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Summer Camp-er by Kelley Reese


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Summer Camp-er

Preserving a Culture

Come Away With Me



At an hour I rarely see on a summer Saturday morning, on the first day of last June, I woke with butterflies in my stomach. Excited about spending my day outside, meeting new people, playing sports.

Then, when I arrived at the practice field where the other campers were checking in and lining up, the butterflies turned to stone. My stomach sank. And the old feelings from childhood of not knowing anyone and not fitting in came rushing back.

After all, I really didn't fit in. I was 29, large and different in every way compared to the 100 or so kids lining up around me.

I stood anxiously in the line of 14-year-olds, saying hello to everyone who was there before me, smiling, hoping someone would say something back. They didn't. They were too busy wondering why I was in line with them and not at the front with the other adults. I was beginning to wonder the same thing.

But before I could back out, the drill sergeant or coach ordered us to spread arms-length apart across the field to stretch and do jumping jacks, before he ordered us to lap the field four times "quickly!"

As the air escaped my lungs at a rate faster than I could replace it, I felt certain my adventure would end in humiliation.

It was a certainty I lived with for five weeks as I attended the 2002 National Youth Sports Program at UNT.

Powers of observation

NYSP is an intensive program that uses group sports as a way to teach socialization skills and build self-esteem.

Sponsored nationwide by grants from the federal government, the day camp also includes a class curriculum that focuses on math and science, nutrition, substance abuse, higher education and job responsibilities, anger management, conflict resolution and personal health.

  Kelley Reese

Kelley Reese


It's one of dozens of camps held on campus during the summer.

I enrolled as a camper to learn more about what UNT looks like to the thousands of youths who participate in activities here during their summer breaks.

Since football was the first sport my group practiced, I learned that UNT looks surprisingly like an oblong, brown leather ball one hit me in the head while I was busy trying to observe my fellow campers.

"Ooh … that had to hurt," "Good catchtry using your hands next time" and "Way to go, old lady" came the muted chatter from the kids waiting for their turn to run the offensive pattern we were practicing.

Encouraging words

After picking my glasses up off the ground, I changed reporting tactics and threw myself into the camp purely as a camper no different from the others.

It paid off.

When we rotated to softball and my first glorious swing returned a strike, "Watch the ball," "Concentrate" and "You'll get it" were the words being shouted in encouragement. When my next swing connected for a double, rounding first and running toward second never felt so good not even when I was 8 years old and playing in little league.

And in basketball, when I managed to steal the ball and charge for the hoop (failing to score), everyone cheered.

Off the field we worked together to learn computer skills, like how to put together PowerPoint presentations, and discussed career goals.

Since it was a sports camp and these kids were talented members of their schools' sports teams most of them wanted to be professional athletes.

The teachers did a good job balancing the reality of keeping your dream alive and the importance of having a "Plan B."

There was also a lot of encouragement for the budding artists, business leaders and writers.

What I learned

And what we learned in our classes made its way into discussions on the field.

So after five weeks, what started as good-humored ribbing became references to our reality. "All right, superstar," "Way to go, ace," and "Fantastic" weren't just phrases we shouted to encourage each other they were how we felt about each other and ourselves all the time.

And when it came time to say good-bye, what I learned about UNT in the summer is very similar to what I learned here as a college student it's here to provide opportunity for growth, but the growth comes from you.

And, I really do enjoy sleeping in on Saturday mornings.


More about NYSP

Since 1998, about 300 children ages 10-16 from throughout the North Texas area have participated each year in NYSP, which is run at UNT by the School of Community Service's Department of Anthropology. The campers, who are often from low- and moderate-income families, come to UNT five days a week for five weeks to participate in the free program. They play a variety of group sports and take math, science, nutrition and health classes to build socialization skills and self esteem. They are also introduced to the opportunities a college education can offer.

For more information about NYSP, please call one of the program's administrators, Tyson Gibbs or Laura Washington, at (940) 369-7875.



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