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From Camp Walt Whitman to ESPN: Why Being a Camp Counselor is the Best Job Ever

Most basketball fans would love to have Michael Shiffman’s job. Right now the Senior Vice President of Production at ESPN focuses on college basketball, leading the production of live events and pre-game coverage of men’s and women’s college basketball games. But in the past he’s covered it all: NBA Finals and All-Star Games, Super Bowls, College Football National Championships, the Stanley Cup Final.

Watching games is work — he has two TVs in his living room, and is in constant touch with his teams at ESPN, offering feedback and thoughts on player stories to highlight for future coverage.

But work also involves a fair amount of travel, and it’s those moments on the road that he calls upon his time as a Camp Walt Whitman counselor to provide the kind of moral support needed to lead a team that’s far from home.

“Sports media is a terrific field to be in,” he says. “But there certainly are sacrifices you make. We have five NBA games on Christmas Day, so we have literally hundreds of people working on Christmas Day who celebrate the holiday and can’t be with their loved ones year after year on Christmas. Camp gave me experience that I wouldn’t have otherwise had in preparing for things like that.”

In college he spent one summer interning at “World News Tonight” with Peter Jennings, which gave him the technical skill set he would later use in TV production. But for the other three summers in college he was a bunk counselor at Camp Walt Whitman, and those 8 weeks a year in Piermont, NH gave him the interpersonal experience he still draws from today.

“That’s what camp is all about — blending with people who you have many things in common with, and other people who you may have very little in common with. Camp was really about coming together with people from all different states, all different countries and how you foster those relationships.”

On another level, camp was also excellent preparation for a profession that requires you to “really be there for people when they are away from home.”

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Shiffman was a bunk counselor for 12-year-old boys, a time in their lives when they’d already established close ties to friends, parents and siblings. In the absence of their loved ones, “You become a lot to them,” he says.

As a young adult, it’s an unparalleled responsibility. “Parents are handing their kids over to you,” and not just to ensure their safety on challenging hikes. “They’re handing over their emotional well-being, too…You learn a lot from that.”

Looking back on his time as a counselor, he says, “I took great satisfaction in the human-ness of forging those relationships, and those bonds, and being there for them when they really needed you.” As awesome as his job is now, “it’s always fun to talk about camp, even twenty-seven years later.”