HEART OF AMERICA SPORTS CAMPS HISTORY
Ken Cochran, Founder in 1971
Ken Cochran who was the head men’s basketball coach at Marymount College of Kansas in Salina, KS, originated the Heart of America Sports Camps in l971. First camp was a girl’s camp with 34 area youngsters. Facilities were the Marymount College tennis courts that had no permanent basketball goals or portable goals. Cochran had portable goals built at a local welding shop. Marymount had an ultra-small gymnasium below the chapel and you could smell candles burning. The other facility was a rental arrangement with Schilling Air Force Base gym that is still here in Salina. This was a legal size court and campers were transported via cars. Camp went from Sunday afternoon until Saturday at the awards luncheon. The following year in l972 a boy’s camp was added to the girl’s camp. Area coaches were hired to be on the camp staff and high school gyms were leased. The boys camp had 100 plus in its first year and the girls 90. Girls basketball was just getting a start so the interest was just starting to gain momentum. Marymount built its own gym in 1973 which was a big assist to the camp program. The basic format of the camps was fundamental skill work in the morning and afternoons and league games in the evenings. Leagues were divided by ages. Initially age groups were 12-13,14-15,16-18 with each age league playing in their own gym. Sacred Heart HS, Salina Central HS, Salina South HS, South Junior High and North Junior High were gyms leased through the years and later the YMCA courts as the camps continued to grow. The campers were housed and fed in the Marymount College facilities. The camps were moved to Kansas Wesleyan university in 1979 and are still located there as of 2015. The Heart of America Sports camps was also the first camp program to initiate a volleyball camp. The first volleyball camp held in 1974 drew 100 girls. (95 from Nebraska and 5 from Kansas) Girls Volleyball was just getting started in Kansas but was big in Nebraska. Volleyball Camps had a fundamentals camp and also later added an Advanced Camp for more skilled players. Volleyball Camps were dropped in 2015. Camps were initially staffed by Graceland College coaches and former players. Rod Schall, the US Olympic statistician and head coach at Graceland was the director of the volleyball camps for the first five years. Later camps were directed by Ray Bechard who is still enjoying a huge career as head women’s volleyball coach at Kansas University, he also had several final four finishes at Barton county Community College. Ray’s brother, Don Bechard, an outstanding high school coach was also a vital part of our volleyball camp staff.
The camps were directed by Ken Cochran the founder until 2001 when the camps were sold to Bob Murray, a former player of Coach Cochran’s at Kansas Wesleyan University and an outstanding high school basketball coach at Bennington, Kansas. Bob sold the camps to Troy Thrasher in 2015. Troy attended the HOA camps as a youngster for nine years, later coached at Sacred Heart HS and Brown Mackie College in Salina (he is the all-time winningest coach there). Troy is now an assistant women’s coach at Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas. The summer of 2016 will commemorate 45 years. The number of youngsters ages 8-18 who have attended HOA Camps is in the 90,000 plus range. Camps in the mid 70’s drew as many as 400 campers per camp. Over the years the HOA camps were conducted in several sites: Colorado State at Fort Collins, Tarkio College, MO, Schriner College at Kerrville, Texas, Barton County, Sabetha HS, Smith Center HS, Anthony HS, Belleville HS.
The name of the camps was decided because the original location of Salina, Kansas was in the heart of the nation, close to the center of the USA. Also, Coach Cochran felt including the name America lent credibility to the camps. Because of the name Heart of America, the colors of the camp were Red, White and Blue and the American Eagle with a basketball in one claw and a volleyball in the other was designated as the camp logo. Historically the majority of the camp enrollments have been Kansas youngsters but has also drawn from other Midwestern States-Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado.
Several outstanding coaches and players who became coaches have attended HOA Camps. Dick Nagy, Illinois University, Tom Collins, Marymount College of Kansas, Dan Pratt, KCK, Ray Bechard, Kansas University, Jerry Mullen Barton County , Kevin Muff, Pittsburg State, Mark Turgeon, Maryland University, Brad Underwood, K-State, South Carolina, Sam Houston State,, Greg Lackey, Ft Hays State, Jim Schuster, Texas University, Scott Nagy, South Dakota State, Leslie Crane, Northern Illinois, Francis Flax, Brown Mackie, Ryan Showman, Kansas Wesleyan, Todd Clark, Cowley County, Tony Hobson of Fort Hays State and many more college and middle and high school coaches to numerous to mention. Greg Dreiling of KU played several years in the NBA. We had two extremely vital cogs in the long term success of HOA. Bill Rogers of Leavenworth, Kansas worked 100 camps. Larry Pfiffer of Marysville, Kansas also worked 100 camps. Over the years HOA was fortunate to have great leadership from its camp directors. Dan Pratt, Kansas City, KS, Kevin Muff, Pitt State, C.L. Brownsburger, Troy Thrasher, Cowley County, Bob Murray, Bennington, KS, Dr. Rod Schall, Graceland University and several Kansas and Midwestern collegiate players added to our HOA camp staff leadership.
This is just a short summation of a few of my recollections of the Heart of America Sports Camps since its inception in 1971. I’m sure I have forgotten much of the great history of this highly successful sports camps over the past 45 years. I am proud of the quality and longevity of the HOA camps and pay special tribute and thanks to the many great coaches at all levels of coaching who made our HOA staff one of the best in the country. If I have deleted staff member’s names who made great contributions, please know that it was not intentional. And lastly a huge thanks you to the 90,000 plus youngsters who attended HOA and made HOA one of the best camps in the USA.
Ken Cochran, Founder of Heart of America Sports Camps, ltd, Salina, Kansas