Thirty-four years strong, Packer Camps provide fun and instruction for youth soccer players
Campers from Darien, Rowayton, Wilton, Ridgefield, Stamford and more between the ages of 3-11 braved the sweltering heat in order to take place in the week-long program, run by Darien resident Dick Packer.
"We definitely want to develop their skills, but also the camaraderie, the competition and learning life experiences in a soccer environment," Packer said. "Many of our coaches have been campers, so they know the whole routine of the camp. After 34 years, you can put together the routine because you know what works and what doesn't work."
Packer, who represented the United States on the 1956 Olympic soccer team and still holds several scoring records at Penn State University (he held the school record with 53 goals until it was broken in 1995), indicated that he believes it is important for young soccer players to have fun and gain a love for the game from an early age.
The camp, which is in its 34th year, continues to grow in popularity.
"It's a fun camp. You can see the kids are having a good time. They're all engaged and it's not just soccer, soccer, soccer. We do fun things for the kids like a crazy sunglasses contest," Packer said. "We didn't have any grassroots programs to feed the pros, so we wanted to start a summer soccer camp. We hope some of these kids will get the fire in the belly for the game."
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The camp concluded on Friday with teams competing against each other in the "World Cup." Team "Germany" won the championship in the older division while team "South Africa" took the title in the younger division. Several individual awards were also handed out by Packer and the counselors.
"The World Cup was the best and meeting new friends," said Ella Murphy, an 11-year-old right midfielder from Darien. "It's helped my passing and shooting."
To ensure that all campers receive quality soccer instruction and enjoy their time on the fields, the camp boasts one coach for every 10 campers. One of those coaches, Shawn Chase has participated in the camp every year since 1986, having gotten his start as a 6-year-old camper 26 years ago.
"It's nice to get them more involved. Eventually, they'll become more serious and that'll be the fun part for them. Each day we try to focus on a different skill that's incorporated throughout the fun games that we play," Chase said. "Subconsciously, we're getting them to become better soccer players and get a little more familiar with the ball. That's what we're looking for at this age is to get as many touches of the ball as you can and to have as much fun as you can."
Not only did the camp attract youth soccer players from several towns in Connecticut, it also brought in participants from as far as San Francisco, CA. Kian and Thomas Sohelli, 11 and 7 years old respectively, were visiting their extended family in Darien.
"We were visiting on vacation, so we just decided to do a few soccer camps," said Kian Sohelli, an 11-year-old forward. "It's hotter and it's harder to play here because in San Francisco it's cooler and more moist. This was really fun to win in the World Cup finals."
During the five-day camp, children between the ages of 5-11 attended between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon while the 3 and 4-year-old "grasshoppers" attended between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Packer and company will host a second five-day camp Aug. 6-10 at Middlesex Middle School in Darien. All campers receive a professional soccer ball, t-shirt, medal and camp photo.
"I really liked playing in the World Cup on Spain," said Aidan Murphy, a 10-year-old goalie and forward from Darien. "I got better at faking players out."