This summer, nine-year-old Sara Lopez hopes to perfect her foul shot, hit a home run and learn to swim the backstroke. Through UC Berkeley’s Blue Bears program, Lopez will become that three-sport athlete for two weeks alongside hundreds of other kids her age.
The Blue Bears, designed for children aged 9 to 11, is one of a dozen youth camps sponsored by Golden Bear Youth and Outdoor Programs, which operates from the Golden Bear Recreational Facility. The camps offer children aged 5 to 18 the chance to work with skilled counselors on sports ranging from soccer to rugby, lacrosse and tae kwon do.
Many parents of the program’s younger participants—separated into groups called Explorers (aged 5 to 6) and Blue Cubs (aged 7 to 8)—say the camps at Strawberry Canyon are a good summer daycare option because they allow the
children to run and play.
“I’m a single mom, and I work all day, but I didn’t want my daughter to be inside at a daycare center during the summer,” said Sara’s mom, Esperanza Veracruz. “Here she has fun.”
From a list of sports, Blue Bears campers choose six activities to work on during their two-week session. Older campers focus on fewer skills and spend more time on each, allowing them to practice for extracurricular teams during the school year.
“I want to play lacrosse when I get to high school,” said Matt Kiplin, a 13-year-old Blue Grizzly. “When I’m at camp I get to practice with lots of good people, and they make me better so I’ll make the team.”
The Golden Bear instructors are mostly college students, and many play a varsity sport at UC Berkeley or other colleges.
“It’s cool to learn sports from people who play them in college,” Kiplin said. “They really know what they’re doing and they’re young so they’re fun to work with.”
The counselor positions at the summer camps are among the most popular summer jobs for older area teenagers. High school students can begin work as a counselor-in-training after their freshman year, then become a full counselor as a college student.
“It’s fun to teach kids how to play better,” said Liam Reilly, a sophomore midfielder on the Carleton College soccer team. “They really want to learn the skills, and they make the day a lot of fun even though it’s tiring. It’s much better than working in a store inside somewhere.”
UC Berkeley will host six sessions each of the Explorers, Blue Cubs, Blue Bears and Blue Grizzlies camps by the end of the summer, each of which will attract children from around the Bay Area. Registration for the later camps is still open, but each of the two June sessions attracted more than 100 campers.
One of the newer Golden Bear program offerings is the Skateboard Elite Team and one-day skateboard clinics, which are camps for children ages 8 to 16. Participants work at the Golden Bear Recreational Facility’s skateboard park with skilled instructors—many of whom have competed at national level skateboarding events.