Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Finding Life's Dining Halls

FatherBlog had just finished dropping off TigerBlog on his first day at the University of West Philadelphia. As he was preparing to leave, he asked TB if he knew where the dining hall was. When TB said he did not, FatherBlog responded with this:

"When you get hungry enough, you'll figure it out."

It's more than a quarter-century later, and those remain the nine sagest words TB has ever heard FatherBlog utter. They were words that TigerBlog remembered well when he dropped off TigerBlog Jr. at the Princeton lacrosse camp earlier this month to begin a three-night stay in the dorms.

TigerBlog lived on campus at the University of West Philadelphia for two summers, and the difference between then and the regular school year wasn't that dramatic. There were summer classes for students looking to either catch up or get ahead (TB had three rules for making his college schedule: no labs, no classes before 10 a.m. and no summer classes), and there was always an large group of students around.

Summer on the Princeton campus is much different. Aside from some students doing research and athletes who have stayed around to work and work out, there are almost no students here. Or at least college students.

Instead, each week offers a different mob of students on campus and new sub-division of student-athletes. Summers at Princeton is a time for camps, camps and more camps.

This week, Princeton is hosting camps in girls' soccer, boys' and girls' squash, girls' rowing, girls' hockey and probably others. In the last three weeks alone, there have been camps for boys' basketball, girls' basketball, football, fencing, girls' lacrosse, field hockey, cross country and others.

Camps here range from day camps for mostly younger kids to serious, high-level high school players and teams at elite sessions.

The camp scene is fascinating. They start with check-in, where kids carry something light while their parents get loaded down like pack mules on the way to the dorms. Then it's three or four days of non-stop activity in the sport, only to have the scene of parents as they schlep the stuff back down the stairs to check-out.

TigerBlog thinks that something called "Dorm Camp" would be a big hit. Bring your kids to Princeton and let them stay in the dorms, eat in the dining halls and do whatever they want all day, as long as they don't leave the main part of the campus. This would be a winner on many fronts, from providing kids the chance to live on campus for a few days to forcing them to figure out something to do all day.

As for the sports themselves, when you have kids in the 11-15 year old range, it's hard to project how good they're going to be in any particular sport yet. For starters, you don't know how big they're going to get. In TigerBlog Jr.'s age group, the same kids who were the best athletes at age six and seven are still the best athletes. Will that continue as they become teenagers? Will those kids still want to be athletes at all, or have they played too much too soon and will run into the inevitable burnout.

Then there are the parents, many of whom equate "travel team" with "college scholarship." TB Jr. just finished playing for his summer lacrosse team, an outstanding collection of 21 players from all over southeast Pennsylvania. If they're lucky, one of those 21 will be a Division I player in six years or so. Certainly the odds are stacked against them, as they are against all of the kids who come to the summer camps here.

TigerBlog Jr. learned a great deal at the lacrosse camp about playing his favorite sport. At the same time, TB often tells TB Jr. that he has a better chance of playing the saxophone in college than he does of playing lacrosse.

In other words, as good as the camps here are and no matter how solid the instruction on the field is, probably the best thing any of the kids who come here each summer learn is how to find their own way to the dining halls.

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