- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - When you think of Garth Brooks, lots of things spring to mind. While it’s unlikely that sports is one of those, perhaps it should be.

The country music star, in town recently for several shows at the Charleston Civic Center, took part in a youth basketball camp that bore his name Saturday at West Virginia State University.

The Garth Brooks Teammates Basketball ProCamp, with about 80 boys and girls from ages 9 to 13, kicked off with a flurry of activity at State’s Walker Convocation Center in Institute.

The children attending the free camp came from organizations selected to attend, including The Salvation Army’s Boys & Girls Club, the St. Albans Boys and Girls Club, the East End Resource Family Center, YMCA Family Center of the Kanawha Valley, Kanawha County Schools, Putnam County Schools and Tickets for Kids.

Serving as counselors for the morning-afternoon camp were members of the West Virginia State men’s and women’s basketball teams coached by Bryan Poore and Robert Marshall, respectively.

Brooks, 54, dressed casually in a black hoodie, jeans and a backward ball cap, was also on the floor during several drills, clapping enthusiastically and helping encourage the kids.

“These children don’t have a clue who Garth Brooks is,” he said. “But they have a clue who these young men and women are in the uniforms out here from the college team. They’re their heroes, so it’s sweet that they come out.”

As part of Brooks’ world tour, some sort of sports camp was planned for each stop, be it basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer or others. In some cities, the camps are led by various professional athletes and coaches. The camps are part of a collaboration between the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation and ProCamps Sports Camps. The two groups have a 12-year history of working with children across the nation.

“It’s great to see the babies out here,” Brooks said. “Not only are they learning skills, but they’re learning how to be teammates, love one another and realize that anything in life - if you’re going to get there - it takes more than just you to get there. It’s finding that teammate, and moving forward.

“The thought of sports camps is not new, but to merge the two foundations just made sense. None of us will leave here (today) not being better than when we came here. Just simply watching the smiles on the kids and watching those little tumblers click when they start to figure something out, and that’s a wonderful thing. We all have children, and each of these are our children.”

Marshall agreed Saturday’s camp would provide lasting memories for the participants.

“It’s an honor just to even be here,” Marshall said. “For him to even take the time out and put this on for our kids, it’s a huge deal.”

Poore was surprised at the energy the State men’s and women’s players injected into the camp following lengthy Saturday morning practices.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to work with somebody like (Brooks),” Poore said, “to give back to the community and the kids.”

Brooks thought the college athletes also got something out of the deal themselves.

“I’ve got to wonder if it’s not better for the little kids or a lot better for the college kids,” Brooks said, “because the college kids are learning a lot about themselves and learning at an early age about giving back, and that’s what athletics represents always. I think athletes get a bad rap in college. In truth, they have to work twice as hard as anybody else because they’re doing two totally different things at the same time. I’m a huge fan of college athletics.”

Brooks was once a college athlete himself, being recruited by Oklahoma State as a javelin thrower in 1980.

“I was from a little town in Oklahoma,” Brooks said of his hometown of Yukon. “And the only way you were getting out of there was sports, and that was it. I was lucky enough to wear a college uniform - and instant family, so I love it. I wasn’t good enough to play basketball, but good enough for track and field. I love all kinds of sports.”

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