Ron Howard is filling squirt guns for squealing 10-year-olds.
Is anyone else as ready as I am to end this week with the opposite of the spoiled, self-centered, questionably behaving pro athlete? This is the place. We're out back of the Concordia Seminary gym, where Mad Ants guard Howard and his wife Reesha are running their Game Day Sports Camp.
Call it a day camp for energy, where the Howards are in their second summer of reminding local children how to have fun.
“It's about letting your hair down and being a kid again,” Ron Howard said.
On this Friday, it's “H2O Day,” which means squirt guns and water balloons and the Fort Wayne Fire Department truck spraying gallons upon gallons on dozens of willingly wet children.
The camp is a far cry from Howard's day job as a pro basketball player. Having spent the last few years in Fort Wayne, where he's known affectionately as “Mr. Mad Ant,” Howard continues to pursue his NBA dream. He hopes this coming season will be the one where he gets his chance to earn a roster spot in training camp or with a call-up from the NBA Development League.
But hoops season is a few months away. Today, he's demonstrating how a pro athlete can be a husband and father with a sense of community.
“We've fallen in love with Fort Wayne and made Fort Wayne our home,” Howard said. “Everyone has been so kind and welcoming since we came here six years ago, we wanted to give back.”
The Howards started Game Day Sports Camp last summer, and have expanded the six-week program to include single day passes for local children whose families would like them to attend special events or who can't necessarily afford a six-week session. The Howard charge for the camp, but also employ local teenage athletes as staff members, and use the fees and sponsorship money to operate the camp.
The kids not only have fun, they get to see a pro athlete who is investing in his family. The Howards have two young daughters.
“(The camp) is a perfect marriage, no pun intended, of ideas,” Reesha Howard said. “With his background in sports and having worked in sports camps his teenage years, along with my passion for working with children and putting on special events, it's been a perfect combination.”
Ron Howard has played basketball in a number of countries and spends his winters pursuing that dream.
While it's hard to fit his basketball workouts and conditioning in during the six-week camp, he says the schedule juggling is worth it.
“I'm away so much during the season with long road trips and things like that, it's perfect to get to have my children with me now,” he said. “We wake up together, come to camp together, go home together and it's really cool to have my children with me while they're making new friends.
“Working with my wife, we balance each other out as far as the business side, it makes it easy to work,” he said. “It's a unique situation to work with your wife or husband, but we do a good job with it.”
The camp has about 70 children this summer, although not necessarily all at the same time, and has increased in size from a year ago. The camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays with after-care time available. Parents can enroll their children for all six weeks, or shorter times.
When the Howards first talked about starting their own sports day camp, they envisioned it happening in their hometown of Chicago.
Then they realized that Fort Wayne has become their hometown now.
“Ron has played all over the world, but this is the place that grabbed us and pulled us in and felt like home,” Reesha Howard said. “We love Chicago. We'll always love Chicago, it's made us who we are today. But we're happy to call Fort Wayne home now.”
The cliché says Fort Wayne is a great place to raise a family. Turns out it's a good place to find that welcome rarity of a grounded, grown-up pro athlete. He's over there, filling up squirt guns.