Head Coach Kevin Swift is tired. Bloodshot eyes are hidden behind dark sunglasses and the Gold Beach football boss’ raspy voice is edged with fatigue. It usually is this time of year.
Members of Phoenix High School’s football team practice plays during the first week of the Gold Beach Football Team Camp. The camp is celebrating 20 years of football this year. The Pilot/Randy Robbins
“I have been doing four full-time jobs for as long as I can remember,” Swift said. “I am the Gold Beach High School athletic director, a very good history teacher, the head football coach and oh yeah, the director of the Gold Beach Football Team Camp.”
He pauses. “Each one is a full-time job. Combined?” He adjusts his cap, “Year after year? — Yeah, I’m getting tired.”
Why does he do it?
“Because I care,” he said, “and if I don’t do it, tell me: How’s it all gonna get done?” Saturday, the Gold Beach Football Team Camp (GBFTC) — a program Swift took over from former Panther football coach Roger VanDeZande 16 years ago — kicked off it’s 20th year.
“Back then we had only four teams.” Swift said. “I had just come off my first season as coach and we had this ‘fabulous’ 0-9 record.”
“People wanted to run me out of town and here I am having a camp,” he said. “I was having a hard time getting enough of my own athletes out to even field a team.”
The Gold Beach Panthers are now recognized as a state-wide football power and have contended in five 2A state championship games in the last eight years and winning two titles in that time.
“Now we have grown to 31 teams from places like Canada, England, Alaska, Southern California, and most all of the western United States.” Swift said. “Those two decades have seen thousands upon thousands of prep gridiron athletes pass through this small, seaside burg to participate in what many consider to be best and one of the largest high school football team camps of its kind in the nation.”
This year, as in years past, a contingent of more than 800 student athletes, their teammates, coaches and family members are divided into two camp sessions starting June 15 and ending June 26.
The influx will instantly almost double the Gold Beach population of 2,000 and the town isn’t complaining.
On the contrary, Gold Beach welcomes the returning “boys of summer” much like folks in San Juan Capistrano look forward to seeing the sparrows come back. It’s become a regular migration.
The camp is an economic boon to local businesses that have weathered a long recession with little to smile about. To them, the football camp is a godsend.
The Dairy Queen on Ellensburg Ave. resembled a stuffed telephone booth, with football players literally standing on every square inch of floor space.
The counter help seemed overwhelmed by the tidal wave of humanity.
Coach Swift estimates that every year, for the last 16 years, the football camp has generated anywhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in receipts, all being pumped into grocery stores, restaurants, motels, the jet boats and more.
“It’s probably around $2 million to $3 million overall,” he said.
What’s the draw?
The Swifts have designed a camp that allows coaching staffs the freedom to utilize GBHS’s facilities in whatever way they deem most beneficial.
From camping outdoors in tents that spread around the football field like mushrooms, to sleeping in the gym (or even classrooms). From bringing their own food to purchasing it on campus from a team of helpers that Swift has assembled for that purpose.
Luke Ross, a senior wide receiver from Summit High School in Bend, likes the camp.
“It’s a great camp for team-building and getting our team ready for fall,” he said.
Bonding with his teammates makes it all worth it, he added.
The bonding is something Swift understands all too well.
“We are flexible to their individual needs and want to help them to field successful programs any way we can.” Swift said. “The cookie cutter one-size-fits-all approach for schools that range with diverse student-body counts of between 93 to 3,000 won’t work. So the goal of GBFTC is to help the visiting coaches design their own programs while here.”
People are taking notice.
According to Daniel Aguilar, a volunteer for Phoenix High School in Oregon, his team — 70 strong and all at the camp — will be competitive this fall running out of the spread and the single ‘I’ offenses.
“I really like this camp,” he said. “We’ve been coming for 20 years.”
“What’s great about it,” he added, “is how well organized it is and how we are able to do things on our own terms.”
Others have tried to copy the GBFTC formula, but none have come close to nailing it and Swift has a theory as to why some of his south coast neighbors are having problems duplicating the camp’s success.
“Look. It takes a lot of work to make all of this happen,” he said. “When it gets down to it, not too many people I know are willing to put in the kind of hours we do to make it something worthwhile like the way we do — I’m proud of that.”
Weight lifting and Skills Competition, Pass League, Lineman League, and the grand finale, “The Best on the Beach Scrimmage-A-Thon” — camp teams are divided into two “super teams” the North Pole Bears and the South Pole Orcas — where each team within the super team has a 25 minute running clock with one 1-minute time-out to score as many touchdowns as they can. Points are added to their respective poles’ overall score for how well the teams do.
The points result in camp-end team awards as well as individual awards for excellent performance on the field by individual athletes.
Notable names and winning percentages
And there have been some notable athletes who have made their mark, scorching their names onto some of the Gold Beach Football Team Camp records, while on their way to bigger things.
Free safety Tony Jefferson came to GBFTC with his team from Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., then attended Oklahoma State University where he was named a Second Team All-American before signing with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
Thomas Tyner came to GBFTC with Aloha High School out of Portland last year and now is a running back for the University of Oregon.
In addition to the Gold Beach Panthers — who are consistently in Oregon’s top-10 2A teams — Swift points to prep football powerhouses such as camp regulars Lassen High School who have been camp regulars.
“Tom St. Jacques of Lassen is a class program that everybody out there wants to emulate,” he said. “They have won 10 sectional titles in Northern California.”
“When they scrimmaged Del Norte a while back,” he added, “the hitting was so loud it reverberated off the stadium!”
According to Swift, Yreka High School has been a 16-year mainstay, and Bill Singler of South Medford has a great program, as does Lost River, which has been with the camp since 2004.
More information can be found about the camp at its website, http://www.gbftc.org.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part series. Next week will follow the Brookings-Harbor Bruins and the Gold Beach Panthers in session two of Gold Beach Football Team Camp.