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SLU's Fred Thatch Jr. gives back to hometown, holds basketball camp for youths

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Fred Thatch Jr. has started a camp in his hometown for kids (copy)

St. Louis University's Fred Thatch Jr. works with a youngster at Thatch's first basketball camp, in 2021 in Sikeston, Missouri. 

By the time Fred Thatch Jr. was in middle school, he had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis to play summer basketball at a higher level than with his friends in Sikeston, Missouri.

Despite his talent and good fortune, Thatch recognized the lack of resources in his small town. That was reinforced recently when he visited the YMCA in Sikeston and saw about 40 kids working out.

“I know that if I struggled getting into a gym when I was there, they’re 100% struggling,” Thatch said. “I could get in more gyms because I knew people and my family was a little more established than typical Black kids in Sikeston. So I know it’s extremely hard.”

Thatch will return to the YMCA on Friday and Saturday to hold his second basketball camp for grades three through eight.

He has seen interest increase to about 47 campers. Thatch lowered the price this year by $20, hoping to make the camp more affordable. And for those families who had trouble paying the fee, Thatch found sponsors to cover the cost so that no one was turned away.

He runs the camp with the help of a friend or two and family members, some who live in Sikeston and one uncle who will travel to participate.

Although Thatch created the camp soon after the NCAA’s approval of new name, image and likeness rules, he doesn’t view the endeavor as a money-making venture. He said he might pocket $5 per camper when all the bills are paid.

“I don’t make much money from it, honestly,” he said. “A lot of kids have sponsors, and when you take into account everything else you need to make the camp possible, it’s not for NIL purposes. It’s for me to give back to the community and do things for young kids in my area.”

Thatch was raised in Sikeston, where he always was bigger than almost anyone his age. He became a star at Sikeston High, one of three high schools in the area. Otto Porter of the Golden State Warriors is the most famous basketball player from town, but Thatch is positioning himself as the most community-friendly.

Sikeston has a higher rate of youths than most of the country, with 24.4% of residents being younger than 18. It also has a much higher rate of poverty, at 20% as of the 2020 census.

Eventually, Thatch would like to build a gym in the town of about 17,000 to offer wider opportunity. He graduated in three years at SLU with a degree in marketing. This spring, he completed his master’s and now will pursue a Ph.D. with two years of eligibility remaining.

Running the camp has been part of his education.

“The first year I set up by myself,” he said. “My mom and dad help with some things but the majority I handle. They get the food for me. My dad cooks hot dogs. The first year was new and I didn’t understand the situation as much, but now I’m familiar with how everything works.”

He will pay for a friend to drive from St. Louis to work the camp. He helps his uncle travel from Atlanta. There are T-shirts, trophies, basketballs, drinks and a gym to pay for, too.

Thatch said when he was first starting to play, the only camps available were those run by Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Southeast Missouri State. In middle school, he began having opportunities in St. Louis.

He knows that is uncommon. So he’ll split a wide range of ages, boys and girls, and give them an opportunity close to home.

“I was invited to a lot of big camps when I was younger,” he said. “I had an advantage and was seen by different colleges. A lot of kids at home don’t have that. They might be a late bloomer or way behind because — for one — they’re in the Bootheel and not the city.”

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