HS Then & Now: Under Armour Puts New Blood In Sticky Sport

Posted on June 19, 2007

By Keith Mills

Brian Kelly walked to the podium and delivered a message that cut right to the core of high school all-star games everywhere. 


The South's Andrew Feinberg (McDonogh) attempts to get by Kevin Piegare in the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse game.
(Sabina Moran/PressBox)
"You guys are like a light," Kelly said. "You may not realize it now but you are an influence to a lot of people. And that's my challenge to you as a group. Play hard, play smart and play together."

Kelly is the lacrosse coach at Calvert Hall. He coached the South team in last weekend's  Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic at Loyola College. Brooke Kuhl-McClelland of Mount Hebron coached the girls’ South team. It wasn't the first high school all-star game and won’t be the last, but it was another example of how corporate America has put its stamp on prep sports. 

Nike, Adidas and Reebok all but own high school and college basketball, while McDonald's sponsors mega all-star games in basketball and soccer. Aflac Insurance brings the All-American Baseball Classic at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen while Gatorade sponsors the National High School Athlete of the Year awards. Even the U.S. Army sponsors a football game, the All-American Bowl held annually in San Antonio. And now Under Armour has emerged as a major player in lacrosse, perhaps the country’s fastest growing sport.

“The game is exploding all over the country,” Kelly said. “This is an opportunity to show how big the game is getting.”

More than 40 years ago, Howard Garfinkel saw the same thing in high school basketball when he created the first Five-Star Basketball camp.

“I remember when he ran it out of the Poconos,” said former Loyola Blakefield basketball coach Jerry Savage. “He’d call around to coaches he knew, asking them to send him some of their best players.” 

Savage obliged, sending gifted 6-foot-9 Pete Budko to one of the early Five-Star camps. Budko went on to North Carolina, which not only featured many future Tar Heel stars, but Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith as a regular guest speaker.

Garfinkel saw the future. He saw players who were willing to test their games against some of the best players in the country. He saw high school coaches from Maine to Miami willing to drive hundreds of miles to deliver those players and he saw college coaches who wanted to be a part of it. 

The quaint Five-Star camp of yesterday is now a big-money camp. Almost every college in the country offers some sort of camp, while hundreds of others feature big-name players or companies that attract kids based on name and reputation.

If little Johnny can run like Kyle Harrison and shoot like Mikey Powell, he can go to the STX Camp, the Top Gun Camp, the Great Western Camp in San Diego, the National Lacrosse Camp in Denver or Top 205 in College Park.

If Billy can hit 90 mph on the radar gun, he can go to the ABC All-America Camp in Lakeland, Fla., or the Southern Maryland Baseball Camp in Gambrills. If he's just learning the game, he could go to the Ripken Camps in Aberdeen and Myrtle Beach, S.C. From May to September, the Ripkens and their staff offer camps in the following categories: rookie, high performance, special training and the Ripken Way. Little Mary can go, too, because the Ripkens also offer softball camps.

Girls soccer? There's the Julie Foudy Soccer Camp in Mission Viejo, Calif., or closer to home, 20 coed sessions put on by the Baltimore Blast.

Is chess your game? There's the Castle Chess Camp at Emory University in Atlanta. There's even a jump rope camp: the S.I.T.Y Stars in Greenbelt.

Indeed, with the money, the time and the interest, there's a camp for everyone. But if you're really good, camps are no longer just enough. For the LeBrons, A-Rods and Gary Gaits of tomorrow, there's the showcase.

Southern Maryland Baseball Camp, a showcase camp, isn't as much a camp as it is an opportunity for rising high school juniors and seniors to throw and hit in front of an army of scouts and college coaches who make their way to Arundel High School for six weeks in January and February. Their simple mission is to evaluate some of the state's top prospects invited by director Jerry Wargo and his staff.

Mount St. Joseph’s Gavin Floyd, the No. 4 pick in the 2001 major league draft, is a graduate of the camp, as is Williamsport's Nick Adenhart, now a high profile prospect with the Los Angeles Angels.


