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Top Gun camp: A St. Cloud institution

Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Coach Chad Ansbaugh talks with the children attending the Top Gun Shooting camp on Friday at St. Cloud High School. News Gazette photo by: Martin Maddock

Volunteer coaches make hoops camp “A family affair”

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

Last week was the first full week of June. So, right on schedule, Mother Nature cranked up the early-morning heat. No better place to be, then, indoors.

But inside one set of doors, those to the St. Cloud High basketball gym, Coach Chad Ansbaugh and his assistants were cranking up the heat, too — you had to be at the Top Gun Shooting Camp to understand the concept of “foot fire”.

It sounds like torture.

But, after asking a few of the 75 children who attended the basketball camp that’s became an anticipated annual rite of passage for the area’s young hoopsters over the last three decades, that St. Cloud gym was the place to be last week, AC or no AC.

“I wish it was for more than a week,” said 12-year-old Jacob Rodriguez, who won both the Hot Shot Awards and the Guts Award for his group at the camp. “It’s fun, my friends are here and we’re playing basketball.”

The Top Gun Shooting Camp was the brainchild of Bulldog basketball coaching institution Tim McMullen — “Coach Mac” — and started in the late 1980s. He focused on the fundamentals of shooting while instilling some life lessons from his twenty-something years of coaching the St. Cloud boys and girls varsity teams.

Many of the county’s all-time high school leading scorers — who played for schools other than St. Cloud — have attended the camp, and this year’s camp attracted kids from around the county again, and from as far away as Lake Nona.

McMullen passed away suddenly in May 2017 from an apparent heart attack. Chad Ansbaugh, the Bulldogs’ current girls basketball coach, had taken over many of the responsibilities for running the camp in recent years, so it’s been a natural progression for him to take it over full time.

“Mac’s fingerprints are still all over this, and hopefully that won’t change, but his legacy was in the old gym,” Ansbaugh said as last week’s camp drew to a close. “This was our second year without him, so a kid who’s been here two years is like, “Who’s Mac?”

Ansbaugh said this year’s Top Gun camp was “My best week ever.”

“We see some of the same faces, so every kid can could dribble a ball. They know the expectations,” he said. “We get to coach them on being better shooters, the same thing my varsity girls work on every day — feet apart, shoulders square, elbow tucked in, follow through.”

For Ansbaugh, it’s a family affair. His wife, Steffanie, helped dole out awards Friday and take pictures. His two sons and daughter were again campers — Bailey will be a senior next season and was part client, part coach this year.

About those coaches: they’re all volunteers for the weel.

“They deserve $200-300 for everything they’ve done this week,” Ansbaugh said.

Madison Vasquez sees how many baskets she can make from different positions during the Top Gun shooting camp held at St. Cloud High School. News Gazette photo by: Martin Maddock

Some of them have come full circle. Rebekah Day, a Top Gun alumnus from about a decade ago, played her high school ball at City of Life Christian and her college ball at Southeastern in Lakeland. After spending the last few years working in college and semipro recruiting, she’s taking a fork in the road and looking to get into high school coaching. She was one of Ansbaugh’s volunteers last week.

“Chad’s dad coached me, and this was one of the first camps I went to,” she said. “It feels right being back here again.”

Dozens of parents — around noontime on a Friday — adjusted their schedules and were on hand for the final act of Top Gun 2018, the final shooting competitions and awards. One of them, Steve Mason, who coached at Osceola, had his son and his 10-year-old travel teammates in camp, some for the third year in a row.

“When I can come from another school in the county, and it’s Osceola, to St. Cloud, you know it’s solid,” he said. “Chad and his kids and coaches do such a great job. I’ve been to camps all over the state. Here, he teaches the skills, makes it fun, and all the while he’s teaching life lessons and believes every word. So it’s not lip service.”

Ansbaugh said, after the week ended, that parents entrust him to help in the process of shaping young men and women as much as they do basketball players. He reflected it as awards were handed out Friday to close the week.

“I told you how fast the week would go by. I guess we enjoyed every second,” he told an attentive audience of 75 kids (How often does that happen?). “Well, for one week, you all were the Top Dog. You made me proud. Now go bring pride to your family. Be uncommon, be you.”

Coach Chad Ansbaugh presents a medal to Savannah Allison during an awards ceremony at the end of the Top Gun shooting camp. News Gazette photo by: Martin Maddock

Some of the faces turned to joy when selected to earn medals. When Ansbaugh handed out the final award of the week, The Coach’s Award, it brought tears of joy to the eyes of its young female recipient.

“Did I get it right?” he asked the crowd with a smile.

The moment camp broke, the parents came pouring onto the court, phones in hand, to take pictures. Ansbaugh said he used to get a little envious of McMullen posing with campers for picture after picture in prior years, so his smiles in the photos they took were wide, genuine … and long in coming.

“I had an awesome week. We’re already looking forward to doing it again. It’s 51 weeks away now.”