A guide to the best local programs, with a behind-the-scenes look at three camps that couldn’t be more unique.
Whale Camp is exactly what it sounds like—and more. A summer program of the Cheyney-based Fundy Marine Science Institute, it focuses on the marine ecology, biology and aquaculture of the Bay of Fundy off the coast of Maine. Through sea exploration, kayaking, camping and more, kids ages 10-18 have a chance to come into their own in a wholly unique setting. “You have to think about the daily life of a student—the stresses of school, parents jobs and traffic, where they try to navigate
human cultural systems,” says FMSI founder Dennis Bowen. “At camp, they’re in a world where they can truly experience all the different life forces on the planet.”
Now in its 28th year, Whale Camp hosts nearly 400 kids each summer, many of whom are returning to Grand Manan Island for the second or third time. For anyone with even the slightest interest in science, the Bay of Fundy is a wealth of flora and fauna. It’s the world’s highest tidal range, with an abundance of plankton.
Prior to a one-, two- or three-week session, campers from the Main Line area and all corners of the world congregate in Bangor, Maine, for a night of fun and preparation. From there, campers take a ferry and follow the sunrise to Manan Island, where they’ll spend the ensuing days on land, at sea, and lost in the wonder of the natural world. “Most kids go to school and learn science from a book and illustrations—it doesn’t always capture them,” Bowen says. “Science is actually the unveiling of how nature works and should be treated as a pursuit of discovery, rather than a test you need to study for.”
Campers set sail for half a session, during which they collect water samples, explore geologic formations, take a coastal kayak tour, and spend a day on Machias Seal Island to closely observe thousands of puffins, razorbills and murres in their natural habitat. On land, lectures and discussions on current whale research are led by Laurie Murison, manager of the Grand Manan whale and seabird research station. Hiking, forest exploration and culture activities are also part of the mix.
The largest island in the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan was once a primary fishing hub for British and American ships looking to make a profit, especially in pursuit of the North Atlantic right whale. The species was hunted to the brink of extinction; only about 250 remained in the 1980s. Through the efforts of organizations like FMSI, that number has grown to almost 400. It’s an impressive leap in a relatively short period of time, Bowen says.
By studying the paths of fishing vessels and the effects of their equipment on the bay’s ecosystem, engineers and scientists were able to restore equilibrium to the environment—an accomplishment that inspires many campers.
“There’s a definite push in America for science, technology, engineering and math to get the really great jobs that we’re sending overseas,” says Bowen. “At Whale Camp, kids see that this is something they can really do, whether it’s developments in aquaculture, protecting land from storms, or keeping farmed fish safe from predators and disease.”
Thanks to the camp’s partnership with Immaculata University, students can earn college credit. Those who participate in “Authors & Artists of the Sea,” a three-week course in July, create a hard-bound, full-color book of stories, poetry, photography and other art that could ultimately amount to three credits. And campers accepted to Maine’s College of the Atlantic could receive a $40,000 scholarship, based on the recommendation of Bowen and past camp participation. Whale Camp also offers a course for adults and teachers.
While whales are certainly the primary focus, the program wants to help another species thrive, too. “We have a sign on the gate right before you enter camp that says, ‘Save the Humans,’” says Bowen. “My goal is to help these kids understand that, if we are ever going to be able to sustain the life forces on this planet, we must first learn to sustain ourselves as a productive species—to save each other, and help each other.” —Emily Riley
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At his Play by Play Sports Broadcasting Camps, founder Jeremy Treatman has always stressed developing skills for use in the real world. Take Brady McHale, now a senior at Lower Merion High School. At a camp on Villanova University’s campusa few years ago, Treatman pretended he was Tiger Woods at a mock press conference. So, naturally, after McHale secured press credentials to attend Woods’ media event at the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club two summers ago, he called Treatman and told him he’d really be talking to Tiger.
The gathering followed the pro golfer’s fall from grace, and McHale was hungry for answers. He reminded Woods of his actions and wondered how he felt about losing his official role as host of the PGA Tour event. “In a singsongy way, he dodged me,” says McHale. “He said that the week was all about [the Boys & Girls Clubs, the event’s designated charity]. He changed the focus quickly.”
After six years of Play by Play camp—which renews itself this June—Ardmore’s McHale felt like he was a member of the Philly sports media fraternity, and he parlayed his experience into opportunities at NBC 10, then as a Main Line Times intern.
