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Summer camps offer cabins -- or computers

The scope of activities has broadened, catering to all kinds of children's interests.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- If your idea of summer camp involves bonfires and mosquito bites, think again.

These days, most summer camps are an extension of school. They're indoors with air conditioning, and the kids don't have to worry about ants.

With school ending May 30, parents will be scrambling to find summer camps. If they haven't made plans already, parents have less than two weeks to find some activity to occupy their children's long and lazy summer days.

Hillsborough County offers a variety of options ranging from the arts to water activities and competitive sports. Children can also explore school subjects in a fun environment, or enjoy plain old horseplay.

But the rugged outdoor camping experience is still popular with some.

"I think there's a lot more things to do outdoors," said 15-year-old Sara Brinkley of Land O'Lakes. She and her brother Tommy, 13, have spent their summers at Camp Keystone in Odessa for the past six years.

"It doesn't have air conditioning, but the thought of being outdoors and getting sweaty doesn't come to mind," Sara said. "I like the experience."

Camp Keystone (926-6440) is an old-style summer camp on the shore of Crescent Lake. It has reveille, a flag ceremony, lake activities, a buddy system, cabins and kitchen duty.

Sessions run one to four weeks for boys and girls ages 6 to 15. Campers pay $450 a week for overnight, $1,600 for all four weeks. Day campers pay $325 a week, $1,200 for all four weeks.

Honing skills

But what if a young Tiger Woods or Jennifer Capriati wants to hone his or her athletic skills?

There are a number of sports camps. The Fighting Wildcat Football Clinic at Wharton High School (631-4710) is for students entering grades two through nine. They'll learn fundamental skills for various positions, team cooperation, sportsmanship and more.

The five-day sessions begin June 10 and June 17. Each costs $75 and the registration deadline is May 31.

Future pro golfers can sign up for the YMCA Urban Junior Golf Program (984-8655) and compete in tournaments. More advanced players compete in a Players Tour each week.

"Not only are we teaching golf, we use golf to teach life skills," said Greg Valdez, the program coordinator.

Valdez said 33 golf camps will be offered at seven locations. Lunch is included in the $140 weekly fee.

Sandra Leppert said this will be her son Nick's sixth year at the camp.

"They are very well-supervised and they have a great time," Leppert said.

Young tennis players can register at the Country Club of Carrollwood's Summer Tennis Camp (961-1366).

"We will plant the seed in kids that tennis is fun," said coordinator Gary Needleman. "They can play it for a hobby and hopefully the rest of their lives."

Getting wet

Kids who aren't interested in competitive sports can spend the summer swimming and playing at Heritage Isles Golf & Country Club in New Tampa or Heritage Harbor Golf & Country Club on Lutz-Lake Fern Road, which is open to the public.

Summer programs at both subdivisions are being offered by SRK Promotions (949-4671).

"A lot of parents are sending kids to specific sports camps and I think they forget the whole point of summer is to have fun," said Robert Kilby, who runs the programs.

He said his camp's strongest selling point is the impressive pool facilities at the golf and country clubs. Campers climb two flights of stairs to play on monster water slides at both clubs that are 20 feet high and 95 feet long.

However, the ultimate in water fun could be a summer camp in Seffner.

McCormick's Water Ski & Wake Board School & Camp (681-4441) is open to children of all ages and ski levels. It consists of three manmade lakes, dormitories and a kitchen where campers eat three meals a day.

Parents drop their children off on Sunday for a weeklong stay. Campers eat dinner at a restaurant that day to get to know each other.

"It's a big introduction for the staff and the students," said Jennifer Kaiser, a staff member. "We do that so everybody knows each other's names before we start ski school on Monday."

Campers ski four times a day. In the evenings, they go out for ice cream, to watch a movie, roller skate or visit the mall. The cost is $575 a week. Sessions are limited to 25 campers.

Classroom camps

Other camps give children a chance to express themselves creatively.

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (222-1047) offers summer classes for kids ages 8 to 18 in theater, opera, dance and ballet, to name a few. Three sessions run from June 10 to July 19. Classes are 9 a.m. to noon weekdays and range from $80 to $200 a week.

"It's a fun way to build confidence, coordination and concentration," said Shannon Connor, a senior public relations associate at the performing arts center.

Summer camp is also a chance for youngsters to get an academic jump start. Children ages 4 to 9 can learn computer and photography skills at the Primrose School of Cross Creek (994-6800). They build their own Web sites during the three-week program.

"We have a definite educational focus," said Jana Radtke, the school's owner.

The classroom is different, but horse riding is another option.

Marti Vitulli, owner of Equestrian Alternatives Inc. (814-7512), said she teaches children all the skills they need to be independent with a horse. She has an air-conditioned classroom, 20 horses and 300 acres of riding area off Lutz-Lake Fern Road. Classes are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. The cost is $190 a week.

Hire A Pony summer camp on Race Track Road (855-8992) starts June 10. Space is limited to 20 campers a week who pay $150 for a half day or $175 a week for a full day of riding.

"Each child is assigned a horse for the week they are here," said Jerry Gironda, an employee. "They'll be on a horse the first day and they'll ride every day.

"Each counselor has less than five kids so there's lots of supervision. They'll learn how to handle a horse and by the end of the week, they'll be pretty good at it."

-Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at grant@sptimes.com.

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