Berliner Sports Park may be known for its expansive ball diamonds and professional softball tournaments, but for four days in June the park is filled with more than 100 young athletes who may be dribbling a ball, scoring a goal or holding a hockey stick for the very first time.
The Community Youth Camp is a sports sampling program run by the Columbus Foundation and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission that aims to introduce underserved children ages 6 through 12 to sports they may not be exposed to otherwise.
Last week, it was held at Berliner Sports Park, and a second session will take place from Tuesday through June 24 at KIPP Columbus, with registration ending Friday.
“It’s really just an opportunity to introduce all of these different sports … to just a variety of kids as well that maybe don’t have access to those sports, whether it’s not in their communities or at school,” said Erica Williams, events manager at the sports commission.
Community Youth Camp: Introducing kids to multiple sports
The camp introduces kids to four new sports a day, an hour at a time. This gives them just enough time to learn the fundamentals from professional and former professional athletes — like Frankie Hejduk, who used to play for the Columbus Crew — or volunteers, Williams said.
Connor Sexton, 7, said he was both excited and nervous to play basketball for the first time last year when he took part in the camp for the first time. The Westerville boy said he was worried he would look like a bad player in front of his peers.
“I didn’t know where or how to shoot and dribble,” he said.
After he learned the basics, Connor gained confidence and found it was easier to make friends with other campers.
Four years ago, Eric Archibald, senior director of events for the sports commission, sat down with other staff members to look at the demographics of Columbus area residents that have access to its sporting events, programs and fundraisers.
The sports commission is responsible for much of the growing athletics industry in the Franklin County area. Since its inception in 2002, the organization has booked more than 550 local events.
“The sports commission’s core focus is generating economic impact for our community,” Archibald said. “But what are we doing about those families and really those children, those boys and girls, that don’t have access to certain activities that other families have?”
There are multiple factors that can limit a child or family’s access to playing or watching sports, Williams said, including finances, transportation, knowledge and exposure.
The camp was structured with these barriers to entry in mind. The sports commission worked with outside organizations such as Columbus Recreation and Parks Department to identify opportunity zones, or communities where a high population of residents lack the time, money or access to sports in their neighborhoods.
The camp costs $250 and covers breakfast, lunch and two snacks a day, along with camp T-shirts and sports equipment they can take home with them. There is a scholarship fund supported by community sponsors and partners that covers the cost to attend for those who are approved.
“A lot of times it is just that access financially,” Williams said. “So, we’re really proud that more than 85 percent of our campers here are on scholarship to come to the camp, so that’s camp, fees are completely covered.”
In addition to sports, campers have group activities to teach them about topics like self care, empowerment or team building.
“To me it’s more like just a break from all the sports and more like a … time to relax,” 11-year-old Annika Kramer said of the life lessons.
Kramer is a Girl Scout from Butler Farms, Obetz with a busy schedule filled troop meetings, guitar lessons and other summer camps. The Community Youth Camp gives her a chance to try many sports in a short period of time.
“I get to see what I would like, so I don’t have to commit for an entire year to do sports,” she said.
Meghan Sexton, Connor’s mom and a contract worker with the sports commission, said she witnessed the impact life lessons had on her son two days into the program. Some of the campers in Connor’s group encouraged him to call another boy a name.
“The boy started crying and Connor immediately went over, put his hand around him and told him, you know, it was OK,” she said. “One of the life lessons yesterday was on cooperating and also collaborating, and just being a leader.”
Community Youth Camp
Where: KIPP Columbus, 2900 Inspire Drive
When: Tuesday and runs through June 24
Registration: Closes Friday; scholarship applications are available online at community.columbussports.org/youth-camp