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Why youth camps are Wisconsin athletes' new NIL endeavor

College athletes now are getting into the game, putting on their own camps and clinics as opposed to volunteering or working at their institutions' offerings.

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Wisconsin wide receiver Chimere Dike (13) catches a touchdown pass as Northwestern defensive back Cameron Ruiz (18) defends him during the first half at Ryan Field in 2020. Dike is one of several Wisconsin Badgers who will host a youth athletic camp this summer.
David Banks / USA Today Sports
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MADISON — Chimere Dike was entering uncharted waters, but he had a clear destination in mind.

He immediately knew how he wanted to engage in the new space when the NCAA changed rules to allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness last summer. Dike, a University of Wisconsin wide receiver, wanted to hold a youth camp and expressed that desire in his first conversations with Team Lammi, the Milwaukee-based agency that he eventually signed to be his representatives.

"I always wanted to give back if I reached the (NFL), but I realized with the NIL space and all these new things, why would I wait?" Dike said.

Summer athletic camps are a massive industry, with more than 11 million youths attending at least one sports camp each year, according to research by the American Camp Association. Professional athletes, trainers and universities for years have used camps to help develop athletes and generate exposure. Camps also are used as recruiting grounds by college sports programs.

But college athletes now are getting into the game, putting on their own camps and clinics as opposed to volunteering or working at their institutions' offerings.

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UW athletes such as Dike and men's basketball players Johnny and Jordan Davis and Tyler Wahl are hosting camps this summer, with Dike's and Wahl's running June 25, in different locales. These camps offer opportunities to forge business relationships, learn social media marketing, give back to the community and yes, make money.

"It's a complete honor," Wahl said about putting on a camp. "Not too many people get the opportunity to own something or really put their name on something like this. And I'm just really hoping that it turns out to be something big and a great way for me to help out."

Behind the scenes

UW players putting on camps have the backing of people and companies with experience in the field.

Dike's representatives at Team Lammi have hosted youth camps for former Green Bay Packers stars such as Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson. The Davis twins teamed with James Fox, a skills coach with whom they'd worked with, to put on a camp last summer in their hometown of La Crosse. They're reprising it July 25-27 with Fox and his company FoxBall, which hosts a slew of camps in the state.

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Wisconsin Badgers forward Tyler Wahl (5) looks to pass as Northwestern Wildcats forward Robbie Beran (31) defends during the second half at the Kohl Center Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Wahl is one of several Wisconsin Badgers hosting a youth camp this summer.
Mary Langenfeld / USA TODAY Sports

Wahl's camp at Madison Area Technical College is in conjunction with Luke Meier, a longtime basketball trainer and camp director, and Billy Kegler, who runs the college's Goodman Athletic Complex.

"They've helped so much with just giving me opportunities to spread the word on the camp and not only that, just how to get my message out there, kind of how to present it," Dike said about his reps at Team Lammi. "They've guided me through the way, and I can't be more thankful to them for that. They've put a lot of time and effort into this as well. It would be really tough to do without them."

A crucial step to hosting a camp is protecting an athlete from legal trouble should a camper get injured. Joshua Frieser, a lawyer whose practice focuses on representing NCAA athletes in regulatory proceedings and in the NIL space, published a free guide for athletes who are looking to put on a camp in which he lays out two ways to insulate an athlete from a potential lawsuit.

The first is creating a limited liability company, an LLC, that would be responsible legally for hosting the camp. That layer protects an athlete's personal assets from potential lawsuits. Individual players can do this themselves or allow the LLC of the groups they're working with to handle this detail. The second is requiring campers' parents to sign liability waivers.

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A guide to running camps published by Opendorse — the company UW contracts for NIL education programs and powers UW's school-exclusive marketplace for NIL deals with its athletes — also details the necessity of liability waivers.

Camps are revenue opportunities for players and companies, especially in cases like Dike's where a partnership with a high school for the field and equipment negates some of the larger costs. Dike's camp is at his alma mater, Waukesha North, and is partnering with its football program to put on the camp.

How much a player makes from a camp is dependent on the overhead costs of their camp, such as venue and equipment rentals, advertising and creating merchandise such as camp T-shirts. Sponsorships can cover part or all of these costs, but attracting sponsors can be difficult if a player isn't a big name. Player representatives spoken to for this story declined to share specific dollar amounts their clients have earned in the past but said it's reasonable for a player to earn at least a few thousand dollars by hosting a camp.

Motivation bound

Money wasn't the primary reason UW athletes entered the world of youth camps.

It's a factor, but all three players who spoke to the State Journal for this story reflected on their own experiences at camps and wanted to help recreate them for the next generation. Jordan Davis said a day at a Forrest Larson camp as a child helped him lock in his focus and learn how to take basketball seriously while still having fun.

"Everyone in La Crosse is so supportive of me and Johnny. I mean, why not show love back to them?" Jordan Davis said. "Maybe some kids are in the same position as we are. We didn't start out just magically picking up a basketball and being good at it. We had to work at it and go to camp. So we're just doing this to show a little appreciation and maybe, hopefully inspire some kids one day."

Wahl has fond memories of weeklong camps at the University of St. Thomas, a private institution in Minneapolis about a half hour from his home in Lakeville, Minnesota. He and his classmates would attend the camp and spend the week running through drills and playing tournaments, and he still remembers the feeling of winning the bracket one summer.

He said he chose to hold his camp in Madison to repay the community for its support of him and Badgers basketball over the years.

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Dike's camp is benefiting the Kai Lermer Memorial Fund. Lermer was one of Dike's closest friends and teammates in a number of sports growing up. Lermer died from an undiagnosed heart condition, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which causes a rapid heartbeat.

Part of that memorial fund's mission is to get legislation passed to require echocardiograms be included into prep athletes' sports physicals. An EKG would have detected Lermer's condition. Dike hopes his camp can help both the cause and the kids in Waukesha.

"It allows me to do something that I'm really passionate about, which is giving back to my friend's charity," Dike said. "And then just being able to express myself and learn things and have a different opportunity at a young age is also really cool and really important. I think it's something that I can use down the road, too."

© 2022 The Wisconsin State Journal

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