Breaking Camp

A lot of folks called Daniel Snyder a creep when word got out that he'd charge admission to Redskins training camp, which opened this week in Ashburn, Va. For many fans, the heretofore free preseason workouts were the only way to ever get close to their heroes.

Michael Jordan, meanwhile, has taken no heat for trying to move the Wizards' next camp out of the range of local hoops fans.

In time, Snyder probably will get creepy. But on the whole, his new camp setup is, just as he's billed it, a good thing for any Skins booster hard-core enough to actually want to watch the big boys hurry up and wait through two-a-days (and a great thing for media types who have to suffer through the tedious workouts).

The new owner's decision to break the contract that Jack Kent Cooke signed with Frostburg surely won't sit well with officials and merchants of the tiny Western Maryland town that hosted the last few training camps. The team had no profound historic ties to that locale, however. Cooke didn't place the camp in Frostburg until 1995; prior to the move, the Skins summered in Carlisle, Pa., since the early '60s. Cooke made the change of venue only to satisfy state officials, who arranged for all the public monies he needed to build the stadium that no longer bears his name in a town (Raljon) that no longer exists.

Although camp was free under Cooke, Frostburg is more than 140 miles away from downtown D.C., and the round trip to the campus site and back--scenic as it was--requires about six hours of driving. The move to suburban Redskin Park will save more than time: Given that gas now goes for an average of $1.68 a gallon, Snyder will also be saving all those SUV-owning fans--and news organizations--a pretty penny by cutting the commute. True, parking at Redskin Park will cost $10 and adults will have to pay $10 to watch practice, and the Skins are the first team in NFL history to exact such fees. But children always get in free to Dannyworld.

Wizards fans wishing to stalk their heroes in camp, however, will no longer have such a luxury.

And they have only Jordan to thank.

As things now stand, the Wizards' next camp will be held in Wilmington, N.C. That city was chosen for one of two reasons: (a) because Dawson's Creek is filmed there, or (b) because it's Jordan's hometown. In late May, Jordan sent his girl Friday Wes Unseld on a mission to find a location in the Tarheel State where the team could train this fall.

A few weeks after Unseld was dispatched, the Wilmington Morning Star ran a front-page story saying that the administration of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington had worked out an agreement that would give the Wizards use of Trask Coliseum on campus and the new students-only field house for about two weeks in early October. Local basketball coaches and others who remember Jordan from his days at Laney High School, where he was cut from the J.V. squad on his way to deification, told the paper how great it's going to be to have Mike home again.

School officials also hailed the move to coastal Carolina.

"This is a benefit for everybody," said Peg Bradley-Doppes, UNCW's director of athletics.

Well, perhaps not everybody. Wizards fans in this area, for example, don't benefit from the move. Neither Jordan nor the Wizards have yet confirmed the camp transfer. But if it happens, just as Snyder broke sorry new ground by charging admission, Jordan's tact is an unprecedented affront to his team's boosters.

Since Abe Pollin bought the Chicago Zephyrs in 1963 and moved the franchise east, the Bullets/Wizards have never held camp outside our region. Bullets preseason workouts took place in Fort Meade, Md., from 1964 until 1988, when they were shifted to Gettysburg, Pa. After a year near the battlefields, Unseld took over as coach and camp was moved to Emmitsburg, Md. From 1992 on, Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, WVa., has been the team's fall home.

Although most residents of the nation's capital prefer not to be linked with anything West Virginian, the federal government does classify Shepherdstown as part of the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area. And for all the psychic distance between here and there, the atlas says it's only 67 miles away from our downtown.

Plus, because it's so close to historic sites like Antietam and Harper's Ferry, Shepherdstown is a fine target for a day trip. Last year, as part of the Wizards' effort to restore a relationship with fans damaged by several seasons of lackluster play and off-court malfeasances by folks like Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard, and Chris Webber, the organization loaded season-ticket holders on a bus downtown and hauled them to Shepherd College. After a meal in their honor, the supporters watched an intrasquad scrimmage, then got autographs from the players. Nobody got home too long after bedtime.

It's safe to say that there won't be a similar fan-friendly event at Jordan's first camp. According to Mapquest, Wilmington is 384 miles from D.C., and a drive there should take more than seven hours.

In fairness to the new boss, fans who so choose can make their own way to Wilmington. Flights, for example, are available from all local airports to Jordan's hometown. US Airways offers the best deal for a day trip: To get back and forth from Reagan National Airport to Wilmington International on, say, Oct. 1, the tentative opening day for the UNCW camp, will cost $275--plus fuel surcharges and taxes--if tickets are purchased at least 14 days in advance.

Of course, you'll need some wheels to get from the airport to the campus. An outfit called Payless Rental Car offers the cheapest rate in Wilmington, promising to put you behind the wheel of a subcompact for only $27.89 a day. If that's too much traveling for one day, the Wilmington Econo Lodge Intown has the best bargain, with rooms at just $40 a night.

Oh, there's one other thing fans should know before departing for Wilmington: According to initial reports from UNCW, all workouts at Camp Jordan "will be closed to the public."--Dave McKenna

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