. Football is the only vehicle for a lot of these young people. In a time when they have less, we should be all about doing what’s best for these kids first. What’s the message we’re sending?”

Twitter @chengelis