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Soccer camp emphasizes fun

After 20 years in the city’s foster care, the Park City Soccer Camp went back under the watch of its original guardians when Californian soccer coach Bob Martin returned to the area in 2002.

"He was out driving around and went ‘Hey!’ when he saw the camp going on," said co-founder and current director Randy Farris. "He went out and told the rec department, ‘That’s the camp I started.’"

The camp was started in 1979 when Farris and Martin decided to expand a program they had begun in Aspen, Colo., a few years before. About eight kids showed up to the first incarnation, which was moved from Park City High School (PCHS) to City Park after a few days and some field issues that Farris can’t recall.

Though the camp grew each year, Farris and Martin took full-time coaching jobs building a new program at St. Mary’s College in 1982, eventually leading the Gaels to two NAIA national championships in the mid-1980s while their baby was in the hands of Park City Recreation.

The city told Martin, now the director of coaching for Park City Extreme Soccer Club, he was welcome to retake the reins of the camp in 2002. Martin and Farris worked together for two seasons before Martin left to fulfill business obligations, and Farris alone assumed the responsibilities.

In its current location behind Treasure Mountain International School on the North 40 field, Farris estimates the camp draws about 50 kids each week to its morning and afternoon sessions.

"The majority usually sign up morning-only, and then they go ‘I want to change,’ after the first day," Farris said. "They want to be out here longer."

Some players want to keep playing even after they have become too old to register for the camp, and Farris offers them the chance to return as junior counselors. In addition to serving as junior counselors, Park City High School graduates Ryan Williams and Katie Sharp worked as paid assistants this year after long associations with the camps.

"My favorite thing is when you teach somebody something new, and then you see them actually apply it in a game setting when you’re not telling them to do it," said Williams, who graduated from PCHS with Sharp in 2006 and has one semester left at Sonoma State University near San Francisco. "That’s the most rewarding thing for me."

The children play a variety of simple soccer games such as "cat and mouse," "knockout," "world cup," and "super gumball" – in which up to 70 balls are released at once for players to shoot at the nets. Each game has a specific meaning, and every player is given the chance to earn personal highlights.

"Even little kids will be dribbling down the field and everyone else will get distracted, so they can sneak in and put a goal in without people seeing it," Farris said of "super gumball." "Meanwhile, the older ones get into some battles over the balls."

Players range from ages 7 to 15 and display varying skill levels, but the whole bunch often competes in the same games – which also include non-soccer challenges like spelling bees and math questions.

There are some times throughout the day when players are grouped with their peers, however. The youth play more specialized games, while older players scrimmage more often. Most of the educational comments are dispensed during the games, when players are pulled aside and advised softly, without the stern tones you’d find at more intensive camps.

"This is much more a rec camp with an emphasis on fun," Farris said. "We rarely do drills. We try to apply some soccer knowledge to game situations where they are having fun. We’re not setting up for a drill like, ‘Next, next, next.’"

Farris retired from collegiate coaching to focus on grassroots development in 2002. Since 2004, the camps have contributed to annual rescue missions to the Dominican Republic, and after this year’s camp Farris will leave on a mission to Peru.

Kids Alive International, a Christian mission dedicated to rescuing orphaned or vulnerable children in 17 countries around the world, receives proceeds from the camp, and the money also supports Farris’ personal nonprofit, Here for Kids International.

"I talk about (the charity) early in the week," Farris said. "They’re all aware of it. I tell the stories. They’re definitely captivated. They’re totally locked into me while I tell these stories and you can tell it moves them."

Farris has run several camps for underprivileged youth in the Dominican Republic, where he says the talent is lesser because baseball is the predominant sport and opportunities are so scarce. However, in just six years of trips to the country, Farris said his camps have made a serious impact on the culture.

"The leadership on the island tells me we’ve sort of revolutionized soccer in the country, believe it or not," Farris said. "The towns that we’ve gone into, the popularity of soccer is starting to spread because we do a bunch of fun stuff. They’re catching the fever."

The location of his first foray into the Dominican Republic, a town of about 50,000 people called Jarabacoa, has become a hotbed of soccer, and Farris is hoping to build an artificial surface field for an orphan school there that might, he thinks, be the first in the country. (Rhino Sports President John Schaffer has a daughter in the camps and has declared a willingness to contribute, Farris said.)

"It’s all mud," Farris said. "Every field is absolute mud there."

On Friday, July 16, at the North 40 field, the camp will collect items for children in the Dominican Republic.

School uniforms consist of light blue polo shirts, khaki pants and black shoes and can give a Dominican child an opportunity in life, since those without uniforms are not allowed to attend school – perpetuating a vast financial divide that exists throughout the country. New or used cleats are also welcomed, as is cash (checks should be made payable to Here for Kids International).

To sponsor a child through Kids Alive or learn more, visit http://www.kidsalive.org.


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