This July The Recollective will be packing up our recorders and heading to two high school football camps! To be honest, we know nothing about high school football (or college or professional football for that matter). Nina’s and Jeremy’s high school experience was more like Glee than Friday Night Lights. Chaela chose her school’s avant-garde art club over cheer leading, and Whitney was too busy obsessing over Silverchair and Fawlty Towers to attend any of the games at her high school. So why would a group of nerdy radio producers be spending a couple of weeks with high school jocks in Mt. Pleasant, Texas and East Lansing, Michigan? Well, because 4th & 1, the organization behind the camps, invited us to do a storytelling project with teen athletes and camp mentors as part of this year’s jam-packed curriculum. We talked with 4th & 1 Executive Director Vivian Chum to learn more about the origin and mission of this unique program.
The Recollective: Who is served by the football camps?
Vivian: 4th & 1 serves high school student-athletes from groups that are underrepresented on college campuses. Our student-athletes may be, for example, first-generation college hopefuls, members of ethnic or racial minority groups, from economically-disadvantaged households, or from single-parent homes. This year, 100 student-athletes will attend 4th & 1.
One thing that’s a key to the success of 4th & 1 is that all of our students already come to camp with what I believe to be the most important factors to their success—heart, dedication, big dreams, and determination. You have to want to go to college and to succeed pretty bad to sign up for a camp that has you working from six a.m. to ten p.m. every day, taking two diagnostic exams, and studying for the SAT or ACT three hours a day in the middle of your summer vacation. What our students bring with them to camp—that dedication, determination, and heart—you can’t teach.
The Recollective: Why did you choose Mt. Pleasant, Texas and East Lansing, Michigan as the sites for the football camps?
Vivian: Mt. Pleasant and East Lansing are the hometowns of founder Daron Roberts and Camp Director Kaleb Thornhill, respectively. When founder Daron Roberts dreamed up this camp in 2010, his goal was to give back to Mount Pleasant, the East Texas community that he had grown up in. The “return home” model worked incredibly well. Daron and his family have deep roots in Mt. Pleasant, and as you can expect there was an outpouring of support for the camp in his hometown. We concluded that, should we expand the camp to other locations, we would only do so in collaboration with other leaders in the NFL who had demonstrated academic excellence, understood and believed in our mission, came from low-income communities, and wished to build a camp in the communities in which they’d grown up.
Director of Player Development for the Miami Dolphins Kaleb Thornhill fit the bill. He heard about what we were doing in Texas, and he just got so excited. He expressed a desire to bring 4th & 1 to East Lansing where he had grown up. Kaleb was exactly the kind of leader we were looking to partner with. I mean, he is such a believer in education that while working full-time for the Dolphins, he is concurrently getting his MBA. You can imagine the hours that you end up putting in as a director in the NFL. Now imagine going home after a full day to hit the books. That is dedication.
Kaleb was educated in the public school system in East Lansing and from the start we could sense that he had an innate understanding of how to serve the next generation of student-athletes in his home community. Even better, Kaleb had attended and been a football player at Michigan State University, not far from East Lansing, and that is why MSU hosts our Michigan camp today.
Which brings me to a related point—We are adamant about hosting our camps on college campuses, so that our students get a concrete idea of college life. We aim to make college a concrete goal rather than a pipe dream, and we figured that you can’t get more concrete than actually being on a college campus, living in a college dorm, eating dorm food. Also, since many of our student-athletes will be the first in their immediate families to attend college, we want to take the fear factor out of going to college.
Check out this great short video about the Texas camp by Jun Chang and tune in next week for the second part of our interview with Vivian Chum.