When Janie O’Halloran ’15 recalls her time as a camper at the Soccer Camp at Colby College, she immediately thinks of Su Del Guercio ’11. An All-New England Colby soccer player, Del Guercio was exactly the right coach for O’Halloran, then a sophomore at Lawrence High School in nearby Fairfield.
“She … recognized my talent and really helped me make other soccer connections throughout the state of Maine,” said O’Halloran, still grateful to her mentor. “She talked to me about college and playing [soccer] in college.”
Now a varsity soccer player herself, O’Halloran said she tries to follow Del Guercio’s example when she coaches at the Soccer Camp at Colby.
“I remember when I was a camper how much I looked up to all the young counselors who were also college players. It’s neat to feel that I am that person now,” O’Halloran said.
Every summer, hundreds of young athletes from New England and beyond attend one of more than a dozen sports camps held at Colby. For most, the experience is shaped by the bond formed with their Colby-athlete counselors, many of whom attended the camps themselves.
“To have the coaches say ‘hi’ and remember me, that was awesome for me growing up,” said former women’s basketball player Jayde Bennett ’13, who was back on campus to coach at the Pine Tree 2 Girls Basketball Camp in June.
Diana Manduca ’13, Bennett’s teammate, added, “I just remember really looking up to [the coaches]. ‘Wow, they seem really old and cool.’”
Old and cool and knowledgeable about their sport.
A number of campers arrive with an interest but very little formal coaching. Ensuring that campers leave with a broader understanding of their sport is a task the coaches take seriously.
“A lot of these kids, they like basketball, but they don’t really play in a league yet because they’re too young,” said Jen Nale ’14, a guard on the women’s basketball team. “This is their first time playing on a team, having a coach, running through drills.”
The college counselors know from experience what works with youngsters and what doesn’t. Manduca said her experience as a camper influences how she coaches her camp team.
“I try to remember as a camper what I thought was fun and competitive. I really liked the competitive drills,” she said. “When I’m coaching, I just try to keep everybody involved. Keep moving. It’s a long day. Try to keep the competition level up and throw some fun games in there, too.”
At the other end of the skill and experience scale are athletes who arrive at the top of their age groups and need to be challenged. O’Halloran said she arrived at soccer camp a little more skilled than many of her high school peers. Del Guercio, seeing O’Halloran’s potential and caring about the teenager’s future success, made sure O’Halloran was pushed to excel.
“[Del Guercio] would step in and play one-on-one with me, really challenge me to play at a level up above,” O’Halloran said.
When the bond between camper and coach is formed, the love of the sport is passed on, the counselors said. Said Nale, “A lot of things are really formed and molded. The player they become is a product of this camp.”
As are the bonds and friendships. “The relationships we build are really important. They carry over into the real world,” Bennett said.
And sometimes they carry over for generations. Ask Mark Serdjenian ’73.
Men’s soccer coach for 38 years, Serdjenian has run the Soccer Camp at Colby for 35 years. He’s seen kids come to camp as players, then become Colby students and return to coach as adults. He cited former All-America player Brian Wiercinski ’92, who takes vacation time each summer to come back and coach at the camp. Now Wiercinski brings his son along.
“Having the children of former campers [who] then perhaps come to Colby as players, become coaches and counselors, and bring their own children as campers, is a rare experience,” Serdjenian said.