This year alone, five former campers were selected in this month's draft, including McDonogh's Joe Yermal, who was selected in the 39th round by the Orioles and who has also received a scholarship to North Carolina-Charlotte. Loyola High school graduate Michael Gioioso, drafted in the 50th round by the Orioles out of Mount St. Mary's, was also there. Baseball is not alone in showcasing its hot prospects in invitational camps. The Reebok ABCD Camp Main Event in basketball will be held July 22 in Las Vegas. A year ago, Greg Oden and O.J. Mayo were featured, while the Jordan Brand All-American Classic and the King James All-Star events now rival the McDonald's Classic in talent and exposure.

***

"I don't know if you've ever seen the McDonald's All-American Basketball Game," Kelly said at last Friday's Under Armour Classic press conference. "But that's what this is. You're representing your high school, your future colleges, your families and yourselves. Much is given, much is expected."

Kelly is pure Baltimore lacrosse. He grew up playing for the Kelly Post youth program, went to Calvert Hall, then North Carolina, and returned seven years ago to coach his alma mater. His message to the players was simple, to the point and right on.

"A lot is expected of you," Kelly said. "My kids will be at this game. They're 7-, 5- and 2-year-old boys, and they will be watching everything you do. They wear the helmets the way you wear your helmets. They wear the gloves the way you wear your gloves. They act the way you act."

And last Saturday they came together under the expanding Under Armour empire. What began as a provider of apparel to the University of Maryland athletic program has grown into a multi-million dollar business. 

The event featured 44 boys and 44 girls from the North and South, considered among the best graduating seniors in the country. Two other games featured rising seniors who will graduate in 2008, which brought the total number of players at Diane Geppi-Aikens Field to nearly 200.

Under Armour spared no expense for the event, knowing well that this generation of lacrosse players (and their parents) and the following generations will need shirts and shorts to go along with their STX sticks and Warrior helmets.

Sponsoring high school all-star events is as much about marketing the product as it is about honoring the players. Every one of the all-stars at last weekend's Under Armour Classic will say it was a huge honor to be there.

"Playing in high school, you hear about all these names," Severn's Nick Elsmo said. "Now you get to put a picture with the names. To get to meet these guys today that I'll be playing with tomorrow is a huge honor."

Elsmo is going to Virginia and was one of nine players in the boys game headed to Charlottesville to play for coach Dom Starsia. Corey Donohoe of North Harford High School is headed to North Carolina, one of five girls headed to Chapel Hill.

"This is a great opportunity," Donohoe said the day before she earned MVP honors in leading the South team to a win over the North.

"There are a lot of good players around," said McDonogh's Andrew Feinberg, headed to Brown next year. "It's a relief to have some of the guys I played against on my team now." Feinberg, Elsmo, Tim Donovan of Loyola, Chris Clements of St. Paul's, Alex Lyons and Travis Reed of Boys' Latin played for the South. They are also alumni of the Top 205 Lacrosse camp, lacrosse's answer to the Reebok Main Event.

Created and run now by Towson's Tony Seaman, Princeton's Bill Tierney and Maryland's Dave Cottle, The Top 205 is more like The Top 500, held in two sessions every summer at Cottle's Terrapins lacrosse complex in College Park.

There was no Top 205 when Kelly grew up, but there was a McDonald's Classic, the basketball showcase that changed it all. Prior to that, broadcasting a high school game was reserved for small towns or Thanksgiving type games which featured age-old rivalries like City-Poly and Loyola-Calvert Hall. 

Now, fans can watch the high school basketball game of the week on national television. The Under Armour Classic was broadcast live nationally on ESPNU. It has not gone unnoticed, not by corporate America or by Kelly.

"You guys will be the ones that impact the future generations of lacrosse," Kelly said. "The way kids treat each other, sportsmanship-wise, because they watch. These kids watch, they really do."  

Issue 2.25: June 21, 2007

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