Cruickshank, Heritage's athletic director and varsity boys basketball coach, and Winthrop, the JV boys coach, assisted at the 35th annual Dungarven National Basketball Camp in Southern Ireland held July 7 through 19 in two weeklong sessions. Their sons Brian Cruickshank and Mark Winthrop, both 15, were among the camp's three American participants.
"For the boys it was a great cultural experience. They got to meet Irish kids and see what life is like over there," Pat Cruickshank said. "For us it was an opportunity to see the country and spend time with our boys."
While Pat and Dave coached a 15-to-17-year-old boys group, Brian and Mark landed spots on the camp's all-star team each week. Brian won the free throw competition while Mark won the Mikan layup competition and earned the Boys Camper of the Week award, given to the most outstanding player. He was the youngest player in the history of the camp to earn that award.
Both boys agreed it was an experience they'll never forget.
"The whole thing was really great. The people were really nice and friendly and funny," Brian Cruickshank said. "For the most part, the game's the same but with a few rule changes. Basically it's just basketball."
From a coach's perspective, the level of talent was below that of an American camp, as sports such as soccer, Gaelic football and hurling take precedence over basketball.
"The athletic ability is there. You can tell the kids play other sports, but when it comes to basketball, their game experience and knowledge of what to do wasn't there," said Dave Winthrop. "They would immediately catch and shoot or dribble as soon as they got the ball. They clearly don't have the same opportunities that we have over here, but they were so eager to learn and so enthusiastic."
The Winthrops have attended the camp three times, insisting that the experience keeps getting better. "The people are the reason we keep coming back," Winthrop said. "They treat us so well. Every time I go I feel like my batteries have been recharged."
Although the fate of the camp is in jeopardy, as the site might no longer be available, the Winthrops and the Cruickshanks have already been offered the opportunity to participate in another camp in Belfast next year.
"That camp is very unique in that Protestant and Catholic kids will be playing together, and over there, that's basically unheard of," Winthrop said. "I'd love to be a part of that experience."