Whether used to introduce their child to a new sport, sharpen skills in a favorite pastime or as a creative form of child care, summer sports camps are more popular than ever.

And in South Georgia, the options are plentiful. According to listings submitted to The Valdosta Daily Times, there were no less than seven sports-themed camps and instructional events available this past week, ranging from a one-day softball session at Valdosta State to an all-week overnight fishing camp for boys.

What follows is a whirlwind tour through the four day camps offered in the area this past Thursday.

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9:51 a.m.

Welcome to shift change at the Little Vikettes Basketball Camp. A new set of players takes the floor at Lowndes High's Charles Cooper Gymnasium while the girls who had been playing make a beeline for their water bottles -- the most prized possession in the baking gym.

Lowndes assistant coach Mike Edwards got the teams situated, tossed up the opening tip and promptly had to duck out of the way to avoid being smacked in the face with the basketball.

It was a light moment on a lighthearted day, the last one of camp. After spending all week drilling in basketball fundamentals, LHS head coach and camp sponsor Laine Craven wanted her kids to get to play and have fun.

"We're helping to introduce our program to the girls coming up and promote girls' basketball in the area," she said. "These girls are not sitting at home. They're out doing this, and I have a lot of respect for them for being here.

"It's our way of getting them off the couch."

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9:58 a.m.

Next door in the cafeteria, the atmosphere is much more relaxed for the Lowndes High Cheerleader Camp, thanks in part to the blessing of air conditioning.

Young girls are scattered among four different areas, including a group on stage learning tumbling routines. The soundtrack for the day comes from another group sitting in a circle on the floor

"Down by the river Hanky Panky

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky..."

Clearly sustained aerobic activity is not the primary focus here. Camp volunteer Cindy Osborne confirmed that the idea was to keep the week enjoyable for the kindergartners through fourth-graders who attend the camp. In addition to practicing cheers, tumbling and dances, campers get a liberal dose of arts and crafts, lunch and a movie.

"These kids are getting an early start," she said.

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10:19 a.m.

The highlight of summer camp in South Georgia -- indeed the event that a co-worker three decades removed from being eligible for enrollment raves about -- is sliding practice at Valdosta State's baseball camp.

Practice is held on a rain tarp that has been thoroughly watered in order to increase distance. So while their fellow campers were busy practicing hitting, fielding and throwing, a dozen young boys fixed their eyes on the other side of the fence, where the tarp was being cleaned by a pair of camp staffers.

"Slip and slide! Slip and slide!" went the chant.

Elsewhere, a VSU baseball player was trying to organize a scrimmage on one of the mini-diamonds laid out at Billy Grant Field and getting an education in crisis management after carefully announcing everyone's positions.

"Where am I playing?"

"You're in the outfield. Don't worry, I'll show you in a minute."

"Am I the catcher?"

"Yes you are."

"Someone's taking my place."

"He's on a different team than you. You're going to be batting first."

Meanwhile, the bad news came that sliding practice wouldn't start for another 45 minutes. One of the hardest things to learn at camp is disappointment.

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12:02 P..m.

Two things are noticeable right away at the Adel Youth Basketball Camp. First, the camp is not technically in Adel, but at Cook Middle School in neighboring Sparks. Second, it is time for the younger campers to go home.

Thus, when a visitor throws open the doors to the CMS gym, he is greeted by a tide of dark khaki shirts heading for the exits after the midday devotional.

"We've had quite a time this week," said Frank Calvin. He and Tommy Jordan are both retired coaches in the Cook





County system who return every year to help with the camp.

According to Jordan, the two biggest activities at the co-ed camp are the shooting contest and the 2-on-2 competitions.

But with two hours to go in the day, the remaining 13 and 14-year-old campers have scattered into several small pick-up games across the court. Another organizer muttered that it was past time to start, and scrambled to find a co-worker.

Meanwhile, the kids kept on playing.

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