Going camping: Desert Vista builds brotherhood in Flagstaff

Aug 3, 2018, 8:03 PM

Desert Vista has been going to camps outside of Phoenix for the last 21 years, a tradition Coach Da...

Desert Vista has been going to camps outside of Phoenix for the last 21 years, a tradition Coach Dan Hinds started when he became the head coach. (Courtesy Dan Hinds Twitter)

(Courtesy Dan Hinds Twitter)

PHOENIX — Summer means a break and vacation to most high schoolers, who are trying to escape education for the three hottest months of the year. For athletes, training in the summer is essential to becoming a contender during the season.

Desert Vista High School’s football team has combined the best of both to let its players take a break from the extreme heat as well as develop the skills needed for the upcoming season.

During the second week of July, the Thunder traveled to Flagstaff so they could participate in the Camp of Champions at Sinagua Middle School for five days.

“I like (Flagstaff) because the climate is great up there,” Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said. “The temperature is good, the weather is good. The facility we went to is great. It was built as a high school, up there, and then they closed it down and reopened it as a middle school. It has high school facilities. It’s got turf fields so no matter what the weather is like the field is good. The facility is great.”

The school has been doing camps since the fall of 1997, when Hinds was an assistant on the team. Sinagua has been the home for Desert Vista’s camps the last two summers after the team juggled around campsites the last 17 seasons with Hinds as head coach.

The high schools Desert Vista traveled to for previous camps stopped hosting camps altogether. However, Hinds still wanted to carry on with the tradition and have his team together away from home.

“The reason I like to do camps is to still do practice and get better on the field,” Hinds said. “The main reason I like to go out of town for the camp is to build bonds within our football team.”

The camp isn’t just for the varsity team in the program. All levels are invited. It sets the foundation for the young players and shows them how the older players act and how the program is run.

One thing the program does to make sure the older and young players interact with one another is a big brother-little brother program to create a brotherhood environment.

“The very first day of camp we match every freshman up with a varsity player,” Hinds said. “These little freshman have no idea what’s going on, they might be timid. All of a sudden they have a big brother at camp. The big brothers have responsibility for the little brothers. The little brothers have an older guy that they can lean on.”

“You talk to some of them and get to know them,” senior defensive tackle Brett Johnson said. “I would just talk to them about anything. What to expect with high school. It kind of reminded us about the joys of middle school and how easy life was back then. We just talk to them and prepare them for the ‘real world.’ ”

The team does not take camp lightly. It is a full workday and then some.

The day starts at 5 a.m. when the team does hill runs before breakfast at 7 a.m. Then the team practices another three times before going to bed at 10:30 p.m.

“Camp is not easy, camp is challenging,” Hinds said. “When a kid is here at home, once they get challenged and things kind of start going and start getting difficult, kids can go home to their parents, or go to their girlfriend or whatever. At camp all they have is their teammates.”

It’s not all football. The team does have downtime and there is a designated slot for team building at 8:30 p.m. The coaches also take away the biggest distraction from teenagers: cell phones. It forces players to mingle when they may not have otherwise.

“It’s not bad at all,” said senior punter Kyle Ostendorp when asked if no cell phones was an issue. “We bond so well. Sometimes in the past there are some kids that have been excluded but this year everyone has been bonding well. No kids are isolated.”

“We really just sit down and talk with each other for hours on end,” said senior cornerback Kaleo Bright. “You usually don’t get that down here. It’s different than being here because when you’re here with each other, it’s a lot of football stuff. Once you’re up there it could be football for three hours, or however long your practice is, and after that you have to go inside and what else are you going to do but talk to your brothers.”

A drill the team does to incorporate dependability is a trust walk. Certain players are blindfolded in the forest, in the middle of the night, only to be led by the voices of their teammates while dodging an obstacle course of rocks, trees and other players.

“I have to trust you and your responsible for my well being,” Hinds said. “These are all good, transferable skills onto the field and in life.”

“We led each other through,” Bright said. “Once again it builds our relationship with each other, which is amazing to do that. To be able to go out and experience that is unreal.”

Desert Vista isn’t the only football team to depart from the threatening Phoenix heat in the summer. Some of the top teams in the state have the same idea. But not all teams travel north to experience a drop in temperature. Casteel and Saguaro both went west to California, as did Arizona College Prep in its second season as a program.

Hinds can only worry about his team and focus on the brotherhood he is trying to establish in the program for the upcoming season, beginning at camp and lasting through the season.

“One thing, if you’re around our program very long, you’ll hear the word ‘brotherhood’ come up really quick,” Hinds said. “Brotherhood grows up at camp.”

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Going camping: Desert Vista builds brotherhood in Flagstaff