Montross Camp celebrates 20th anniversary

In the two decades since its inception in 1994, the Eric Montross Father's Day Basketball Camp has raised more than $1 million for UNC Children's—but its impact goes well beyond the money raised.

Ask Eric Montross about his annual Father's Day basketball camp, and he’ll tell you,"It's not just about basketball. It's bigger than that."

Celebrating 20 years this summer, the camp has been successful in providing shared experiences for fathers and their children, while raising funds and awareness for UNC Children's.

To truly appreciate this event is to know its history. In the fall of 1993, Eric Montross was a member UNC basketball team that clinched the 1993 NCAA men's national championship. Already a routine visitor on the pediatric ward of N.C. Memorial Hospital, Montross made a special trip to the hospital at the request of a staff member to meet Jason Clark, a 15-year-old cancer patient and avid Tar Heel fan.

"I came to the Children's Hospital expecting a one-time encounter—an autographed basketball, some pictures, a quick conversation to brighten this kid's spirits—but that visit with Jason changed my life," said Montross, now retired from the NBA and working as a color commentator for men's basketball on the Tar Heels Sports Network.

"Soon I was no longer just a UNC basketball player, and Jason was no longer just a patient in the hospital," recalls Montross. "We became true friends."

Over video games and basketball talk, the pair bonded. When conversation turned to a new children’s hospital at UNC, Montross asked Clark what could be done to make the planned facilities more child friendly. Clark gave it some thought—and then responded with three written pages of suggestions.

"That list helped me see things through the eyes of children," says Montross.

When Clark lost his nine-month cancer battle in 1994, his family and friends established the Jason Clark Memorial Fund, and Eric and Laura Montross founded the Eric Montross Father's Day Basketball Camp to help to bring Clark’s ideas to fruition.

Montross Quilt
To commemorate the camp’s 20th anniversary, the N.C. Children’s Promise gifted Montross a quilt made of T-shirts from all 20 years.
In the two decades since, the camp has raised more than $1.3 million to fund a variety of projects, starting with the Jason Clark Teen Lounge. The space has offered hospitalized teens a fun escape from their inpatient rooms since N.C. Children’s Hospital opened its doors in 2002—a wonderful legacy for the young man who inspired it.


But Montross sees his lost friend's true legacy in greater terms.

"Here’s a young man who is battling what would become a terminal illness and yet at the forefront of his mind is how to help others," says Montross, who weaves Clark's spirit of giving back into the on-the-court action each year.

Montross inspires campers to understand that, whether they give of their time, resources or money, they are all capable of helping others in many different ways. And it’s in that most important, "bigger than basketball" life lesson that Jason Clark's legacy grows with each camper.

 

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