The first time Bailey Nixon attended Camp U, she was a junior at Pleasant Grove High School and she believes it was no coincidence that the Viking volleyball team won the state 5A championship in 2014.

The second time she attended Camp U, she believed it helped her absorb the shock of a major knee injury, the type that ends careers.

Nixon is now applying what she learned at Utah Valley University, where her volleyball comeback is still about four months away. She graduated early and enrolled at UVU in January.

“It was the funnest thing I’ve ever been able to do and I really believe it helped us win a state championship, because there were four other girls on our team that went with me,” Nixon said. “It was really cool. There were a lot of great athletes from around the state.

"Probably the most important thing I learned was how to be a better teammate. Before I went, it thought about was just getting my (state championship) rings. It was all about me, but I learned how to be a good leader and I tried to be the best possible teammate I could be.”

Camp U is an annual leadership conference that brings together the state's top student-athletes for two days of food, fun, competition and training on how to use their leadership skills in their school and activities.

“We started this with the idea that we would take the take best kids, the ones who had the highest level of influence, and teach them leadership skills,” said Jed Smith, who is the Camp U Leadership Director.  We have teamed up with high school principals and athletic directors from all across the state to select the top male and female student-athletes who are exceptional in academics, athletics and being involved in their school and communities.”

For athletes like Nixon, who was the Daily Herald’s Most Valuable Offensive Player for volleyball in 2014,  the camp made such an impact that she was invited to return as an alumni speaker and camp supervisor.

“What I learned helped me handle my injury and has made me want to work harder to come back and get back on the court,” she said. “I know if I apply what I learned those things will help me for the rest of my life.”

Camp U was founded 2011 and is a non-profit (501c3) that invites every Utah high school to send its top male and female student athletes to attend.

For a small fee ($50) the campers are fed and housed and they receive a spirit pack that includes a high-end shirt and a variety of other small items.

This year’s event was held in March at Spanish Fork High School. Former Utah Jazz forward Thurl Bailey was the keynote speaker. Robbie Reid and Rob Cuff also spoke.

Reid was an all-state baseball and basketball player at Spanish Fork before he went on to play basketball at BYU and Michigan.

Cuff is the Executive Director of the Utah High School Activities Association.

Cuff touched on a common theme for the weekend when he told the group that they can all be leaders on their team regardless of what their role is on their team.

“Camp U offers one of the best opportunities for athletes and performers to learn effective leadership qualities and valuable life lessons in a short amount of time,” Cuff said. “Students who attend Camp U are encouraged to serve others and make the commitment to promote and strengthen education-based activities in their local schools.” 

Spanish Fork High School Principal Dave McKee has watched the impact the event has had on several of his students, which is why he sends students to the conference each year.

“We liked it (Camp U) so much that we have hosted it here for the last two years,” McKee said. “They concentrate on teaching them to do things the right way and that’s the kind of stuff that I love to see.”

Since Spanish Fork was the host, McKee used the opportunity to send several of the school’s top student athletes to participate.

One of those who attended was Jaxon Higginson, a junior, who plays football and baseball.

“Thurl Bailey gave the most incredible speech I ever heard.  He talked about how he was able to come out of his shell,” Higginson said. “He was in the school band and wasn’t a very good basketball player but one day he saw Dr. J (Julius Erving) dunk a basketball and wanted to be just like him.”

Bailey shared the story about how his father cut a hole in a basket and hung it up outside so he could practice even if the court was made of dirt.

“He (Bailey) finally made the team but he didn’t play much. He continued to work hard and practice and had a good senior year,” Higginson said. “That happened because he came out of his shell. Since then, that’s something I’ve tried to do and I look for others who I think might be quiet and keep to themselves and encourage them to come out of their shells.”

Another Spanish Fork athlete who attended was Heston Andersen, a junior, who runs track and cross country.

“We learned how to be a better teammate. I realized that it’s my job to do the dirty work and not tell the freshman and sophomores to do things like get the water cooler,” Andersen said. “We had a meet last week and after I was done running, I made sure to go over and encourage those who were running after me. Even if you’re a senior or the best on the team, you still need to do all of the little things.”

Smith believes Camp U will continue to grow as more schools become aware of the success they’ve had at developing better leaders and more effective followers.

“In our first year we had 21 kids attend. This year we had 155 from 50 schools ranging from Logan to St. George,” Smith said. “Our goal is to have every school participate. I know what kind of impact this had made with these kids and it’s an experience that will help them for the rest of their lives.”

Daily Herald sports writer Neil K. Warner can be reached at nwarner@heraldextra.com.

Twitter: @theGreatZuke

Neil K. Warner has been a sports writer for 25 years. He is the author of four books and is also known as the Great Zuke. He primarily covers Preps, Utah Valley University and BYU.