Jeri Helfer and her Newark Catholic volleyball program has quite a reputation.
Her Camp of Champions each July is a must attend for players across the county, but Helfer’s reach expands each year. Twenty-seven schools were represented this summer, and a few campers had quite a drive — or flight to attend.
“I get Texas and Virginia kids every year because they come up to see grandma,” Helfer said. “But Alaska, yeah, that beat it all.”
Coaches do not have a magical formula for their camps. Almost every varsity coach in the area has one, and most are set up the same way.
Camps always include drills to improve fundamentals, but they also often have a competition element. That is when the fun begins.
Cost of camps can vary in price, but most in Licking County are anywhere from $30 to $65. As some coaches use the camps as fundraiser, the cost often is simply used to cover expenses for T-shirts or to provide a small stipend for instructors.
“We try to keep it low on purpose,” said Licking Valley football coach Randy Baughman, whose camp this past week cost just $30 for each player.
“It is really not a fundraiser. We are going to get them shirts and some other things, so we are really not making much money on it. It is just something that we as coaches feel like we need to do for the program.”
Coaches can use camps to excite their community. Watkins Memorial varsity soccer coaches Alex Stout and Scott Spangler were teammates on the school’s 2004 boys state championship team, and the enthusiasm they bring to their programs is apparent.
At Watkins’ recent soccer camp, Spangler — the boys coach — was teaching the youngest players the most basic of skills. At the same time, Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenbaum and the team’s mascot — the Crew Cat — were interacting with participants.
“The kids freak out about it,” said Stout, the girls coach. “All the Crew Cat has to do is show up. And then having Andy showing up, he will be signing autographs, and he is great with kids, too. It is awesome to get them interested in it. They will go to the games and say: ‘I know him. It will be really cool.'”
It is a cycle Watkins loves to see work. Stout and Spangler were student coaches at the youth camps while in school, and they remember meeting and teaching many of their players. Now, the current high school players are giving back, too.
“They don’t like me now because I yell at them,” Stout said. “I am the one making them run now.”
Baughman has seen generations of Valley players come through his camp. Now, many of his former players are on his coaching staff.
As the youth players enjoy having a chance to practice and play with high school players instructing them, Baughman used the time for homework. It is a rare time he can see his seventh- and eighth-grade coaches in action without being tied up by his own season.
“We like to do it for the kids No. 1, but we think it is just as beneficial for the coaches,” he said. “We can get everyone on the same page with terminology.”
Most coaches use camps as a way to build their own program and to connect with parents in the community. Helfer’s camp truly has become one for Licking County.
Between Helfer’s camp and the New Wave Volleyball club program, she has reached at least a sliver of every area program. Competition can be fierce as parents attempt to divide their children’s time during the summer.
“I always joke with the kids if I rank higher than softball or soccer now,” Helfer said. “They come in wearing soccer shirts, and they go out wearing volleyball. It is just neat to give them that exposure. Outside of the (Licking County Family YMCA) program, it is just not there for the younger kids.”
This fall, a few shirts will walk the halls of Bear Valley Elementary in Anchorage, Alaska.