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‘Perfect’ sports camp is out there for everyone

Breno Giacomini  encourages Malden High School’s Gabriel Padilla last summer at a football skills camp.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Breno Giacomini encourages Malden High School’s Gabriel Padilla last summer at a football skills camp.

There is no shortage of summer camp options available to today’s youth.

From general programming to those focused on sports, academics, arts, and technology, the list is extensive and seemingly all-encompassing.

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In Massachusetts, the American Camp Association’s New England database (acanewengland.org) lists 162 camps offering 784 programs and 2,665 sessions for the upcoming summer. These figures do not even include non-accredited and sports-only camps.

So how, given the ample options, does one pick the best setting for a child?

This choice can be especially complex for first-time parents navigating the terrain.

“There’s a right camp out there for everyone,” said Lucy Norvell, director of public information at ACA New England. “The trick is getting the best match between the child’s current needs and interests and what is out there. Camps are great partners of families and of schools.

Great camp programming complements it and it also reinforces what kids are learning in their school year.

“There’s not one best camp out there, or they’d all be called ‘best camps’ and there would only be tweaked versions of them.”

Cost, type, timing, location, and availability are a few of the primary criteria that influence decisions.

But according to Mike Polakoff, a Franklin resident who runs masscamps.com, a website on which camps have paid to appear for the past 15 years, price does not necessarily affect the camp experience.

“I went to a YMCA day camp as a kid,” he said. “We didn’t have any money to go to any of the fancy camps. The YMCA camps are great . . . [especially] with cost being key. That’s why the YMCA, Mass Audubon, and a lot of nonprofits are out there. If you don’t have a whole lot of money, it’s OK. You can still send your kids to a good camp and they can have fun.”

Numerous local private institutions like Brooks School in North Andover and Beaver Country Day School in Brookline have extensive day camp programs. The cost for two-week sessions hovers around $1,000.

At Brooks, day camp director Nancy Hartmann estimates that about 90 percent of counselors each year are former campers.

The strong counselor-in-training program encourages these individuals to take on leadership positions and helps recreate the environment that made their own camp memories so positive.

Beyond the general curriculum, Beaver Country Day’s camp director, Nat Saltonstall, and his staff have introduced more focused programming built around the arts, outdoor adventures, and sports.

Attendees can home in on something they love, but still find time to break on hot afternoons for a swim.

For Newton’s Nat Brown, a 17-year-old junior at Beaver who plays varsity soccer and lacrosse, the camp has been part of his summers since age 10. He started in the general program, before trying the Tri-Star Soccer camp. This summer will mark his eighth overall and second as a junior counselor.

Although Brown has attended other camps, he knows what makes Beaver’s so special.

“One of the lacrosse camps I went to,” he recalled, “you showed up and they put a piece of tape on my helmet and wrote my name on it. And that was how the counselors knew me and the other players knew me. It was just off a piece of tape on my helmet.”

“There wasn’t any other time to actually get to know everyone else at the camp,” Brown said.

Dedicated sports camps are widespread throughout Massachusetts.

Nike Sports Camps (ussportscamps.com), which ran its first camp at Williams College, offers approximately 90 camps across 16 sports, including tennis, basketball, soccer, and volleyball.

The 50-50 split between day and overnight is reflected in the wide-ranging per week cost fluctuation of $200 to $1,200.

“We promote a lifelong enjoyment of athletics through high-quality sports,” said Renee Chapman, an assistant sports manager at Nike, “while consistently exceeding expectations, focusing on improving, having fun, and making new friends.”

There are also independent sports camps, such as John Smith Soccer; basketball camps at Babson, Bentley, Stonehill, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and the Celtics Cowens camp in Waltham; and Boston College Football Camp.

Still, decades-old day camps such as Camp Nashoba in Littleton (starting at $1,350 for two weeks) and Camp Sewataro in Sudbury (two-week sessions begin at $1,365), and overnight camps such as Camp Cedar in Casco, Maine (tuition for the seven-week program costs $11,100) create everlasting memories that get passed from one generation to the next.

“I started off with a group of 30 to 40 boys [at Camp Cedar],” said 15-year-old Ethan Stavisky, a sophomore at Wayland High. “Most of us stayed for the next seven years, until the end. We built a strong bond. We became like brothers . . . whether we were doing soccer, basketball, I was just hanging with my brothers.

“My dad [Adam] went for seven or eight years. Then he was a counselor for a couple of years. He said it was a home away from home. My experience was just like he talked about. It was the best way you could spend your summer.”

Whatever the choice, there is a good chance that years from now everyone will have their own “best” camp.

Paul Lazdowski can be reached at pmlazdowski@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @plazdow.
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