Spartan All-Stars All-Sports Camp doubles in size in second year

LA CAÑADA — Brayden Alms was desperate for a change in summer camps last year. The 11-year-old Pasadena resident went to a camp in his hometown, but wasn’t exactly pleased before making the switch to the Spartan All-Stars All-Sports Camp.

“Before this, I went to another camp, which was really bad, and I didn’t like it at all,” Alms said. “I would beg my mom everyday, ‘Can we please not go to this camp? Can we just do something else and find something?’ Finally, they found this camp, it’s been good.”

Alms not only stuck with the Spartan All-Stars All-Sports Camp for the rest of the 2012 summer, but returned this year and converted Eloise Whitford, who attended the same camp as him last summer, to the camp at La Cañada High.

“It’s been really fun,” said Whitford, 11, who will be a sixth grader at Westridge when school starts back up, “I’m doing all three sessions.”

The Spartan All-Stars Camp, started last year as an one-year experiment by La Cañada High teacher and girls’ basketball Coach Tamar Hill, returned for a sophomore run and will likely become a yearly fixture.

“We’re hoping so,” Hill said of making the camp an annual event, “the response we’ve gotten this year has been fantastic.”

After catering to kindergarten to sixth graders, the all-day and all-sports camp expanded to include seventh graders in 2013. Like last year, the camp was broken up into three two-week sessions that began June 17 and end Friday.

It has since nearly doubled in size after Hill estimated 130 families sent children to camp in 2012.

“I would say it hasn’t quite doubled, but pretty close, which is great,” said Hill, adding there were 143 campers who attended the first session, around 160 for the second and 80 others signed up for the final session two weeks before it began. “That’s really exciting from the first year to the second year to see that kind of growth. I couldn’t be happier.

“We’ve had a lot of parents ask us, ‘Please go into August, please go into August,’ but we can’t — the facilities get shut down.”

Running from as early as 8 a.m. and as late as 5 p.m., the camp is not only designed with kids who love sports, want to learn more about them or just have fun during the dog days in mind, but with their parents.

“We wanted to do something for parents who work because parents don’t get the summer off,” assistant camp director Andrew Stames said. “We want it to be camper and parent friendly.”

Sports covered this year included basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, flag football, track and field, martial arts, jiu jitsu, badminton, wrestling, lacrosse and hip-hop dance. Each day, campers rotated between three sports in the morning and three activities, which weren’t necessarily sports-related, in the afternoon.

“The diversity of sports and fun activities” is what drew Alms back to the camp this year. It also teaches the youngsters new things and open their minds to more possibilities, said camp counselor Kaitlin Mortensen.

“I feel we really get to teach them skills because we really get to do some in-depth things, like martial arts and lacrosse,” said Mortensen, a Crescenta Valley High graduate who helps make up about a 5-1 camper-to-counselor ratio according to Hill. “Those are sports I never got exposure to as a kid, so I think it’s really fun that they get to be exposed to it and maybe want to play it someday in high school.”

Seven La Cañada High coaches — Will Moravec (tennis), Steve Zimmerman (track and field), Alex Valadez (baseball), James Sims (football), KC Mathews (softball), Alex Harrison (soccer) and assistant girls’ basketball coach Sarah Beattie — pitch in at the camp.

“That’s the idea, to build the community with these coaches here, the high school kids,” Hill said. “That’s the goal, to make that connection to La Cañada High. This is a great school district and we’ve got great coaches here, so as they grow up they feel a positive connection to the high school.”

High school was far from the mind of 8-year-old Chris Kurdoghlian, as he ran around La Cañada’s campus. All he wanted was to have fun before school started back up again.

“I went to another camp in Montrose [last year],” Kurdoghlian said. “Over there, there’s free time, but there’s nothing to do. There’s no sports to play, it’s just boring. Over here, there’s always something to do.”

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