Look no further! The Bay Ridge Sports and Theater Camp is a home away from home. Every year we see the same campers return, ready to go and new campers excited to join them! You might be asking yourself, “What makes this camp so different from all the others?”. I started going to this camp when I was just four years old, back in 2000 (I’m 22 now and I feel old saying that). I continued to go every summer until I aged out at 14. I couldn’t believe how quickly the years went and how sad I was to see it go. There was never a year that I regretted spending my summer at the Bay Ridge Sports and Theater Camp.
When I was a lot younger, I was horribly shy. I found it difficult to make friends outside of my school. So going to a sports camp filled with other children I didn’t know left me petrified. Nevertheless, I started my first day within the camps youngest group; the Pee Wees. It seems so long ago but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. My mother dropped me off close to 9 a.m., gave me my nice blue lunchbox (in future years I would upgrade to a brown bag because I kept forgetting it), and told me to have a good day. I watched a group of older kids playing a pick-up game on one court, I saw other kids playing a friendly game of dodge ball on the other side of the gym, and the rest were running around having a good time!
It was my first day, I didn’t know anybody, so I quickly found myself standing in the corner of the gym alone. All I could think about was wanting to go home. It was maybe five minutes later when a young boy about the same age as me came running up and said “What are you doing? Come play dodge ball! You’ll be on my team”. I had never seen this boy before nor did I know anyone who he was playing with but yet I followed. Soon I found myself playing in a dodge ball game with eight other people and a huge smile on my face. I was having so much fun that I forgot all about how nervous I was.
Soon after a whistle blew, and then another. It went off a couple of times until a man yelled out “BALLS TO THE COUNSELORS! CIRCLE UP!”. Kids everywhere started to chuck balls over to the counselors and began running to the middle of the gym to sit down. The group of kids I played with grabbed my arm and said “Come on! This is the best part!”. I followed them to the circle where every camper sat and waited quietly. A few seconds after, a man began walking through the circle to make his way into the middle. He stood before us with a green camp shirt, shorts, a whistle and a huge smile on his face.
He looked around the circle and said “It is great to have everyone back here again! I see some friendly faces and some new ones.” He asked for anyone who was new to raise their hand. I normally find myself too shy to react but I was so excited my arm shot right up! He looked in my direction and began walking my way. He asked what my name was and I told him it was Matt. He said “How about we welcome Matt with a big round of applause”. All the other campers started clapping as loudly as they could. He stuck out his hand and I reached out to shake it. While I was shaking his hand, he told me “Welcome to the family Matt. I can already tell you’re going to fit right in! Nice to meet you.” I didn’t realize it then but that would be one of many moments that would change my life forever.
After Coach gave his welcoming speech, he quickly dispersed us into our groups according to our age. I made my way over to the Pee Wee group with a couple of the kids I met that morning. We made our way downstairs to the cafeteria where we started our day off with some steal the bacon. We continued to play sports for the rest of the morning until we had lunch around 10:30. By that point, I was having a conversation with everyone there. Once lunch ended we continued our day with either more sports or some arts and craft. Before I knew it, the whistles blew and it was time to go home.
I remember seeing my mom ready to take me home, but home was the last place I wanted to go. I had so much fun, there was no way I wanted to go home. She tried to explain to me how I was coming back again tomorrow, but it didn’t matter. I was so happy with the friends I had made, the counselors I had met, and the fun that I had. I could’t help but bother my mom for the rest of the day with the stories of what had happened. She couldn’t help but be pleased with how happy I was since she knew how shy I could be.
That first day was a lasting impression that would leave me going back for the next 10 years. I continue to work there today because I find it to be the only camp that makes it feel like a family. My fellow counselors were campers once themselves and come back for the reasons I do. We understand the importance of lasting impressions. We know how important it is for every child to have fun and feel welcomed. That’s why were always happy to see them return every year, and are ready to pass on the same experience to any new face that walks through our door.
I don’t know of many camps that can say the same, but I can at least speak for this one. The Bay Ridge Sports and Theater camp isn’t just a camp. It’s a home!