Run Home Camp PA 2022 is in the books. It was another great week of baseball with seventeen chaotic, lovable boys. Even though the vast majority of the campers were new this year, it didn’t feel like we had just met them. After less than a day together, the kids’ unique personalities made each one of them stand out in their own way.
There were many firsts at Run Home Camp this year, and that started Monday morning. Along with the usual breakfast and Uno and new camp shirts to meet the boys upon arrival at the drop-off location, a therapy dog was waiting to welcome the kids. The boys loved snuggling with and petting the animal. It really helped one boy in particular that was worried about being away from home for a week. So many of the campers like to act big and tough, so sometimes I forget how little they really are and how big of an adjustment it is being alone in a new place. It was great having a soft dog along with many volunteers’ kind words to make the transition easier.
It wasn’t long before we were all on our way to the field. The boys were greeted by all of the coaches and other staff cheering and waving banners with their names on them. Once all the kids found the coach they were paired up with, I was surprised to hear a few expressing disappointment that they weren’t with another coach. What had happened was that one boy who came to camp last year hyped up his coach so much on the ride over that everyone who heard wanted to be with that guy. Thankfully, one of the most vocal boys declared that “my coach redeemed himself” after playing catch for maybe five minutes, and we didn’t hear anything about wanting to be with other coaches after that.
The boys had a full introduction to the game of baseball, throwing, catching, hitting, and running all on day one. That didn’t seem to use up much of their energy, though. More boys enthusiastically sang a RHC classic song than I have ever heard at team meeting, and they jumped right into camp games in the evening. In addition to football, soccer, and cornhole, this year there was a basketball hoop down at camp, which quickly became a favorite for many. Some boys busied themselves not with more sports but with turning over every rock on the property until they found several tiny snakes and lizards that were eagerly passed around. You’d think that after that they’d be tired out, but the campers could be heard chattering in the bunks long after lights out.
Tuesday is always team day, which means uniforms. I love seeing the campers look official in their jerseys, hats, baseball pants, and socks. That morning the rotations included getting photos taken with their coach and adding their handprint to a board for the home run fence. With teams in place, there can be red versus blue drills and practice games, which the boys jumped right into. One kid on the red team fell naturally into a leadership role. Even though it was his first year at camp, his encouraging words led his teammates to be united and calm even at times that the blue team was not. Many of us exclaimed how sad we were that this kid only had one year at camp since he’s twelve, but having him there this year was awesome for him and for everyone else.
After the RHC favorite Taco Tuesday dinner, the campers enjoyed a new evening activity. A local rapper came to perform some of his songs for the boys, and they loved it. Many got up and danced, while others bopped along from their seats. Some kids even managed to drag one of the coaches up front to dance with them. The music continued even after the mini-concert as camp songs could be heard loud and clear coming from the big bunk around bedtime.
Wednesday brought our yearly trip to a minor league baseball game. It’s been a few years since we’ve had so many new campers, and it was great seeing many of them experience a “real” game for the first time. The boys got the all-star treatment, complete with an all-you-can-eat buffet that lasted a few innings into game time, seats right next to the left field line and opposing team’s bullpen, and introductions on the field. Each boy was asked their name and their favorite part of camp, which was broadcast live on the big screen. Many said “baseball” or “hitting the ball,” but my personal favorites were “spending time with my friends” and just a coach’s name as the best part of RHC.
I don’t know if we’ve ever brought as much stuff home from the game as we did this year. There was a free giveaway of frisbees for all kids entering the park, one of the tables in the concourse had prizes you could win by spinning a big wheel and doing an exercise (which of course many campers did three or four or five times to get every type of prize), and, as always, we got tons of foul balls. Because we were sitting so close, many boys got baseballs from the opposing team’s bullpen. Others had balls tossed to them after outfield warmups. It always warms my heart to see campers who catch multiple baseballs share with those who didn’t get one yet.
Since it was a noon game, the charter bus took us directly to the field afterward for dinner and some evening baseball drills. RHC PA has never done that so late in the day, but I think this year with these energetic campers was the perfect time for it. Even after a long day in the sun at the minor league game, the boys still ran out on the field ready to start while most coaches were still eating supper.
