Counselor, Kim Cheng and CIT, Claudia Taylor carry their canoe out of the watrer.
It seems as though the Clayton athletic department has a stigma when it comes to sixth-grade camp.
Sixth-grade camp is an annual tradition where each fall the Wydown Middle School sixth grade class travels to Sherwood Forest Camp for 4 days and 3 nights. Depending on the number of sixth graders in a given year, usually about 30 CHS students serve as the camp’s counselors. Since the counselors arrive two days before the campers for essential counselor training, they are at camp for 6 days and 5 nights.
As a result, the counselors miss about 4-5 days of school. Not only do the counselors miss classes during the days they miss school, but the counselors that participate in fall sports also miss several days of practices and games for their sport. For high schoolers competing on the varsity level, it can be extremely difficult to miss these practices and games. Not only are they missing valuable training, but missing game and practice time may also come with other consequences.
Student-athletes often fear they will be benched or lose playing time in games if they attend sixth-grade camp and miss almost a week away from the team. They are concerned that their particular coach might be mad at them. Some high schoolers choose not to go to camp because they are afraid of these and other potential consequences, or because they are told by their coaches that they simply cannot attend camp.
CHS junior, Rachel Markenson, was a Counselor In Training at sixth-grade camp when she was in eighth grade. Markenson, a starter on the varsity Volleyball team, was going to apply to be a counselor at camp this year, but her coach told her to make a choice between maintaining her starting position or going to camp.
“I’m glad that I chose volleyball because I love the sport, but I feel that I missed out on some good memories that could have benefited me just as much or even more than volleyball does,” said Markenson.
The camp directors and those who organize sixth-grade camp feel the effects of the dilemma that some student-athletes face in deciding whether to apply to be a counselor. Because of the reluctance of some student-athletes to miss almost a week away from the team, each year there are typically a low number of applicants to be counselors at sixth-grade camp.
Christopher Chisholm who served as WMS sixth grade camp director this year and served as the director for his previous school’s camp, stated “it was always difficult to recruit and secure student-athletes, especially in-season with their sport. The sixth-grade camp is a pretty big commitment and missing that much time is never an easy thing. Plus, the pool of students this kind of opportunity attracts are usually involved in many different activities, so it is also a problem for students in other activities.”
Both the sixth-grade camp organizers and the athletic department need to come up with a compromise that accommodates the needs of both the camp and those of the CHS athletic teams. Ideally, the compromise could benefit the camp, the students and the athletic department. Sixth-grade camp could have a greater number of applicants, more high school students could attend and the athletic department could have the student-athletes missing fewer practices and games.
“I think they could have come up with a solution because taking on the camp counselor leadership role is very beneficial to students in ways that sports may not be. Clayton High School strives to make us all well-rounded students and this seems to be a flaw that I think is fixable,” said Markenson.
One solution could be for the athletic department to schedule the games for dates other than during sixth-grade camp.
Terri Lawrence, the sixth-grade camp director for the past 15 years, said, “I wish that since the week of camp is known a year in advance, that when possible, the number of athletic competitions be limited that week.”
When scheduling games and meets, the athletic department could plan around sixth-grade camp to the extent possible. This way student-athletes might not miss any games or might only miss one game, instead of missing two or three games.
CHS Sophomore, Sarah Centeno wanted to apply to be a counselor at sixth-grade camp. However, because of the tennis season, she was unable to apply. “Sixth-grade camp also happened to fall on the last week of the season for me, so I would’ve missed an important chunk of our season, ” Centeno said.
Another solution could be for the sixth-grade camp organizers to change the dates of camp. Sixth-grade camp could change its dates to have camp over a three-day weekend, or at least over a two day weekend. The counselors would instead come to camp a day ahead of the campers, rather than two days ahead, for the counselor training, and do the other training at school before leaving for camp. However, when scheduling, sixth-grade camp organizers also need to keep the dates of homecoming and the Jewish holidays in mind.
Bob Bone, the CHS athletic director suggested, “we could maybe have better timing when we have sixth-grade camp. I know we have some periods even during the fall and stuff, there might be practices going on, but there are no contests going on and if we could be better coordinated I think that could help immensely.”
“It puts a real hardship on some of our programs and I know in some sports you may have 3 or 4 or 5 kids off of a team to go to sixth grade camp.””
— Bob Bone
This could cause some of the teams to forfeit because they do not have enough players. It could also cause the team to lose those games that they might have won if the absent players were there.
If instead the days of sixth-grade camp included a weekend and had counselors arrive at camp only one day before the kids arrive, sports teams might not have to worry about these problems.
“I have not thought about structuring Camp to have high school students miss only two school days instead of four, but it is something I would consider if it meant more students would apply and try out the Camp program,” Chisholm said.
With greater communication and collaboration between the athletic department and the sixth-grade camp organizers, more student-athletes would apply to be camp counselors and the teams would have full rosters for their competitions and not be at a disadvantage.
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