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Summer athletics sessions continue to have their place

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While growing up, Adam Reese made it a point never to miss the annual summer basketball camp in his hometown of Plymouth.

From early elementary school all the way to high school, Reese couldn’t wait for the camaraderie and inevitable improvement in his game after working with coaches from the local high school.

A compliment was gold. Name recognition not far behind.

“I can remember when I was in youth camp and they knew my name,” remembered Reese, a 1996 Plymouth High School graduate. “That was a big deal.”

About to enter his second season as Franklin Community High School’s football coach, Reese is wrapping up a week in which he’s on the opposite end of such dialogue.

He’s front and center at Franklin’s youth football camp, teaching proper technique while all along encouraging a total of 115 boys from kindergarten to seventh grade.

It’s one of many youth sports camps taking place locally this summer in any number of sports offered by Johnson County’s six public high schools.

Even in today’s world cluttered by entertainment options, these remain popular destinations.

What they provide

Sports camps allow coaches the opportunity to infuse program philosophies and expectations into young minds. After all, in many cases these are the same athletes a head coach will be attempting to extract maximum effort from only a few years from now.

“I tell my coaches to get out there and have their faces seen to keep kids interested in sports because there are so many things for them to do these days,” Whiteland athletic director Ken Sears said.

“The little kids’ camps is to get them excited and getting them to do the right things. It’s keeping up with the Joneses. You have to do (camps) if you want to be good.”

The range of experience possessed by county coaches running such camps is vast.

Ivan Smith took over as Center Grove’s boys tennis coach in 1977. He’s since led the Trojans to the 2001 and 2008 state team championships, while securing runner-up finishes in 1997 and 1999.

Familiarity and success equate to numbers. Smith has 300 to 400 campers per summer.

“Those first couple of years in the late-1970s I just gave group lessons. Eventually we got to where we could have regular clinics,” said Smith, whose program is also responsible for four state singles and four doubles champions.

“I really enjoy them. They keep your feeder program going; and since tennis is an individual sport, we have several kids from other high schools and middle schools who come to our camps. I just think they’re something you need to have.”

Priority one: Fun

New Center Grove boys basketball coach Zach Hahn used last week’s youth camp to become better acquainted with both the kids and parents so vital to the success of the Trojans’ feeder system.

“It was a fun experience. A lot of planning took place. A lot of organizing. We had almost 230 kids from first grade all the way through ninth grade. In seventh, eighth and ninth grades, we had 75 in that group,” Hahn said.

“It’s a lot of kids, but it was just really fun to get out and see some of the younger kids in the community. I think they loved it. They all had fun, which is the main goal of camp always. But at the same time we did some skill development and teaching of defensive philosophies. Kids walked away with a basketball, a T-shirt, and they got popsicles a couple of the days.”

The life blood of each camp regardless the sport being played are the participants.

Investing a fraction of one’s hard-earned dollars becomes a waste if the girls and boys don’t enjoy themselves.

“We want to teach kids the fundamentals and set that foundation for the future. More importantly, I just want them to have a fun time. If they do that, there’s a good chance they’ll want to play football in the future,” Reese said.

“These kids have got to learn who I am and who the other coaches are. And a lot of the kids look up to our high school players, so I make sure to have some of them here, too.”

Competition aplenty

AAU basketball, summer travel teams in other sports and family vacations are just some of the factors that reduce the number of participants in summer sports camps. Therefore, it’s imperative to make it so kids desire to attend.

“The whole idea for me getting hired here is that I’m hopefully going to be here a long time and can help establish a program. Not just at the high school but all the way down into the youth,” Hahn said.

“It was really nice to be able to see parents and kids and just see the excitement they brought to Center Grove basketball.”

The 12-day camp conducted by Whiteland Community High School girls and boys tennis coach Mike Gillespie wrapped up Thursday with 70 participants ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors.

Gillespie has been in charge of Warriors’ tennis since the 2002-2003 school year, which has given him ample time to see what works and what doesn’t in regard to his annual camp.

“My goals are for the kids to have fun and to learn. You do games they can be successful at,” he said. “I tweak it over time, but I make sure to have a lot of games for them to play.”

The swing of things

Jim Williams’ 11 seasons as Center Grove’s girls golf coach includes a seventh-place finish at the 2011 state meet, as well as state team qualifiers in 2009 and 2010.

Last week Williams led the Trojans’ boys program to a sixth-place finish at state in his first season pulling double-duty.

With so many teen and preteen golfers playing in summer tournaments throughout Indiana and beyond every year, Williams feels a Center Grove golf camp lasting one or two weeks would be beneficial to both the girls and boys programs.

“We don’t have one right now, but I’m hoping to have one next year that puts the boys and girls together. The more I look at it the more I think we need it,” he said.

“Something like that would be good for our area and keep the kids focused on Center Grove golf. I would like to have my players work with the younger kids and build those relationships.”

Whiteland boys and girls soccer concluded its first camp on Friday with 18 players aged 4 to 11 taking part.

“It’s been really good to see the youth of the area really enjoying the game of soccer,” first-year Warriors boys coach Justin Van Horn said.

Along with an annual camp, Van Horn and Whiteland girls soccer coach Alyson Cotter are working with Bargersville-based South Central Soccer Academy (SCSA) to form Whiteland’s first youth soccer league — SCSA Warriors Academy.

Van Horn, a former player at Franklin College, expects the league to debut in August. He said it’s about growing the sport in an area traditionally not a soccer hotbed.

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