Local Interest in Summer Sports Programs Bucks National Trend

Summer camp participants attend a girls basketball camp at St. Francis Prep (above) and boy’s soccer camp at Christ the King High School (below) in July. (Photos: Erin DeGregorio)

By Erin DeGregorio, Staff Writer

WINDSOR TERRACE — Stepping onto Christ the King High School’s soccer field on July 6 was an exhilarating feeling for seventh-grader Stefano Cesare.

“Instead of playing video games and staying inside, I get to be active and play what I want,” Cesare said about being a second-time camper at Christ the King Royals Soccer Camp.

According to the national “State of Play 2020” report conducted by the Aspen Institute, Utah State University, and North Carolina State University in September, 29% of youth sports parents said their children were no longer interested in playing sports. Four of 10 parents also reported at that time that their child had not participated in new recreational activities during the pandemic — down from 51% last June.

Cesare, who has been playing soccer for nearly a decade, said playing by himself and with his older brother in their backyard last summer felt incomplete without also scrimmaging on the Middle Village campus.

“It was boring because I would always have something to do every week,” he explained. “To not do it felt empty.”

Maya Marchan, a 2021 Christ the King graduate and current soccer camp counselor, emphasized the physical and social benefits that come from participating in summer camp programs.

“Video games and just everything [being] at home now don’t really give you a reason to go outside,” Marchan said. “But, there should always be a reason to go outside.”

Christ the King’s Associate Athletic Director Joseph Arbitello — who participated in the high school’s inaugural sports camp in 1991 and currently runs the basketball and soccer camps — was happy to see the summer camps operating again.

“We were lucky that we were able to keep our kids involved,” he said.

Arbitello said registration numbers for the boys’ basketball camp, for example, have been on par with their pre-pandemic numbers — between 225 and 250 students each week. However, as he noted, that number could increase due to the high school’s open enrollment policy that allows day-of walk-ins. The soccer camp, according to Arbitello, has 50 students each week and the girls’ basketball camp has about 75 students.

Across the borough in Fresh Meadows, middle schoolers and incoming high school freshmen participated in St. Francis Prep’s cheerleading, basketball, and baseball camps during the first week of July. Registration numbers would have been between 120 and 150 kids in each camp during a “normal” summer, according to Salvatore Fischetti, chairperson of physical education/health at St. Francis Prep.

However, enrollment was capped at 100 kids per camp this year — “so we can manage and give positive experiences to the kids in an outdoor setting,” Fischetti explained.

“We’re glad to be back,” added St. Francis Prep Principal Patrick McLaughlin. “To hear kids laughing and excited, and to see them sweating and moving around, has been a blessing.”

Brother Robert Kent, O.S.F., who has been a huge part of St. Francis Prep’s fabric for the last 54 years, said he has seen the high school’s summer camp programs evolve and grow since they were first launched 30 years ago.

“The kids are really excited about it because they miss it,” Brother Rob said of this year’s return. “Not only missing the sports but being social and doing things with their friends.”

“They want to get out and away from the computer,” he added.

Incoming St. Francis Prep freshman Christina Psarros was one of those students who hit the ground running during the girl’s basketball camp.

“It’s nice to meet new people that are also coming to St. Francis Prep,” said the forward who plans to try out for the girl’s basketball team this fall.

“You make friendships before you even get here [on campus] with people you didn’t know before, and you get to meet people who are also going to be with you when you try out.”

Seeing new faces and hearing positive responses at the girls’ basketball camp in early July was “indescribable,” according to Brandon Harris, a recent St. Francis Prep graduate and current basketball camp counselor.

“I remember returning, getting excited, and saying, ‘Oh, this person’s back and I can’t wait to work with them,’ when I was a camper,” Harris said. “Being able to work here, give back to the kids, and see them light up and glow that same way is overwhelming.”

Some high schools across the diocese will be offering different sports camps for boys and girls of all ages until August.