Oct. 18, 2012
By: Lauren Chval
In the summer months, the University of Notre Dame campus empties out. Students go home, professors take vacations, and administrators have less to administer. Everyone gets a bit of a break. Everyone, that is, except the athletes.
The athletes wake up early. They work with their next seasons in mind. They spend their days running, training, pushing themselves--all to get a little bit better each day.
These athletes are as young as six and as old as 18, and they come to Notre Dame to participate in youth sports camp.
Matt Weldy, who coordinates the sports camp office, works closely with students, coaches, and the student welfare and development office to put on these camps. The program annually runs through June and July and across 18 varsity sports; kids come from across the country and beyond to participate.
Each sport is broken down into three camps: youth, development, and prospect. The youth division is a day camp for kids ages six through 10, while the other two are overnight. Weldy says the day camp serves as an opportunity for Notre Dame to give back to the surrounding area.
"The day camps are your local community," Weldy says. "The overnight camps are revenue generating for the sports, but the youth camps are more of a break-even situation. It takes those kids that idolize Notre Dame and the athletes and gives them a chance to get on campus for a week."
The Irish student-athletes who work the camps spend their summers in South Bend anyway, preparing for their upcoming seasons. Every sport has a coach on its staff who also serves as a camp coordinator, and he or she puts together a group of student-athletes from the team to work the camps.
Notre Dame's women's soccer assistant coach Dawn Greathouse is a camp coordinator, and agrees with Weldy that the campers look to the collegiate athletes as role models.
"Our student-athletes love interacting with kids," she says. "It's just as rewarding for them to watch the campers learn and grow each week. Our student-athletes are role models to these campers and they take this role seriously. They know it wasn't long ago that some of them were campers themselves."
Indeed, the parallel between the campers and their older counterparts is not lost on the student-athletes. Senior Jenny Granger, a member of the women's lacrosse team, describes the feeling of working the camps as something like nostalgia.
"I think just spending time with those kids and seeing how much they look up to us reminds me of when I was a little kid in sports camps. I looked up to the athletes so much and wanted to be just like them," Granger says. "So working these camps now just takes you back, and you remember being that little kid who fell in love with the game."
Granger cites getting in touch with her inner kid as something that goes toward making her a better athlete. The campers helped her remember why she fell in love with the game, and now she moves into her lacrosse season with even stronger motivation.
The younger kids, Granger confesses, were her favorite to work with.
"You do so many little things with them everyday, just like challenging them to races or whatever," she says with a laugh.
Junior women's basketball player Kayla McBride admits that she, too, found herself gravitating to the younger campers. As the oldest of four kids, McBride found it easy to be surrounded by their endless energy.
"It's because they're so excited to see you everyday," McBride says with a smile. "They're so happy. They get so attached to you, and their eyes light up when they see you."
McBride describes the older campers as more serious and competitive. While Granger is reminded of the past when she works with the younger kids, McBride feels like she can see into the future with the older players. The prospect camp is for kids that are between the ages of 15 and 18--athletes that are working to be on the road to playing in college.
"It's good to see that competitiveness," McBride says. "I started playing basketball when I was six, and just to see how far it has come since then with the WNBA, college, everything. There are so many more people watching it and getting into it now. At these camps, I get to see where that's coming from with how good these girls are getting and the work they're putting in."
Greathouse also recognizes this competitiveness in the campers. She attributes it to an incredible amount of passion that everyone involved has for his or her sport.
"It's a refreshing change of pace working with a younger group of players," Greathouse says. "You can actually see improvement from day one to the end of camp. Each year we're blessed to get a great group of kids who truly want to learn about the game."
The shrewdest campers are those smart enough to set foot on Notre Dame's campus looking to gain everything they can. Few athletes across the country can claim to have worked harder to pursue their dreams than those who play at Notre Dame. They have a lot to teach younger players.
"It humbles you a little bit," McBride says. "These little kids look up to us so much. They want to be where we are one day, and it just makes you realize why you're working hard and how hard you worked to be here. I love working the camps. It's a great way to give back, to come out everyday and work with them and share our experience with them."
McBride further describes the camps as "a chance for us to get to know our fans," and Weldy agrees. He says the program is more than just an occasion for the athletes to pass on their skills to the next generation--it is also an act of service to the community.
"It's a good professional development opportunity for the student-athletes," Weldy says. "I think it's a chance for them to give back to the community and the university that does so much for them. It gives both the athletes and the participants opportunities."
Greathouse also believes strongly that the camps offer student-athletes an opportunity for professional development. She claims that through the program, the college students are able to be ambassadors of both their university and their sport.
"We're always fortunate to have a great staff of coaches and college players who represent Notre Dame in the best way," she says. "This really helps build our relationship with our surrounding community. Once you come to camp we want everyone to feel a part of the Notre Dame family."
The best way, in Greathouse's opinion, to bring in others to the Notre Dame family is to share the passion that the coaches and student-athletes have for the game. The camps foster community and simultaneously challenge those involved to learn and try things they haven't before.
"We want everyone to learn about the game and challenge them with concepts they might not have been taught anywhere else," Greathouse says. "They can then take this information back with them and work to reach that next level in their game."
Of course, this does not just apply to the campers. For the student-athletes working the camps, there is something to take away as well. As Granger and McBride will tell you, there is value in allowing yourself to be a kid just playing the game again.