April 26, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
It was clear the first time I dropped in on my daughters last summer while they were at the Sharon Perkins softball academy at Georgia Tech: they were working. Roni and Tori had rosy cheeks. Wisps of hair were plastered to the edges of their faces. They were breathing heavily.
They were 10, and loving it.
“Some counselors, if you missed the ball, you had to go get it and if you walked you had to do 10 push-ups,” Tori said Tuesday when I asked her what she liked about the camp last summer.
To be clear, that wasn’t the first thing she said. It was down the list of likes but she mentioned it without my asking. They admired the fact they were held accountable in a way that surpassed many of their youth sport experiences.
It’s time to sign up for summer camps at Tech, where director of Olympics Sports Ethan Shapiro – a camp overlord of a sort on The Flats – said the school probably cycled more than 4,000 kids through 2010’s camps and clinics.
Every sport but track and field has something to offer, and there are camps for sports medicine and cheerleading. My daughters did that a few years ago and got a kick out it, too.
There are some overnight options, and plenty of day camps.
I cannot testify on every camp and the way it’s run, but given my daughters’ experiences and what my son went through a few years back while at a two-day football camp, I can say this: if you and your kid(s) are looking for some serious instruction in the nuances of sport, the Tech camps measure up.
The coaches make sure there’s non-sport fun, too, at least with younger children. These camps are also good for the school, its coaches and players.
“From Tech’s standpoint there are a couple benefits,” Shapiro said. “For coaches, there is a financial benefit. For the bigger [sport] coaches, that’s not as important as the fact it gives them a chance to boost their assistants as well.
“The other element is just from a marketing standpoint for the athletic association. If you go to a softball game, for example, I see kids that I recognize from camp. Those kids are coming to games because they had a great time. They get in our database, and we tell them about events. It’s a commitment.”
Shapiro is not from Atlanta, but his wife is local. She went to the women’s basketball camp years ago.
“She ended up going to Tech,” he said. “If there is a direct correlation, I don’t know, but . . . it creates good will in the community for those kids, their parents, and it gives Georgia Tech a good name.”
The camps and clinics generally run from early June through July, although Shapiro said there may be some action in August.
Tori and Roni are going back, and not just because they’ll get to go to the swimming pool at the end of the fourth and final day of their softball camp. They may, in fact, attend more than one camp. We’ll have to check the schedule and run it past the CPA (their mother) before committing.
“I like the drills they gave us, and the batting cages had a camera so you could see what you needed to fix,” Roni said. “Also, I liked their little store for candy and how nice the people were. The counselors were actual Georgia Tech softball players. They would teach the drills so everyone understood.”
I’m not kidding when I say that the week the girls were at camp last was the hottest of the summer. Roni said it was a good thing that, “One day we practiced sliding on a Slip-N-Slid; that was fun.”
The girls learned more about middle infield exchanges, the pivot, and batting in four days than I’ve been able to teach them in a few years. Most importantly, they had a blast.
Who knows, maybe this year or next they’ll end up on Perkins’ radar.
“A very small part of it is recruiting,” Shapiro said said of the prospect of campers becoming prospects. “Kids that are 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 have some talent. That’s a small, small part of it.”
Now 11, my girls aren’t yet thinking about getting into that kind of database. “They had like a concession stand and they would sell candy and they’d give you free popsicles at the end of the day,” Tori said. “You could get a Chik-fil-A sandwich and sit wherever you wanted to talk to your friends at lunch.”
Ah, the social component. What should I expect from my rising sixth graders? Comments, and tales of camp experiences, to firstname.lastname@example.org.