Wolves’ football success translating into youth camp growth

July 25, 2014

By Neil Pierson

The old cliché that success breeds success couldn’t be more true for Eastlake High School’s football program and head coach Don Bartel.

After Bartel arrived at Eastlake, last summer’s True Champions Camp, a four-day event for boys in grades 2-8, tripled in size. The Wolves followed up in the fall with one of the best seasons in program history, finishing 9-3 and earning a berth in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.

The community appears to have responded to those accomplishments. This year’s True Champions Camp, held July 15-18, grew from 60 to 85 participants.

“I think that the success has been a big thing, but I think the success brings attention to how we do things,” Bartel said. “And I think a lot of parents enjoy that.”

On the camp’s opening day, players worked in a three-station circuit. They learned one of Eastlake’s running plays, two passing plays, then listened to Bartel as he spoke about the keys to earning an athletic scholarship.

The coach noted that Eastlake attracted college football recruiters from every corner of the country last year, including all eight Ivy League schools and representatives from all six Bowl Championship Series conferences.

Bartel taught the kids that the counseling center is the most important place at the school, where they can obtain their transcripts and career advice.

“If you want a recruiter to keep recruiting you, if you actually want to move on, that’s the first place,” he said. “Second place is the weight room, because they want to know whether or not you work hard. And then the last place is the football field, because they already know you can play, or else they wouldn’t be here.”

While the overarching message of the camp was serious, there was also plenty of fun to be had. Players were divided into teams, and finished up their daily activities with competitive games that blended football and Ultimate Frisbee rules.

Bartel even cranked up the excitement by using Eastlake’s video scoreboard to post player photos.

It’s the kind of atmosphere that’s easy to fall in love with, said Eastlake senior Eric Uhlar, who will be serving as a team captain this season alongside Michael Nelson and Justin McOmber.

“I think Bartel is doing a great job spreading the word, getting the message out to the whole community, and I think kids are really responding to it,” Uhlar said.

Along with coaching football, Bartel also teaches leadership classes at Eastlake. And camp participants were learning the same lessons.

“It’s not about the result – it’s about the journey and doing the right thing every day, working hard every day,” Uhlar said. “It’s just kind of sunk into me now to be the best person I can be every day, even when no one is watching.”

Along with the Wolves’ coaching staff, 10 Eastlake players helped lead the younger kids through activities. It’s a shift in routine from the high-school schedule, which stays busy during the summer.

The Wolves held team drills throughout June, then participated in the popular Gridiron of Champions camp – led by former Skyline High coach Steve Gervais – at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

“There was great competition when we were there,” Bartel noted. “There were three of our (2014) opponents there – Gig Harbor, Bothell and Issaquah. We scrimmaged with O’Dea and Timberline and Kentlake as well. It was fun.”

Winning has helped cement the Wolves’ foothold with the youth football systems in and around Sammamish.

“Before Bartel was here and we weren’t doing as well, the kids were more skeptical and kind of gloomy about coming here,” Uhlar said. “But now that we have a good program and we went as far as we ever had in the state playoffs, I think they really realize that what we’re doing here is special, and they want to be a part of it.”

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