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Summer Camp Season Is Upon Us

by on June 27, 2017 5:00 AM

Ah, summer. The time for outdoor activities from picnics, to Spikes baseball games, to kayaking at Stone Valley, to Movies on the Mountain, to plays at the Nittany Theatre at the Boal Barn. There are a lot of fun things to choose from during the summer in Central Pa.

It’s also time for those of us with kids to prepare to shell out big bucks for our children to attend camps and clinics. Cha-ching! We are on kid No. 3, Ryan, who just turned 17 and is the last of the Battistas still at home. To his credit he is working a construction job this summer, so he is pulling the load at least a little between playing golf and baseball.

Saturday evening my wife, Heidi.  and I were enjoying a few cold adult beverages at Scott and Christine Good’s home in the Thistledown development in Pine Grove Mills. We were watching a beautiful sunset, listening to great summer tunes, and really enjoying some “grown-up” conversations with a group of their neighbors and friends. It was incredibly relaxing.

Then the alarm on my iPhone went off at the same time Heidi texted me, “time to go.” It was a reminder that we had to be up at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday and it was time to call it a night, just when the fire pit was really crackling and the laughter was picking up.  

Why did our fun summer evening get cut short and why the early wake-up?  Well, I would like to tell you it was because we purchased “Two Tickets to Paradise,” a la Eddie Money, and were about to catch the 6 a.m. flight out of University Park Airport to some Caribbean island. Alas, it was simply time to wake Ryan and his friend Zach Martin to take them to the Nittany Mall to get on a Fullington bus for a seven-hour trip to Saranac Lake, N.Y.

Actually, we were up even earlier to take the boys over to say a formal goodbye to their childhood friend Tyler Gulley, who with his family is moving to Cincinnati this week. I am not sure that “TG” was initially thrilled that we showed up at 5:30 a.m. But based on the emotional send-off, it will be something these great friends will remember forever.

So, you are wondering what was the purpose of the bus trip? Summer camp... yee haw!

Ryan and “Marty” and 36 of their fellow Young Life of Centre County campers and counselors left for what will be an incredible week of fun and fellowship at the gorgeous Saranac Village Young Life Camp located on Saranac Lake in upstate New York. Our oldest kids had attended Young Life camp in Rockbridge, Va. They had an absolute blast so we can’t wait to hear the stories and see the pictures and videos from this week’s adventures in the woods and on the water.

I may bellyache about the cost of camps, but having spent 30 years in the ice hockey camp business as a counselor, instructor and camp director, I fully understand the appeal and benefits of kids going to camp. It’s more than just learning new skills. It’s about socialization, making new friends and personal responsibility, especially if it’s a residence camp. Developing “people skills” is even more important in my mind given youngsters’ addictions to smartphones and social media.

As the last of the Battista kids’ summer camp adventures are coming to an end, it made me think of all the different camps they’ve been to over the years. Sure, there were the local Penn State and State High soccer, baseball and basketball camps, but there were also cooking, computer, science, stock market and art camps as well as an 18 day “People To People” trip to Australia for our oldest son Jonathon. In addition, the kids have all spent a week in Altamont, Tenn. as a part of the Mt. T.O.P. (Tennessee Outreach Project) mission trip for St. Paul’s United Methodist church.  That week in the Tennessee Mountains is life changing as the kids get to see what some of the poorest families in the country face on a daily basis.

The older, and presumably wiser, that I get,  I wish we would have sent the kids to more academic and activities-based camps in addition to, or even in place of, some of the numerous sports camps. I know, I know, that may sound a bit hypocritical coming from someone who spent up to 10 weeks every summer involved in teaching and running hockey camps. But I think there is a huge market for kids to explore things other than the sports they play all year.

Too many parents dream of their kid being the next Serena Williams in tennis, Matt Williams in baseball, Sean Lee in football, Sidney Crosby in hockey, Michael Jordan or Diana Taurasi in basketball, Lionel Messi or Penn State’s own Ali Krieger in soccer.  Hate to break it to you folks, but the odds of that happening are stacked pretty hard against most of our kids. So how about a week at stock market camp instead of, or in addition to, your week at field hockey or lacrosse camp? Engineering camp instead of, or in addition to, hockey, tennis or soccer camp?

What other camps are out there?  You’d be surprised. Here are just a few:

Leadership, engineering, stock market, culinary, computer, business, entrepreneurship, science, literature, writing, nature, arts and crafts, foreign language, music, theatre, ceramics, motorsports, robotics, and space camp. There are dance camps, drama & acting, fashion, photography, horseback riding, film and video camps. There is even a dinosaur camp out there.

I personally wish there were more parent-child camps offered. I would pay good money to spend a week at a golf camp with my son or daughter learning the game right along with them. O.K., so I have an ulterior motive, but I really do think it would be a blast to hang out with my kids in a camp environment while learning some new skills. There are more than 700 “family” camps where you basically leave the cell phones at home so you get connected to each other and not the Internet.

Regardless, as your kids get ready to head off to day camps, residence camps and mission trips, I encourage parents to remember that the two best things we can give our children are roots and wings. Let them go and have fun. Work out their homesickness or arguments with friends or roommates with the camp staff.  Learning to get along with and working with others, and being pushed out of their comfort zones, is priceless. This is just as important as any other skill they will bring home from camp.

For those of you who have never heard, or maybe haven't heard in a long time Allan Sherman’s 1963 Grammy-winning song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,” do yourself a favor and listen to it. The first stanza goes like this:

“Hello Muddah, hello Faddah,
Here I am at Camp Grenada.
Camp is very entertaining,
And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining!”

Even though you will think it’s a bit corny, I bet you will laugh, or at least smirk.

Camp season is upon us. Embrace it!

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Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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