I grew up learning how important leadership and character are. I always thought it would be so cool to take these great kids, teach them how to be leaders and then see them take it back to their teams, schools and communities. —Jed Smith, a teacher and football coach at Spanish Fork
COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Jed and Colt Smith grew up in a household where leadership and character were of utmost importance.
Their dad, Ben, is an educator who spent time as a football coach in southern Wyoming and as a principal at Ben Lomond High for 10 years. Ben both taught and lived those values daily, so when the boys grew up, it was no surprise that they, too, wanted to spend their time teaching those lessons on the field, in the classroom and now in a camp geared toward championing Utah high school athletes.
The family is the driving force behind the creation of Camp U, a leadership conference that brings the state's top student-athletes together for two days of food, fun, competition and training on how to use their natural leadership skills in the most effective ways.
"I grew up learning how important leadership and character are," Jed Smith, a teacher and football coach at Spanish Fork, said at the third installment of the annual camp, held Friday and Saturday at Brighton High School. "I always thought it would be so cool to take these great kids, teach them how to be leaders and then see them take it back to their teams, schools and communities."
High school principals throughout the state are invited to nominate their top female and male student-athletes, who are either juniors or sophomores, to attend. Many of the participants are multi-sport athletes, have been selected to all-state teams or are state champions and have or are near 4.0 grade point averages, typically putting them in the spotlight at their respective schools.
"These kids are natural leaders," Smith said. "We want to show them how to channel it in the classroom and in athletics."
This is done through Camp U's "Seven Canons of Leadership": attitude, work ethic, education, time management, teamwork, communication and integrity.
"The curriculum brings together timeless concepts from history's greatest leaders," Smith said, adding that he and the camp staff are continually looking for ways to improve the information and the ways in which it is presented.
"We have a standard and objective for every concept, and every tenant is given a practical or concrete application," he said. "We give them examples of what these things mean both in their sport and in the classroom. We tell our own stories, and we show movie clips to highlight how to put these into action."
Using a combination of competitions, lectures, videos, lunch breaks and breakout groups for discussion, Smith and the Camp U staff provide the group of students, which has ballooned from 22 participants the first year to 96 this year, numerous opportunities to contribute as well as take something away.
Smith said that some of the most rewarding parts of the camp are during the breakout sessions when students are in groups of approximately eight with a facilitator.
"The kids talk, and it's real talk as they're sharing experiences," he said. "One kid comes from a school of 50 and another goes to Alta with hundreds in their class, but they love sports and they love school, and they find out they actually have a lot in common."
The facilitators are all volunteers, many of whom were elite student-athletes and many of whom are now educators, exchanging their weekend for an opportunity to reach out to more students. Morgan volleyball coach Liz Wiscombe, who has won 15 state championships with the Trojans, was part of the staff this year, and UHSAA assistant director Becky Anderson has been involved with the camp and in generating awareness for the event.
"I want this to be the leadership camp in Utah," Smith said. "In the coming years, I want every school to be involved."
The camp is held every spring the weekend following the end of the high school basketball season. For more information, visit the Camp U leadership website or find it on social media @CampULeadership.
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Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.