WHEELING - Whoever coined the phrase 'the best things in life don't come free' obviously never met Joe Touvell.
You see, Touvell is a realist. He has a passion for the game of basketball and for staying in shape, but realizes all too well not everyone in the Ohio Valley has the necessary means to do so.
That's why the North Wheeling Youth Basketball Camp will be celebrating its sixth year when it kicks off with B.E. Taylor's rendition of the National Anthem at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 8.
"That's one of our biggest things that we're most proud of,'' Touvell said. "Valley kids may not have money to pay $50 to go to a camp, and we're the only one I can think of that is free for a whole week.
"We're very happy and very fortunate."
Usually when 'free' is attached to something it's thought of as half-hearted, but this particular camp certainly doesn't fall into that category. It's open to children ages 7-16 and runs from July 8-13, from 2-6:30 p.m. daily. In addition, it offers a free jersey as well as food and refreshments, a trophy for everyone and a pool party at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, at Grand View Park. At that pool party, campers and their families eat and drink ... for free.
During the camp children will be broken down in groups of grade, middle and high schools and will go through different stations that will focus on such things as rebounding, boxing out technique, free throws and dribbling. Each day campers will play in games with the two best-record teams meeting for the championship on the final day of the event.
But that's not all, and this is where it gets really cool. At every station kids will get instruction from local high school and college stars - past and present - and guest speakers include Wheeling Park boys' basketball coach Michael Jebbia, Wheeling native and St. Vincent's College men's basketball coach D.P. Harris, who will bring his entire coaching staff and some players for all-day instruction on July 10. In addition, former Bellaire multi-sport standout Nate Davis is also scheduled to appear.
"We started out with 15 kids and last year we had 87,'' said Touvell, the head men's basketball coach at West Virginia Northern, who along with Phil McLaughlin and Cory Doty got the idea for the event as part of the school's community outreach program.
"We're expecting over 100 kids this year and in fact, I got a call from a lady recently who wants to bring 20 kids from Shadyside. I can't even remember having a kid from Shadyside until now.
"It's grown into something really nice and we want to keep the momentum going.''
Each day after the camp concludes there will be an adult men's tournament that costs $200 per team - no more than 10 players on each squad. You can contact Touvell at (740) 632-8573 or Doty at (614) 218-5822 for more information on the tournament.
Of course when you're putting on a free tournament you need good backing from sponsors, which this camp has. Touvell pointed out he receives support from WVNCC, DiCarlo's, Dr. Richard Mercer's Office, the Elks Lodge, Fort Henry Transmission, Mountain Momma's, T.J.'s Sports Garden, North Wheeling Convenient, the Owl's Nest, The Alpha, TaylorMade Printing, the Vets Bar in Warwood., Ziegenfelder Ice Cream, Niebergall Ice Factory, Hole 'n Run, and the Warwood McDonald's.
"This gets kids out of the house, away from video games and keeps them off the streets," Touvell said. "A lot of kids in North Wheeling, all they have is that slab of concrete to play on.
"We get a kick out of it. We'll see kids in Kroger and they say 'Coach, when is the camp?'
"This is some of their summer vacations. It's going to the beach for them."
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org