“It’s about the abilities and skills they can take into life,” he said. “When you think about working in a corporation, and you play on a football team, you learn a lot of things that are team-oriented that you have to take into corporate America. That to me is the big picture of it, rather than a young man going to play college ball. If that happens, great. If it doesn’t, then those skills and talents don’t go to waste”.
The character camp’s coaches are all football players, most former Alabama and NFL players. At the beginning of the two-day camp on Friday, Castille encouraged each and every participant to milk all the knowledge out of these players they could.
Cullman native and Alabama graduate Wesley Britt said he enjoyed connecting with kids whose shoes he was in just a few years ago.
“You’ve got to learn how to be confident with who you are and how God made you, learning how to train and transform and use everything to your abilities,” Britt said. “You’ve got so many people telling you that you can’t do things, and that makes me want, in any way, to tell him that he can do whatever he wants to. It may not be football, but he can do it.”
What brought the Castille Character Camp to Cullman was a young boy at West Point Middle School a few years ago whose house had burned down. Jeremiah and his son, Simeon, gave the boy a new Bible. It was after this exchange that the camp started.
“I see Alabama as a community as a whole, so this gives us a chance to influence our young people in a positive way, to be hands-on with them,” Castille said.
“You can get a chance to really build a great foundation for high school and college, if there’s athletic potential,” he said. “If not, they can learn a lot of great skills that they can take into life.” In its first year, the camp had an admission price. After Cullman County Schools special programs director T.J. Franey was approached by children saying they had wanted to do the camp but couldn’t because of the price, the team of coordinators rallied sponsors together to make the camp free.
On a year-to-year basis, the camp will have around 25 sponsors. As both a parent of a camper and a sponsor through Cullman Savings Bank, John Riley said he likes to be a part of something that does good for the community.
“(My son) came last year, and they needed volunteers, and I stepped up to volunteer,” Riley said. “I was able to watch how the coaches interacted with the kids and see what the camp was all about. I was very impressed with it and wanted to make sure it came back this year.”
Jennifer Dickerson, whose two sons have participated in the camp the last four years, said her sons have seemed more fundamentally sound after each camp.
“I love the character, as a mom,” she said. “I think it’s fantastic that our county supports our youth like this and puts on this event for our children, really investing in them.”
Wesley’s brother, Justin Britt, a former assistant football coach for Hanceville High, said he always noticed a difference in his players after they had been through the camp. “We’ve been sending kids here, and the reason I believe in this camp is I’ve seen the effects of it,” he said. “When they come back after this camp, they’re inspired. That week after they came back from the camp was the best week because they’re so inspired, and that’s why I want to be a part of this camp.”
By Laura Owens The Cullman Times