Coastal camp is a big hit with programs

GOLD BEACH — 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.

"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."

A week ago, the Gold Beach Football Team Camp — a program Swift took over from former Gold Beach 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." He shrugged.

"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 statewide football power and have contended in five 2A state championship games in the last eight years, 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 next Wednesday.

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 Avenue 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.

Swift estimates that over the years, the football camp has generated $2 million to $3 million in receipts, all being pumped into grocery stores, restaurants, motels, the jet boats and more.

The Swifts have designed a camp that allows coaching staffs the freedom to utilize Gold Beach High School'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.

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."

According to Daniel Aguilar, a volunteer for Phoenix High School, 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."

The camp features team competitions such as weight lifting and skills competition, a passing league and a lineman league. In 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. Each each team within the super team gets a 25-minute running clock to score as many touchdowns as they can. Points are added to their respective poles' overall score.

The points result in team awards at camp's end as well as individual awards for excellent performance on the field by individual athletes.

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 the camp 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 regular Lassen High School.

"(Coach) Tom St. Jacques of Lassen has 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!"

Swift also points to programs from Yreka, South Medford and Lost River high schools as examples of teams that regularly attend and are regular contenders in their leagues.

More information can be found about the camp at its website,

Share This Story