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Sports camps are among the popular summer activities for youngsters in Maine.
They get the opportunity to make new friends from other areas while developing their skills in a sport they enjoy.
The camps also serve as an important promotional opportunity for colleges and they supply coaches and instructors with a little extra income.
This summer, the COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out most summer camps.
The University of Maine in Orono and Husson University in Bangor are among the Maine colleges that sponsor annual summer clinics.
The coaches said they will miss teaching and interacting with the campers, but they agree the decision to cancel the sessions was the right one.
“Given the circumstances and everything you would need to overcome to keep things safe, it makes a lot of sense not to run the camps this year,” UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley said.
There were simply too many variables and unknowns to even consider having the camps, UMaine athletics director Ken Ralph said.
Coaches said the camps are valuable in a variety of ways. First, they provide the chance to share their passion for a sport with young people.
“It’s about establishing relationships and providing the opportunity for students to improve their [skills],” Husson men’s basketball coach Warren Caruso said. “That’s the biggest loss. “
The camps also attract potential future college students to campuses and expose them to facilities, coaches and staff members. The interactions often foster long-lasting relationships.
“It’s a great way to engage with the kids,” Atherley said. “One of the good things about our camp is, historically, we attract a lot of people who return on a yearly basis.”
Husson women’s basketball coach Kissy Walker said they start receiving inquiries about summer camps before Christmas each year.
Clinics also serve as a learning experience for college student-athletes as many players serve as coaches and counselors.
“What I love about it is, I usually try to get four or five of my players to work at the camp and it’s good for them,” Walker said. “They enjoy it and they make some money.”
For the schools, the benefits come more in the form of building friendships and associations with young athletes and their parents.
“[The campers] identify with our players,” Atherley said. “It’s a great thing.”
“It is definitely a community-driven event,” UMaine baseball coach Nick Derba said. “You get to see the kids develop and grow.”
Ralph stressed that UMaine doesn’t run the camps in an attempt to make money and that they’re not lucrative for coaches. Derba said he sympathizes with some of his instructors because some serve as unpaid volunteer assistants during the spring season.
“They can use [summer camp income] to pay their rent or buy food,” Derba said. “They work as much, if not more, than anybody else during the [spring] season and they don’t get paid.”
Walker said Husson uses its summer basketball camps as fundraisers. The money enables the team to take a trip for non-conference games, often to places like Florida.
“We raised about $7,000-$8,000 last year,” she said. “We try to take the team to play some competition that plays a different style of basketball.”
Pay for camp instructors usually falls in the $400-$600 per week range.
Things have come full circle for Walker, who is set to begin her 30th season as Husson’s coach. She is discovering that some of her campers are daughters of her former players.
“It’s neat,” she said.
Among the other benefits for colleges is getting an early start on recruiting future student-athletes. Players get to know the coaching staff and develop a familiarity with the school and the facilities.
UMaine field hockey coach Josette Babineau had nine Maine players on her roster last fall and most of them previously attended the Black Bears’ summer camp.
“We recruit players based on what we see from them at our camps,” Babineau said. “We have the ability to work with them for a week so we are able to see their potential and if they would be a good fit for us.”
UMaine hosted 175 players at last year’s field hockey camps, which meant Babineau was able to hire several of her players as instructors. It enabled them to spend valuable time together.
“Not having a summer camp is definitely impactful for us,” she said.