The camp was founded to honor the lives of Herman and Dyke, who died tragically at the ages of 15 and 14, respectively. The goal of the camp is to provide a free learning experience for young soccer players that will help them grow athletically, mentally and socially both on and off the field.
Now it's 13th year, Heather Dyke, Carter's mother, says she feels blessed to see a heartbreaking loss turned into a heartwarming display.
"When you experience a tragedy that is beyond words and beyond belief, you have to step back," said Dyke.” I realized that in order to keep their memories alive, you have to turn something that was so horrific into something that is positive. We wanted to turn this into a positive experience for our community and our coaches and it really warms the heart.
"It just gives you chills. The first day just gave me goosebumps. I see all these kids running out here to play soccer with huge smiles on their faces and that's what makes it all worth it. As sad as we are for the loss of Carter and Mike, to turn that loss into this event is just beautiful.
"I think this event really shows how strong the passion for soccer is in our community, especially amongst our children. To see that continued after Carter and Mike are gone is just awesome."
The camp ran from Monday through Wednesday with two separate, four-hour sessions each day. From 9 a.m. to noon, volunteer coaches helped kids from grades 2-4 through helpful drills and group activities. The coaches then took a one-hour lunch break before taking on a new wave of energetic youngsters from 1-4 p.m., as grades 5-8 rushed the field.
"We are really thankful for the counselors," said Judy Herman, Mike's mother. "There can be all kinds of organizations that hire volunteers or sponsors for their events, but without these young coaches and camp counselors, we have nothing."
Those coaches, mostly high school-age soccer players from the Grand Haven and Spring Lake area, have worked through a busy stretch of their summer to volunteer their time and energy to give back to their community.
"I feel for our coaches who volunteer for this camp," added Dyke. "Most of them played two full days of competitive soccer down at the Soccer in the Sand tournament this past weekend, and now they are helping coach all these kids for eight hours a day for the past three days.
"They finished their tournament around 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon and then we had a camp meeting at 6 p.m. that night to get ready for Monday, and they all showed up. Most of them were exhausted, but that just shows you the type of kids that we have here. These kids are constantly giving back to their community and I love seeing that."
For Dyke, the decision to join the camp wasn't easy at first. The painful reminder of her family's loss was intensified by seeing Carter's smiling face everywhere she looked. Eventually, she saw the positive effect it had on the community, and she quickly embraced it.
"I really had to think about it at first," Dyke admitted. "It's very emotional for me and it can be difficult at times, but I've learned over time that it's worth it. The emotional effect of seeing your child's face on a shirt can be a little difficult sometimes. It's a beautiful gesture and it's a wonderful way to remember them, but it's tough, too."
Daily reminders of the camp's effect have continued to push both the Dykes and the Hermans to continue to donate their time and energy to the camp.
"One thing that stuck with me was when Mark (Herman) was talking about character during one of our coach meetings with all our campers," said Dyke. "Afterward, a kid came up and said, ‘Hey, somebody dropped this $10 gift card.' So instead of him keeping it and not saying anything, he showed a lot of character in bringing that up to the group and instantly showing that the kids understand the message and are applying it.
"This camp is about building character in a lot of ways. It's not just about soccer. We want to teach inclusiveness and that's something that is highlighted during this camp. Kids from all grades are interacting together and it's a positive, supportive function."
Unlike most travel soccer camps, the Herman-Dyke Soccer Camp is free for all kids to join. When there is a donation made to the camp, that money is reinvested directly into next year's costs of putting the camp on.
"One-hundred percent of the donations that come in go to this camp," added Dyke. "None of us take anything away from it — not a single dime."
Each kid who participates in the camp gets a free T-shirt and a soccer ball at the end of the camp.
"We also sponsor with Cleats for Kids out of Holland," added Dyke. "They bring in all their cleat bins and allow kids to swap out cleats for different sizes. We make sure kids that walk into camp without cleats go over there on Monday before camp starts and get cleats and shinguards.
"Cleats for Kids said they swapped out 56 pairs of cleats in just one day. That really expresses a need in our community and out of this tragedy, we are able to help fulfill that in a way."
Another helpful donation was made by Grand Haven High School, allowing the camp to use their athletic facility to host the event free of charge.
"Grand Haven High School has been so helpful," continued Dyke. "The rental fees for this facility aren't cheap, but they allowed us to use it, along with the water. I don't think we'd be able to pull this off without a venue like this. The kids are kind of locked in here, and that helps when you have second through fourth-graders running around. It can begin to feel like you're trying to herd cats.
"We don't have to worry about kids wandering off or getting lost, so that's just a little thing that makes a big difference. They also allow us to use the speaker system to play music and have someone calling out instructions to the group."
The camp concluded with some group shooting drills, followed by a camp-wide meeting, in which master of ceremonies Jake Thayer awarded all the rookie coaches and newcomers to the camp with an award, before sending the masses to the end of the field, where free soccer balls were distributed.
For more information on the camp and the stories behind Mike Herman and Carter Dyke, visit www.hdsoccercamp.com.