Veteran field hockey coach Lil Shelton stood on the crest of a hill overlooking the playing fields at Severna Park Middle School Wednesday morning and reveled at the site below.
"For years," said Shelton, founder and coordinator of the Anne Arundel County Junior League Field Hockey camp, "women were denied this opportunity, but now they'reinvolved in a lot of sports.
"Girls still don't have many female athletic role models to look up to, but what we're trying to do at this camp is give the girls an alternative. This is a chance for them to come out and make their ownstatement and have fun doing it."
In its inaugural season four years ago, the camp was conducted at Kinder Park and attracted 50 campers. This year, the camp has drawn more than 230 youngsters between the ages of 8-16.
Shelton admitted that she was a bit disappointed in the attendance that first year, but she has been encouraged by the program's continued growth.
"You always have big dreams when you start something that has never been done before," said Shelton, who created the program to give beginners a place to go to"learn the sport."
"But the program has really grown over the years. Word of mouth has really been helpful. Word is getting out that this is a good program and a good experience for the kids. If it wasn't, we wouldn't have the turnout we have."
On any given Monday, Wednesday or Friday through Aug. 2, Shelton and her staff of 18 present and former field hockey players can be found working with campers at the Jumpers Hole Road school.
Shelton said she had no problem finding assistants andbelieves she has a quality staff with a genuine love for the game.
"All of the girls have field hockey in their blood, and they all want to give something back to the sport," said Shelton. "I see them coaching and listen to them and have to smile because they sound just like me out there.
"My job is to keep an eye on things and make sure there's not too much down time. I hate down time. Overall, they've been great and I have confidence that the staff will convey the skills to the kids."
Chesapeake graduate Rob Ball, a county field hockey official coaching at the camp for his third year in a row, said it is his desire to be around the game that keeps bringing him back.
"It's nice to see kids that young getting interested in the sport," said Ball, who fell in love with the game when first exposed to it in physical education classes at Chesapeake. "It gives the younger kids a chance to learn about the sport and the older kids a chance to keeptheir skill level up over the summer."
The camp, dubbed a "drop-in camp" because participants attend when they want, is broken into four different skill/age groups for balance -- an 8- to 10-year-old group, 11-13, 14-16 and an advanced group with players having three or more years of experience.
"The little ones crowd the ball," said Shelton, pointing to her 8-10 group. "They see the ball and they want to get to it but they're slowly learning the concept of teamwork."
Shelton said her initial reasons for starting the camp were to condition the players, teach them basic skills and promote the sport of field hockey. However, she added, "The main reason for camp is for the kids to have fun."
"I felt that the level of playing skill in the county needed to be elevated a bit, but that's not the basic reason for having the camp," said Shelton, who has coached Severna Park High to five state titles and nine region championships. "The basic reason was to make field hockey visible to the kids and let them see what itis all about."
To maintain the often short attention spans of theyounger campers, the staff has developed a variety of games such as "snatch the bacon," "octopus" or "squirrel in the trees."
"The games help the kids develop skills and at the same time are used for conditioning," said Shelton.
Dana Rigot, 12, of Severna Park, has attended the camp every year and said she hopes she can one day pass on some of what she has learned to her teammates.
"I've come back every year because I know a lot people here, the coaches are not real serious and it's a lot of fun," said Rigot, who apparently inherited some coaching traits from her father, Dave, Glen Burnie's veteran football coach.
"When I go on to high school, I'll be able to help others who didn't come to the camp with their skills."
When asked whatshe liked most about the camp, a smiling 7-year-old Katelyn Quinn ofSeverna Park answered, "The coaches. That's what they told me to say."