By BRIAN JENNINGS
Pitch your tents and get your sporting gear out. Camping season has officially begun at Southington High School.
Mike Linehan’s girls soccer camp kicked off the fun as the first Southington camp to take place this summer. The camp ran from June 19 to June 23 and was held for girls in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade attending DePaolo, Kennedy, or Southington Catholic School in the fall.
Development of technical skills and basic to advanced tactical concepts was the focus, using individual, small-sided, and full-team activities in preparation for the upcoming season.This past week brought John Cessario’s boys basketball camp and Rich Heitz’s girls volleyball camp. Out of all the Southington summer camps, Cessario’s is the only camp that features two separate sessions for two different age groups in two different weeks.
This year’s first session for boys entering grades two through five held the most campers Cessario has had yet in his three years hosting the camp. A little over 40 youngsters signed up with seven counselors to a group.
“I want these guys to be given an opportunity to be led and not just a number,” said Cessario. “We don’t look for the 100 or 150. We look for the guys that want to come in and get as much as they can out of the clinic.”
Cessario will have a little bit of a break before his second session of sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders flood into the Southington gymnasium from Aug. 7-11. His clinic will then reach around about 90 campers total.
Sessions last for several hours in one day, taking place from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. But how does Cessario manage with such a range in age groups?
The camp does not differentiate between skills levels, but it challenges campers that have a higher skill level from the older age group with advanced drills. When it comes to the younger age group, Cessario and his staff aim to teach the fundamentals of the game that will allow campers to graduate to the next level.
“Age does matter when it comes to this,” said Cessario. “We try to address that because our team numbers to counselors are so small. We want only six guys for a counselor so that he can answer questions and get them better.”
By hosting this camp, Cessario is ultimately hoping to see a rise in full-time basketball players at the high school level in the future.
“Ideally, we want full-time basketball players, but we all know that we’ll never hinder someone else’s development in another sport,” said Cessario. “I know that other youth sports exist, but if the fire can be lit, I know that we’ll get more full-time basketball players. The culture is beginning to really form itself.”
Heitz is hoping for the same. About 20 ninth-graders attended this year’s camp, which is a pretty good number for an incoming freshmen class. But there were still volleyball players missing.
“A good chunk of them will come up to the high team, but there were some good athletes that were not here that we know are coming up from the middle school too,” said Heitz. “They may have softball or other sports.”
Although not every Southington volleyball player attended his camp, Heitz hasn’t had trouble attracting girls year after year to his camp for the past 15 years. Close to 60 girls flocked to the high school for this year’s camp.
Watching his campers grow has never gotten old to Heitz either. It’s been a thrill for him since he took over the girls volleyball program back in the early 2000s.
“I love watching kids playing games on Friday night versus what they were Monday,” said Heitz. “When you the improvement in some kids, it’s really nice to see.”
It’s no surprise that a reliable coaching staff has helped keep the camp going for years.
“You bring in some good coaches that want to do it year after year,” said Heitz. “They know what the game plan is, as far as the scheduling for each day, and are comfortable doing it.”
The camp was open to girls entering grades four through nine. Skill levels ranged from beginners to experienced middle school volleyball players.The camp focused on passing, serving, hitting, blocking, and team offense and defense. Campers were divided into compatible, smaller groups of similar age and ability and assigned a coach. The staff featured current and former players, including former Lady Knights now playing at the collegiate level.
“We try to get their repetitions up and teach them how to be successful in the sport,” said Heitz. “We threw a lot at them this week, but we try to help develop them and give those opportunities to learn the game. We have some people here that have never played the sport before that made some nice improvements this week.”
There are still more camps scheduled before the summer is over. Those camps include the following: Mike Forgione’s girls basketball camp for girls entering grades four through nine (July 10-14); Mike Drury’s football camp for boys entering grades three through nine (July 10-14); Charlie Lembo’s baseball camp for boys aged six to 13 (July 24-28); and Ashley Mara’s field hockey camp for girls entering grades six to eight (Aug. 7-10).
For more in depth coverage, see our weekly print edition. To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.