Development is important for any young athletes who want to excel in a sport, and MacArthur baseball coach Rodney DeLong fully understands that notion.
Under the guidance of DeLong, around 40 young boys, with ages ranging from 7-14, got the opportunity to improve upon their skills at the Summer Development Camp at the Mac baseball field.
DeLong also hosts a twopart camp for high schoolers. The first session transpired from June 4-19, and the second session is scheduled for July 9-19.
“I’ve always trained young kids,” DeLong said. “The younger I can get a kid and work on his development, the better that kid will become. Developing kids is my passion. If I can give them something now, you might see one of these kids on TV in 15-20 years from now playing professionally. The little things they learn now will go a long way in their development.”
The two-week camp, which began on June 18 and concludes June 28, provided fundamental training in throwing, hitting and fielding.
These fundamental drills were run during the first half of each day, with the second half focusing on increasing running speeds, flexibility and overall fitness through core training and footwork.
DeLong said the exercises are designed to make the body stronger, faster and more explosive. In return, he said he believes the children will experience improved batting skills, as well as increased arm strength.
“They’re doing exercises and core stuff that they’ve never seen before,” DeLong said. “Kids nowadays don’t do that stuff. Not only does it get them into training their bodies, but it also teaches them how to train their bodies, so when the camp is finished, they can continue doing those exercises, and it’s going to make them better athletes.
“The difference between high and low-level athletes is usually their athleticism. If they can run and they can throw and move their bodies, they have a chance to play at high levels.”
Hayden Gaddis, who attends Apache Elementary, has certainly reaped the benefits of the training program, especially in the hitting department. Since the beginning of the camp, the 7-year-old has experienced increased success at the plate during his summer league games.
“My favorite part is probably hitting because of home runs,” Gaddis said. “I hit a couple straight up the middle in my games. We get $5 for one.”
Cayden Vickers, a 10-year-old Crosby Park Elementary student, said he can feel his strength building with every rep in the batter’s box.
“When I swing the bat, it makes my arms get a lot stronger,” Vickers said.
Helping DeLong conduct the activities were several players from the Mac baseball team, which made a state tournament appearance for the secondstraight season and finished with a 27-10 record.
DeLong said though the camp is for kids, the drills also makes the high schoolers better players because the time spent in a teaching role provides learning opportunities as well.
“It shows comprehension of what you’re doing,” De-Long said. “It’s hard to learn something if you can’t teach it. They’re engaged with the youth, and that makes such a big difference for those young guys. They look up to those guys.”
Among the helpers was incoming senior and ace pitcher, Michelle Artzberger.
Artzberger completed his junior year with a 2.471 ERA on the mound, striking out 86 batters in 62.1 innings pitched on the way to a 9-3 record. He also finished with a .464 batting average, tallying 14 doubles, three triples and five home runs to go along with 50 RBI.
For Artzberger, stepping into a coaching position brought back memories from his days at kid camps when growing up, and he said he finds enjoyment in teaching the next generation about the sport he loves.
The experience has also taught him patience.
“It’s always good to help the kids and get them ready for the future,” Artzberger said. “We were all there at one point, myself included, and we had to go through these stages. It can be a little difficult at times explaining things to them, but it’s just a part of the process. I have to be understanding that it takes time to learn, and they’re still young — they still have a long way to go.
“It’s about having patience with them and teaching them the right things so they can be fundamentally sound when they get older.”
He said the most rewarding aspect of it all, though, was the time he and his teammates spent with the kids, becoming their friends in the process.
“The funnest part is just getting close to them and talking to them and getting to know them as people,” Artzberger said. “It’s a new experience getting to coach these kids. If I ever have a kid one day, I’d want to coach them up and make sure I take them through the right steps — the same ones I took — to help them out.”
The impact left by Artzberger and the other Highlanders hasn’t gone unnoticed by camp spectators.
Several parents and family members have taken note of the teens’ work, and they are filled with excitement about their youngsters’ choice of role models.
Alaina McNeill, an 8thgrade English teacher at Central Middle School, has observed an increase in energy from her son, Wyatt, and his friends when they return from camp.
“They’ve come home every day excited about the things they’ve learned out here,” McNeill said. “They really like the high school kids. They’re very responsive to them — all of them — compared to their coaches at home. They don’t know their names, but they call them the “big kids”.
“Then when they go to practices in the afternoon, they say, ‘This is what we learned at camp. This is how we do it at camp.’ They like it a lot.”
For Greg Ebish, a retired Public Service of Oklahoma employee living in Lawton, his involvement in his grandchildren’s lives is a top priority.
He said watching his 8-year-old grandsons, Weston and Bryson Beavers, take up the game of baseball is a worthwhile experience.
“It’s a great feeling getting to watch them develop and learn the game,” Ebish said. “I’ve known Rodney for years, and I knew it’d be a good camp, so we brought them up here. When they come out here, they get excited.”