BCI Profiles- Camp Higher Ground

There has been a lot of talk this week about the University of Cincinnati Bearcats holding pre-season camp at Camp Higher Ground in West Harrison, Indiana. Have you ever found yourself wondering, ‘What exactly is Camp Higher Ground?' Well, you're in luck. We have the all answers.

Chuck Hail has been the Executive Director at Camp Higher Ground for over 12 years, and if you ever need to know anything about the place he's your man.

The history of Camp Higher Ground begins in 1963, when the land was first used as a Cincinnati Boys Club camp center for 15 years.

"Then in 1978, for reasons I do not know, the Boys Club closed it as a camp and it sat empty for a couple years," Hail told us during a recent UC practice. "Then in 1980 the Southwestern Ohio District Church of the Nazarene purchased the property as their summer kid's camp."

The vast expanse of the land, however, provided for a financial situation that needed to be addressed.

"We have 264 acres, and it kind of grew from there. You can't really afford to have this kind of property and use it just four or five times a year," explained Hail. "So then we built our lodge, started doing church groups on the weekends, started doing some band camps."

Little did anyone at CHG know that housing high school bands such as La Salle and Boone County would one day lead to the University of Cincinnati football team calling the camp a temporary home. The University of Cincinnati marching band has been using the fields at Higher Ground for band camp for 14 years now.

"The story, the way I hear it, somebody from the athletic department asked (the UC band director) where he took the band for band camp," says Hall. "And so he told them about Higher Ground."

A delegation from the athletic department was sent out to West Harrison to survey the grounds and in 1996 the Cincinnati football program led by head coach Rick Minter first held a pre-season camp at Camp Higher Ground.

"The football players actually called it ‘harder ground' instead of Higher Ground because the fields had a lot to be desired that very first year. But then we cleaned them up a little bit and leveled them and did the grass field for the next year, kind of a better grass field," says Hall. "Then the next year when they decided that it really was working as a football camp we put the first turf field in, and of course they loved that."

They say two heads are better than one. The same apparently can be said for turf football fields.

"I think that year we had the big field in, the first guy to tweak an ankle was one of the defensive players on the old grass field over here. So they came to me and said ‘What do you think about another field?', and I said let's go for it, we can do it," says Hail.

With a background in excavating, Hail installed all of the draining systems, gravel, and everything else that goes underneath a turf field himself in order to turn the land at Higher Ground into the two turf-fielded beauty that it is today.

But upgrades have come to the Camp Higher Ground property in more ways than just improved field conditions. Three years ago a full locker room and shower facility added onto the camp's Life Center, located right next to the football fields. This year Wifi replaced what Hall called "the dinosaur version of the internet," allowing coaches to quickly and conveniently get online, as well as quickly upload and review all of the video taken during camp. However, hands down the most popular improvement in UC's history at Camp Higher Ground has been the new dining hall.

"One of our biggest upgrades was last year was the first year of our new dining hall. Our old dining hall was not in a good location, it was over probably a ten minute walk from here, and it was way too small," Hail told us. "On family day we had to put up tents and stuff outside, so we put up the new dining hall and it was opened a year ago March. Just the location of it, the size of it, and the convenience of it has been a big asset."

Players agree quickly and without hesitation with Hail in saying the dining hall is the finest upgrade they've seen.

"The biggest upgrade that we've got out here is the new cafeteria," said senior defensive end Connor Barwin. "We used to have to walk about - it's really only probably about a five minute walk - you'd have to walk farther down into the woods to the old cafeteria, and that was awful after practice because you want to walk as little as possible. So the best upgrade they've got out here is the cafeteria that's only about 50 yards from the locker room."

"Oh my goodness," says Hail when asked about the amount of food and preparation it takes to feed the Bearcat football squad. "Most of the requirements at meal time is a pound of meat per person, either beef or chicken, or pork, or fish. Then they get the potatoes and the veggies, they get a pasta bar, a deli bar, the dessert bar, a fruit bar, and they get that twice a day. Breakfast is a little bit lighter because they go from breakfast right to the field. About every third day they have what we call the ‘big breakfast', that is the bacon and eggs and sausage and biscuits and gravy, and the cinnamon apples and all of that good stuff like that."

A staff of 33 is responsible for feeding the group of roughly 150 players and staff. Although that number seems much higher when you look at the sheer amount of food consumed, says Hail.

"Feeding a football camp of 100 is like feeding a normal group of 300 people. In fact, it's exciting at meal time," he admits.

While it may be a little extra work and longer hours for his staff, Hail says it's all worth the excitement and fun they have when the team is on-site. Another exciting aspect of having the UC team at Camp Higher Ground has been the doors it has opened for the camp housing Cincinnati area high school football programs. Colerain, Harrison, Lawrenceburg, East Central, and even Wayne High School out of Dayton have taken advantage of CHG for one and three-day camps, with schools like Monroe and Kings interested, according to Hail.

A die-hard UC fan, Hail can be found patrolling the sidelines during a majority of Cincinnati home games come fall, and plans on making it to an away game or two this season as well. He and his staff attended the PapaJohns.com Bowl last December, and if you ask him how much credit Camp Higher Ground takes for the Bearcats' success, Hail will be quick to point to the history books.

Before UC started using Higher Ground for their pre-season camp the program had been to just three bowl games in their history. Since first bringing the team to Higher Ground in 1996, the Bearcats have traveled to seven bowl games, with many more to come in the future years.

"The only thing we're concerned about when the Bearcats win the Big East and then go on to win a national championship is how we're going to accommodate all of the press and the fans that want to come out here and see their camp," says Hail with a smile on his face.

Hail and Camp Higher Ground and the University of Cincinnati both feel as though their relationship has been a win-win for their organizations, one that will hopefully produce plenty more wins this coming season.

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