Tuesday, December 8, 2015

UNH gymnastics youth camp
Photo: Tracy M. Sweet '92

They line up for autographs, selfies and high fives after UNH games. They imitate the techniques of their favorite players and look up to them as role models. And for a few cherished weeks each summer, these starry-eyed young athletes get the chance to train with the Wildcats.

For five weeks in July and August some 2,000 boys and girls of all ages and abilities descended on the Whittemore Center and the Field House to participate in sports camps run by UNH coaches and staffed by dozens of current and former players. They came to Durham from across New England, and as far as Chicago, to train with coaches including men’s hockey coach Dick Umile ’72, volleyball coach Jill Hirschinger, women’s basketball coach Maureen McGarrity and football coach Sean McDonnell ’78. From strength and conditioning programs to camps representing the majority of UNH’s 20 varsity sports, these sessions not only reflect a community relations win, they also provide important financial support.

“There is no question, these summer programs are critical to the bottom line of the athletic department,” says Carrie Kimball ’96 ’02G, associate athletic director for operations, adding that camp tuitions help support expenses, such as team travel, meals and new equipment. “So when young athletes come to these camps, in a sense, they are supporting all current and future Wildcats.”

A devoted fan of UNH gymnastics since age 4, Makena Lee, now 11, took part in her fourth summer of camp. Lee came determined to perfect her balance beam routine and improve her tumbling skills, and under the guidance of Wildcat gymnast Lia Breeden ’18, practiced her double back somersault off the tumble track and into the cushioned foam pit. In addition to taking new techniques back to Tri-Star Academy in Dover, where she trains year-round, she also took away advice from senior associate head coach Ed Datti, who oversees the camp. Each day, after seven hours of skills development, dance, conditioning and team-building games, Datti would bring the group together, asking the young athletes to relax and close their eyes. Clusters of giddy gymnasts could barely sit still as he urged them to hydrate, rest and think about what it takes to excel. Lee’s goal is to one day compete for UNH. She hopes her work ethic to “always practice each skill to the best of (my) ability” will help earn her a spot in the line-up around 2022.

From gymnastics to football, even on the steamiest summer days, there was no shortage of energy among campers — and coaches, whose ranks included numerous UNH athletics alumni. The field hockey camp run by longtime head coach Robin Balducci ’85, in particular, brought back a variety of alumnae who now work for other college and university programs. Balducci say she’s immensely proud to see those who once wore blue and white pursue their sports passion as a career. “It’s a win-win,” she says. “The gift we get is, not only do we have our alumni back on campus, but they are outstanding in what they are doing.”

It’s the dozens of personal interactions between alums, campers and coaches that Kimball described as instrumental to the success of the athletic program. “Across all communities, sports give us a common bond. Our athletes have the opportunity to influence a young kid, make a connection. The interaction between the players and campers is invaluable.

“I’ve seen these kids rush the floor after a game,” Kimball adds. “Many of these same young fans come through the doors for camp. They’re eyes are wide and they can’t wait to learn from their favorite players.”

—Tracy Manforte Sweet ‘92


Originally published in UNH MagazineFall 2015 Issue