New wave of camps allowing youths to hone athletic skills

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

June 25, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland

THOUSANDS OF Howard County kids will experience camp in the next couple of months. You might think, Camp Cliche at Lake Someplace-in-the-Woods, with crafts galore, sing-alongs, corny skits, forgettable food, bug bites, campfires and growing up a bit away from home, possibly for the first time.

Such places still operate, of course, as do camps for music and science and math and reading and acting and you name it. But sports day camps are what we're talking about here - most only a few miles from home, under the sun, with your own bed to sleep in.

The camp season that began last Monday continues into mid-August. Tykes will be exposed to competition and basic skills in "development" camps. Elementary students will focus on playing a couple of sports better. And middle-schoolers will hone skills hoping for an edge in making JV or varsity teams in high school.

The high school athletes? A few will be counseling locally, but the best almost certainly will attend residency camp at some nearby college. Name the sport,and there's a camp to take it to that next level.

Chatting randomly with and eavesdropping on a few middle-schoolers at Gail Purcell's field hockey camp at Columbia's Cedar Lane Park at midday Tuesday showed the impact of camps.

Enough girls for a dozen teams with substitutes for virtually everyone using two fields (one for 10-a-side scrimmages and halves of the other for seven-a-side drills) were taking part. And Purcell's camp for "elite" players wouldn't begin until mid-afternoon. Some of those younger girls will experience two or three weeklong sports camps before summer ends.

The Centennial varsity coach's campers - most ever since she began her camp in 1994 - wore T-shirts that reflected not only the sport du jour but past camping experiences in basketball, softball, diving, swimming, cross-country, soccer and lacrosse, lacrosse, lacrosse. Did we mention lacrosse?

At least one charge was really looking forward to a camp of a different color - horseback riding.

Al Harden, the county Department of Recreation and Parks manager for sports and adventure camps, estimates that as many as 3,500 county youngsters from kindergarten through high school will participate in nearly 35 county-sponsored camps this year, some run by staff and others contracted out to high school coaches and other organizations. The department's revenue from them will approach $350,000.

The Columbia Association, Howard County YMCA and a number of sports entrepreneurs are operating competing camps and "academies," as well.

As Harden pointed out, the county has been at this sports camp stuff only about a dozen years.

"It's gotten to be a big business all across the country," he said, with a lot of prominent athletes having lent their names or time to teaching youngsters - and making a handsome buck doing so.

Field hockey - forgive us, Ms. Purcell and coaches - not so long ago was the fall sport that unathletic high school girls tried out for. It was a sport most picked up as ninth-graders.

Ellicott City's Sarah Davis, helping coach Tuesday, was a student in Purcell's original field hockey camp and played on Centennial's varsity for three years before going to Salisbury State.

The difference between her first year as a camper and now, six years later, as a counselor?

"Girls are coming in much more skilled," Davis replied without hesitating, several other coaches chiming in agreement. "They're starting younger - at least while they're in middle school."

For the record, last Tuesday's players included, one coach said, a few fifth-graders.

Walk some more: Freestate Happy Wanderers, the volksmarch club with Anne Arundel County roots that gave birth to the Columbia club in 1984, will use new-town trails for a one-morning volksmarch Saturday. Three of the Columbia area's lakes will be focal points - Wilde, Centennial and Kittamaqundi. Start anytime between 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., finish by 2 p.m., at Slayton House, in Wilde Lake Village Green. Information: 410-437-2164.

Notebook scrap: Columbia Memorial Day soccer tournament director Louise Waxler relayed an e-mail that longtime Columbia soccer advocate Amani Dove got from Rich Levy, former coach of the Union Lancers, a well-known northern New Jersey club. Levy recalled the 1993 team he brought to Columbia, which produced at least four pros, best-known among them now a star for Scotland's Glasgow Rangers, as well as U.S. national team play-maker Claudio Reyna.

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