Since then, he’s moved to Lower Merion High, where he covers the boys’ basketball team for its website, AcesHoops.com. Not surprisingly, he plans to be a journalism major in college.
“I’ve interviewed Kobe Bryant three times,” says McHale. “I probably asked questions he’s been asked a million times, but I was 18 years old and doing it.”
Play by Play’s Treatman grew up in Gladwyne and attended Friends’ Central School, then Washington University. He’s worked for Comcast as a play-by-play/color announcer and reporter. Before that, he was a reporter for the High School Sports Show on FOX and NBC in Philadelphia.
Treatman began the broadcasting camps in 2002, on the heels of his Scholastic Play by Play Classics, which coordinates and promotes basketball tournaments nationwide. He’s showcased dozens of current and future NBA stars. So far, more than 400,000 fans have attended 75 events, and another million-plus viewers have watched those games on ESPN, Comcast, CN8 and the Pennsylvania Cable Network.
In 1995-96, Bryant’s senior year, Treatman was the future megastar’s media handler at Lower Merion, where he coached the ninth-grade boys’ basketball team this season. “I’m doing everything I love: kids, basketball, business and coaching,” he says.
Treatman was much like the kids who now enroll in his camps. Growing up, he’d listen to—and re-enact—Harry Kalas’ calls all day. “I was a sports junkie,” he says. “With the advent of ESPN, it became cool. Before that, we were mostly seen as sports nerds.”
Treatman knew there were plenty more like him. They weren’t athletic or skilled enough to make their varsity sports teams, but they craved involvement.
Eleven summers ago, Treatman’s first broadcasting camp was a three-day mini version at Bryn Mawr College. That year, Sixers’ broadcaster Marc Zumoff spoke, Saint Joseph’s University men’s basketball coach Phil Martelli did a mock press conference, and campers attended a Phillies game, doing play-by-play in the stands. The program attracted 71 youngsters. By the second year, attendance was up to 124.
Treatman sought help, enlisting Steven Goldstein. The co-owners decided to expand to other cities, spending a week in each. Adam Balk is also part of the administrative team these days. “It seemed like a winning formula,” Treatman says. “We’ve been adding and expanding ever since.”
Riding out the economy, Play by Play will be in seven cities this summer, between mid-June and the first week of August. In their first decade, the camps have drawn 3,900 kids ages 10-18. A typical summer attracts 500-550 campers. A week of camp provides interactive instruction and chances to do a mock sports-radio show, radio updates and mock interviews. Among 60 or 70 kindred sports talkers, you develop your own on-air personality.
This summer, Treatman will bring in an Eagles player, or maybe Martelli or Temple University men’s basketball coach Fran Dunphy for a mock press conference. “They appear as if after a game, a win or a loss, and answer questions for 15 or 20 minutes,” Treatman explains. “The kids also have a chance do to one-on-ones, then get autographs and pictures.”
Later in the week, there’s station work, preparing anchor tapes, mocking play-by-play of the Super Bowl or Game 7 of the World Series, or a sports radio show. Sometimes, there’s a trip to Citizens Bank Park or Lincoln Financial Field. At most sites, campers leave with a DVD compilation. Their work is also uploaded to Play by Play’s YouTube site. Kids even get some videotape-editing experience.
Friday at Villanova is always Wildcats’ men’s basketball day. Campers meet with players and do one-on-one interviews. “We try to make it as real as we can,” Treatman says. “They love going back and listening to themselves. They also love meeting the celebrities.”
Mike Missanelli, the afternoon drive-time host on 97.5 The Fanatic, has been the keynote speaker the past couple of years at Villanova. He says all the campers want to be a sports-radio host. “I actually tell them not to aspire to be one, but to aspire to be in the business and see where it evolves, and to get busy getting a background and accumulating life experience,” he says. “You won’t be able to just click your fingers and be on. It’s a career that you have to navigate, but if you keep working hard, someone will notice.”
In a sports-radio practice session, Missanelli makes campers play host. He provides a topic and evaluates how the wannabes work a show. “We direct them to an area and let them spin off that hub and see how they respond under the gun,” he says. “We tell them to be honest to the listener and themselves. They always want to know if I ask myself if I’m going to get in trouble before I say something. I do know it, but I don’t think it before I say it.”
About half the Play by Play campers stay overnight at Villanova. It’s optional and costs a bit more. “It’s a really cool experience,” says Treatman. “It’s like a preview of what college will be like.”
