By Logan C. Ritchie
Does your daughter live for tennis, soccer or softball? Is your son following spring training? Do you want your child to combine that sports obsession with Jewish sleepaway camp?
Your fit family could have a hit with 6 Points Sports Academy.
Created in 2010 by the Union for Reform Judaism, 6 Points Sports opened in response to feedback that kids want camp with more sports and parents want camp with Jewish ethics and community.
Camp Director Danny Herz said that before 6 Points, Jewish campers were drifting toward college-run and local sports camps rather than Jewish overnight camp.
During the two-week sessions, kids major in one sport for most of their time — about four hours a day. Between lunch and dinner campers explore other activities, including rugby, tennis, soccer, water sports, gaga and basketball.
As the camp population gained more girls, 6 Points added dance, cheerleading and softball.
The URJ found that 65 percent of kids would not have attended camp without a sports component.
On track to host more than 700 campers of all denominations from 35 states this summer, 6 Points is housed at boarding school American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, N.C., which provides kosher facilities. Dorms become cabins, and fields become campgrounds in the wooded hills.
The concept has been successful enough that the URJ is opening a facility this summer at Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Campers are moving all day and are exhausted by evening block. “We know it’s a difficult day,” Herz said. “And it cuts down on conflict. They’re too tired to do anything but shower and go to bed. It really works in our favor. It’s also the reason our youngest campers start as rising fourth-graders.”
Outside all day long, meeting kids in a Jewish environment and exhausted by day’s end? Sounds like a parent’s dream.
With more than 700 kids running around, injuries are inevitable. The camp employs one doctor, two full-time athletic trainers, three nurses and a social worker on site.
Herz said that with a specialized camp, parents worry that their child is not adept enough to play the chosen sport or is too advanced. “Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, our coaches will get you to that next step. We account for diversity in many ways,” he said.
“Whether parents say, ‘My kid is pretty good; will he get challenged?’ or ‘My kid isn’t excelling; can he hang with the crowd?’ the answer is yes. And in a kind, nurturing, loving, Jewish way,” Herz said.
Campers return home with new skills and exposure to sports they had never tried. Herz said the attitude at camp is to try what sounds interesting. If a camper decides she doesn’t like kayaking, she never has to do it again. The whole point is exposure.
Campers also are exposed to a rabbinic presence. Not only do campers find rabbis delivering values, ethics and discussions on Jewish life, but they also see rabbis on the tennis court and in the cafeteria.
“Rabbis come from across the country to be with us at camp,” Herz said. “You see a rabbi playing tennis and think, ‘Wow!’ but these are humans. We want to humanize the life of a rabbi. Rabbis are not just in Sunday school and on the bimah.”
Outside the summer, Herz and Assistant Camp Director David Kaplan travel on weekends to promote the camp. Herz said Atlanta is a frequent stop, including a recent event at a NFTY conference at Temple Sinai.
Atlanta provides so many campers — about 20 percent of the total, many with aid from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta — that Herz and Kaplan often pop by campers’ games and practices while visiting. The camp also offers scholarships.
“The camp business is tied into legacies,” Herz said. “We don’t have that benefit, but we are starting to see campers whose siblings or cousins attended in years prior.”