Thursday was, as usual, all about getting ready for the final game. The blue versus red practice games started having outs, and the coaches tried to get campers to play their positions. A few still wanted to just run wherever the ball was hit, though. After most of the morning and part of the afternoon scrimmaging, everyone sensed the need for a new activity, so base race was brought back for another year. This RHC favorite is pretty simple. One person starts on home plate, another starts on second base, and both round the bases as fast as they can. The first to get back to their original position is the winner. Of course the boys raced each other, but quite a few managed to convince their coaches to run against them.
The big event of camp was that evening – the birthday party. It was a combination of water day and celebration with a huge inflatable water slide and a dunk tank that tons of coaches and campers participated in. Temporary tattoos were also new and a big hit. Almost every boy thought it was hilarious to get one either in the middle of their forehead or on their biceps (or sometimes both). Everyone was excited about their presents – baseball gloves for the rookies and warm-up jackets for the returners. Since they also all got cool sunglasses, many boys walked around camp that evening in their zip-ups and shades pretending to be security guards for their friends.
The last night at camp became extra eventful when a bat somehow got into the cafeteria while the twelve-year-olds were having their senior privilege of staying up later than the others. They then got the extra benefit of getting to go in the staff room that kids aren’t usually allowed in while at least five coaches tried (and eventually succeeded) to catch the bat and release it outside. That’s definitely a camp story they won’t soon forget.
All too soon it was Friday morning. The campers quickly and eagerly changed into their uniforms and packed up their things, ready to head up to the field for the big game. This was really a singing year; while they waited for the bus, one camper stood up on a big rock and led the others in the songs we’d been singing all week. The final game is as official as possible, and the boys felt the difference as soon as they got to the field. Speakers were set up to play music during warmups and between innings, starting lineups were announced, the national anthem was sung, and umpires called balls and strikes. Gone was the kindergarten-soccer vibe of everyone running towards the ball in a clump. The boys (mostly) stayed in their assigned positions and made some great plays in the field. It was a close, competitive game with many runs scored by both teams. Although we don’t officially keep score, it really felt like a tie.
After lunch, it was time for awards. This year each camper had the opportunity to earn three baseball cards every day by following the three camp rules. On Thursday night, they tallied up how many strikeouts and home runs their major leaguers had. The two winners were awarded plastic bats filled with bubble gum to kick off the awards ceremony. Both seemed excited and surprised that they had won. An additional prize was given to one camper who instead of trading cards to get better numbers like many of the boys were doing, gave all of his away to his friends. This generosity was just one of the many character traits admired by coaches as they talked a bit about their campers before signing a baseball for them. The boys also got photo albums filled with memories from the week and a baseball necklace with their names and the camp theme on it.
As always, the five days of camp simultaneously felt long and flew by. The hour or so from after awards to all of the boys being gone is consistently the fastest part of camp. It’s startling to go so quickly from cheering and singing and laughing to quiet. Some coaches came back to camp for dinner Friday night, and the difference in volume level felt strange after five days with our loud, fun campers. Many stories were shared about funny things the boys say or did along with times they encouraged others or faced challenges.
This was the tenth year of Run Home Camp PA. Some things have changed in the past decade, yet a lot has stayed the same. Every year during training we’re told as volunteers that one of the most important things is to be flexible. We’ve learned that often the best way to help the campers have a great week is to go with their flow. If we’re doing a drill or activity that isn’t working, we adjust. All of the changes made are to better the experience for the kids. Anything that can be done to help them is figured out as soon as possible, like finding shoes that fit correctly when the ones they wore from home aren’t exactly base-running material. If you can expect anything from camp week, it’s that things won’t go as planned. We have to be ready to sing a few more camp songs when the bus breaks down on its way to pick us up or play a quick game under the pavilion when there’s a rain delay. Things go wrong, we adapt.
The boys grow and change over the week of camp, and much of that is in small adjustments. They quickly become used to the new normal of camp, falling into the routine of baseball drills and meals and activities. After that initial big adjustment to a new place, they don’t have to worry about things drastically changing any second like they might at home. Instead, they’re free to grow in the direction of the role models they’re seeing in their coaches – to be more encouraging, to be patient, to be generous. Over time, these small changes can have a big impact. If the boys are able to bring even one thing that they learned from camp home with them, that can help them in their daily lives. I hope that as they readjusted to their regular lives this weekend, the campers were able to hold on to the hope or love or positive attitude they saw at camp. These are the kinds of small alterations that help the kids achieve more even when they’re not at Run Home Camp.