Sabine Parish resident Trent Malmay made his annual summer trek to Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy’s basketball camps for each of the last five years.
But Malmay, a Converse High School basketball player, won’t be suiting up for the Demons when he arrives on NSU’s campus this January.
Instead, he’ll be an NSU student largely because of the connection he developed with the school and its longtime basketball coach through summer camps.
“We didn’t have a lot of basketball resources at a Class B school like Converse, so getting hands-on experience with college coaches really helped me become a better basketball player,” said Malmay, who lives with his family in Noble and whose sister Tia attended NSU’s women’s basketball camp. “But the camp was much more than basketball. (McConathy) is a Demon in his blood, and he talked how great the professors and the classes are at NSU.
“To have a Division I head coach come and shake your hand and learn your name, it set up a really positive environment.”
An estimated 9,100 students of all ages will have set foot in Natchitoches as part of 55 different summer camps or orientations from late May to early August.
Boys’ basketball camps attracted more than 1,050, including a June team camp with 800 high school basketball players that filled Prather Coliseum for two days.
Fifteen different athletics camps are expected to draw more 2,200 campers by summer’s end in sports ranging from football, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.
“Every kid needs an opportunity to go to some kind of camp — whether that’s cheer camp, basketball camp or a church camp,” said NSU men’s basketball coach Mike McConathy. “It’s a chance to get out of their normal routine and meet people that otherwise wouldn’t have met.
“There’s more value to kids coming to Northwestern State camps than we probably realize. We have students now whose first exposure to NSU was in that camp they attended as children.”
Of course NSU houses much more than just athletics camps.
Cheer and dance camps occupy Prather Coliseum at other times during the summer, drawing in an estimated 1,500 students, most of whom are in high school.
Freshman Connection, which offers tours to incoming students in four different sessions throughout the summer, is the single most attended set of events this summer at NSU with a total of 1,500 participants.
NSU is known for its talented musicians, and summer camps are an important recruiting tool to introduce high school students to campus and to groups like the Spirit of Northwestern, NSU’s marching band.
Music camps accounted for about 400 participants, including Longview (Texas) High School’s band camp.
Dan McDonald, assistant director of NSU bands, said camps also foster music education in the region.
“Our team of band directors go to great lengths to stay connected with bands and music programs in the region,” said McDonald, who added that they judge marching contests and conduct honor bands as well. “We welcome students to campus and help them develop or enhance musical and leadership skills.
“I believe that bringing over 400 potential students to campus is a great way to stir interest in the university. Campers get an inside view of what campus life is like and what NSU has to offer them.”
While some band members come to NSU to study music, McDonald estimates that 70 percent of members major in non-musical subjects, which adds value to the university as a whole.
Outside of blaring horns, bouncing balls or echoing cheers, NSU brings in potential leaders via student organization camps that draw many of the most involved high school students to Natchitoches for multiple days.
The campus is the home of Louisiana’s student council retreats (high school and middle school), Boys State and Girls State and a major 4-H camp.
Hundreds of girls filled an NSU auditorium with ear-piercing cheers during girls state in late June when they learned that TOPS would be fully funded.
More than 2,000 students attend these camps.
Other camps involve art, engineering and robotics.