Instead of being a summer couch potato, area youngsters this week are being coached on staying healthy by engaging in sports that they can play throughout the rest of their lives.
The 25th annual Children’s Lifetime Sports Academy at Missouri Southern State University is an inclusive camp for children of all abilities ages 7 to 12 that runs the first full week of June. The event is sponsored by the university’s kinesiology department.
The event aims to teach and promote the appreciation of selected lifetime activities that may not be offered competitively or at schools.
“It’s all about lifetime activities because if you want to do football or basketball, you can do that, but this is a variety, so the goal is that you find something you like that you continue to get better at and do for a lifetime,” said Sheri Beeler, academy co-director, MSSU professor and department chair of kinesiology. “We looked at sports that were popular in our area like outdoor recreation.”
This week, 100 children from area school districts and home schools will be introduced to martial arts, fishing, bowling, golf, Frisbee, canoeing, archery and more. School districts involved include Joplin, Carl Junction, Webb City, Carthage, Neosho, Thomas Jefferson and College Heights.
Beeler said former faculty member Pat Lipira — who served as a teacher, coach, department head, dean and vice president of academic affairs at the university before retiring in 2015 — was instrumental in implementing the Children’s Lifetime Sports Academy in Joplin.
“Lipira’s nephew was at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph at the time and went to a summer camp like this called Children’s Lifetime Sports Academy,” Beeler said. “She goes, ‘We need to have this.’ I got hired that year, and she said we needed to do this. We did it, and we’ve had it every year since.”
With last year’s camp held virtually because of the pandemic, the instructors and college students were happy to see youngsters’ smiling faces this week.
“We’re definitely excited to be here in person because last year when it was virtual, it was good, but at that point, kids were kind of over doing virtual learning,” said Stephanee Schiding, academy co-director and MSSU lecturer. “For them to be able to be here in person, have that social aspect and make friends, it’s really important for us.”
The sports academy has grown over the last two and a half decades from 11 participants the first year to 100, Beeler said. The children are separated into four colors based on age and will try their hands at each lifetime sport throughout the week.
“Not every child wants to play an organized team sport,” Schiding said. “But lifetime activities, you could do this forever. It gives every child a chance to be successful, which we feel is key for this event.”
Bryant Hanks, an 11-year-old sixth grader at Carl Junction, started attending the academy three years ago because he loves playing sports he’s never pursued before. He currently plays basketball, baseball and football. Hanks said the academy has helped with his self-esteem.
“It helps get you in shape, so you’re not always sitting on the couch watching TV,” he said. “I like to stay busy. and the camp helps with confidence because if you take a class and other people have done it for years, you at least get that experience. This camp helps you get used to sports if you ever want to do it in the future.”
Tegan Greim, a 12-year-old going into seventh grade at Carl Junction, began the camp two years ago, and this is her last year to participate. She likes to swim, but the academy gives her the opportunity to become more familiar with other activities at which she might have a knack.
“A lot of these sports, our school doesn’t teach us, so it’s really nice to be able to experience them and not have to pay for it individually,” she said. “Two years ago, I did really well at bowling, and I didn’t think I would because I didn’t go very often.”
Additional MSSU faculty, physical education majors, health promotion majors and the Missouri Conservation Department staff assist with the event. Beeler said the academy benefits the university, the Joplin community and the students.
“Physical education majors are required to do this, and we want them to get the experiential learning and work with students before they become teachers,” she said. “It’s also open to children of all abilities. It’s more about having fun and providing physical education over the summer.”
Jorge Guevara, a 22-year-old MSSU senior majoring in physical education, assisted with the sports camp for the first time Monday. The Carthage native hopes to teach at the Carthage School District after he graduates in May 2022.
“I want to work with this age group, and this is something that I’ve been looking forward to,” he said. “It helps give me a feel for it for when I do get out into the teaching world. It’s a good step. I do want to get a PE job, preferably elementary. They’re always excited to learn.”
Guevara said he’s passionate about physical education because he loves sports and motivating the younger generation to build a healthier lifestyle. He currently plays soccer outside of school.
“Sports help you meet people, and it’s a great way to stay healthy, which your body needs,” he said. “With technology getting big, it’s kind of hard to get kids out. One of my goals is to help youngsters get into lifetime activities.”