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Updated 10:00 AM July 10, 2006




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Spotlight: Camp of Champions leader guides winning team

Most students are gone for the summer so the dorms are dead, right?

Not if you ask South Quad cafeteria staff who last month cooked and served enough spaghetti, buffalo wings, shrimp linguine and other dishes to satisfy 1,100 hungry football campers—all within the 45 minutes scheduled for nightly dinners.

Football is the most popular of the 13 summer camps organized by Robert Miller, Camps of Champions director and conference manager, Housing-Conferences, and his staff.
(Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

When traditional college students leave for the summer, 8,000-9,000 Camps of Champions attendees begin checking in from every region of the country. The youths ages 10-18 typically come to attend camps in baseball, basketball, cheerleading, crew, diving, field hockey, football, gymnastics, ice hockey, softball, speed and agility, volleyball, water polo, and wrestling.

Miller has been with the University for 23 years, serving the last two in his current position. His work each year begins with recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training seven coordinators, 49 counselors, and seven office staff members. What's most rewarding about his job? "It's having the opportunity to work with and get to know some of U of M's brightest and finest students."

Work continues year-round, as the group works with athletics to determine camp schedules, write and review contracts, prepare training materials and more. "The process starts in January and comes to fruition at the beginning of June when our first campers arrive," Miller says.

While the coaches have the campers during the day, youths typically are released at 8 p.m. to the care of Miller and his staff, who are responsible for them until
8 a.m., when campers return to athletic sessions.

"On my watch, knock on wood, things have been pretty uneventful," Miller says. "However, there are interesting things that occur with 1,100 kids in-house. Last year we had a cheerleading team that witnessed a hit and run accident near the dorm and made up a cheer to remember the license number. I woke up the following morning to see Katie Couric interviewing them on the Today show.

"After one particular camp last year, which ended on a Thursday night, I noticed a 13 year old young man sitting by himself in the lobby. Asking if I could help him, he started crying and told me that his mom and dad had not come for him. They live in Chicago. I placed a call to them and they told me that they thought that camp lasted until Friday. I ended up waiting with him for five hours until they could drive here to get him."

Miller says when campers arrive they tend to be excited to be away from home and on a great college campus, making new friends. "By the end of the week, however, they're tired," he says. "They're worked pretty hard at their athletic sessions, and they play pretty hard during our activities each night. It seems to me on that last day they are exhausted, but reflective upon all of the fun that they have had."

Night activities for the football campers range from basketball to karaoke to arts and crafts to one universal favorite pastime. "They like to eat," says Miller, adding it's amazing to see the stacks of empty boxes, representing all the pizza consumed even after the campers have been served three substantial meals through the day.

Miller works for Conference Services which facilitates operations and registration year round, hosting roughly 20,000 individuals at a range of conferences each year. "It's a super group of individuals doing great work," he says. He formerly served as front desk/guest relation manager with the Executive Residence.

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