Today, many counselors are former campers. After 10 years, some are working in mainstream media outlets like the NHL Network. “We definitely get emails letting us know they landed a gig and thanking us for giving them the start,” Treatman says. “Most of the tips and tricks about breaking in come from the speakers. They all tell them that it can be the best life there is, but that you have to work hard and persevere. That’s why it took me until I was 28 to get on the air.”
Sports Illustrated for Kids has been Play by Play’s national partner since 2005, and has used upwards of 20 campers to report its stories. The magazine also provides advertising and national exposure for the camps. The Philadelphia sports market is perfect. Boston is a close second.
“Sports are so huge here,” Treatman says. “It’s a sports crazy city. I don’t think other cities live and die with the teams as much. In the public schools, the kids wear Phillies and Eagles gear. Plus, it’s a mix of people. It’s blue collar and also wealthy. But they all have an interest in sports.”
On the Main Line, McHale says, most parents want their children to become doctors and lawyers and not necessarily journalists. Regardless, sports broadcasting and media is a way to be involved in sports—especially if you’re not so great as a player. “You can at least be great talking about them,” McHale says. —J.F. Pirro
Click here to download our camps directory.
When most kids spend chilly winter mornings fantasizing about summer camp, it has nothing to do with barracks, push-ups and uniforms. As it turns out, Valley Forge Military Academy Summer Camp has little to do with those things.
Granted, some of it may be true, but it’s not what you think. Now in its 85th year and running its 66th summer program, the Wayne institution is an less-hyped source of kid-friendly summer fun for local and international campers ages 6-17. Programs offer everything from archery to go-karts to water polo to pretty much everything in between.
“Kids come from as far away as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Caribbean and Dubai,” says Joe Haughey, assistant director of student activities and summer camp at VFMA. “They get to interact with other kids they otherwise wouldn’t get to meet, on top of participating in activities they wouldn’t normally be doing at any other summer camp.”
And that’s no exaggeration. At VFMA camps, kids can try their hands at flight training, rifle marksmanship, scuba diving, rugby and martial arts training, alongside SAT and ACT prep courses and other academic electives—and these are just the offerings at the day camp. And with 130 acres devoted to paint ball, team sports, swimming and more, it’s not exactly roughing it. “All of our activities are run by tenured experts in their field,” says head fitness trainer Capt. Peter Ross. “We don’t have a 20-year-old college student teaching tennis; we have a world-class tennis player for that. We cater to an international clientele, and we have the means to do so.”
For those looking for a more focused summer experience, VFMA offers two overnight options. At Adventure Camp, kids are divided into two age groups—9-11 and 12-13—with co-ed activities and sleeping accommodations split by gender. “They actually live in a dormitory,” says Ross. “Plus, we provide them with their own uniforms.”
Adventure Camp is structured to encourage fun and learning with an underlying emphasis on military-style discipline. But don’t let that scare your kids—there’s more than enough good times to go around. During two- or four-week sessions, campers start their day with morning formation and a room inspection, then learn the ropes on the fields or in the classrooms, with special trips to theme parks and sporting events throughout the session.
For kids looking to shape up for varsity or collegiate athletics, or those looking to tone up in a structured environment, the co-ed Forging Fitness camp for kids ages 14-17 offers an exercise-and conditioning-focused approach. In 2011, campers lost an average of almost five pounds, significantly increased their sit-up and push-up totals, and were able to jump an average of three inches higher. The camp bases its success around discipline and regimented activity, and camp director Jose Sanchez wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I see it all as a teachable moment when our campers are actively engaged in what they’re doing,” says Sanchez. “Maybe in some areas, they weren’t successful or didn’t fulfill their goals. Here, they get to experience that success and leave with something good.”
Campers spend seven days a week working out, with three spent in the weight room and the rest on the track and the obstacle course, in the pool, and elsewhere on campus. Progress is documented with an initial assessment of weight and body-mass index. That is then tracked at two-week intervals, along with various other indicators, like speed and vertical jump. “They make it a part of their lifestyle, even after camp ends,” Ross says. “I’ve had campers from six or seven years ago who are now professional or college athletes thanking me for the experiences they’ve had at our camps.”
With the addition of Sixers basketball camps and dance programs, girls are also getting in on the action, and VFMA is working on adding transportation to and from campus each day to make the challenge of accessibility a nonissue.
“We function under the military title, but we offer better opportunities than most camps in the area,” Sanchez says. “We’ve been hidden for too many years.” —Emily Riley