Parishes, schools move summer camps online or to the fall

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Logan Brown, a fifth grader at St. Gerald School in Oak Lawn, practices basketball drills while on a Zoom gathering he is watching from his iPad, which is propped up on the step. He was participating in an online basketball camp run by St. Laurence High School on June 10. Due to COVID-19, some schools and organizations are holding summer camps online this year. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

As e-learning was drawing to a close this year, Sharron Brown needed something for his son, Logan, to do.

Logan, who recently finished fourth grade at St. Gerald School in Oak Lawn, ended up participating in two weeks of Zoom basketball camp offered by St. Laurence High School, Burbank.

His father, a basketball coach at St. Gerald and in a local travel basketball program, wasn’t sure how much Logan would get out of an online meeting for an hour or so a few times a week. It turned out that the answer was, quite a bit.

“The coach was there on the Zoom call and he did a great job of keeping all the kids engaged,” Sharron Brown said. “He would demonstrate a skill and then he would watch and critique the kids.”

Tim Chandler, St. Laurence’s athletic director, said the school decided to start the summer with Zoom camps for grade school students and then move to in-person camps as soon as public health regulations allowed and following all applicable protocols. That ended up being June 15.

In-person camps for the youngest athletes were canceled because staff weren’t sure the youngest children — some as young as kindergarten — could maintain social distance, he said. Instead, staff put together equipment kits for the campers to use during online sessions.

St. Laurence was among the many schools and parishes that had to shift gears for summer activities. Many schools transferred summer classes to online formats and canceled camps and recreational activities. Resurrection College Prep High School, 7500 W. Talcott Ave., moved its summer athletic camps to weekends in the fall.

Some parishes canceled vacation Bible school programs, although some moved that online as well.

Jonathan Blevins, director of evangelization and formation at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, said about 85 children registered. Most took the paid option, which came with a kit that included games and stickers and a CD with the music for the program.

Those families, and those who took the free option, could log in any time after 7 a.m. each day to get the day’s video, recorded by one of the seminarians who minister at the parish, a Bible verse and reflection. Music for the activities is also available for free online from the company that produced the curriculum.

“The idea is really that the families are doing it with their kids,” Blevins said.

There are fewer families registered than for the in-person sessions in previous years, Blevins said, but families might be tired of e-learning, or taking advantage of newly lifted restrictions to visit family and friends now that school is out.

High schools like St. Laurence developed plans to not only offer programs for elementary- and middle-school students but also for their own student-athletes.

St. Laurence planned to offer summer conditioning for its own athletes as soon as the Illinois High School Association, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Office of Catholic schools allow it, Chandler said.

“We have a lot of plans in place and we’re just waiting,” Chandler said early in June. “We’ve made our plans and altered them 50 different times. Our coaches have been generally good at staying in contact and keeping the kids engaged with Zoom meetings and Zoom workouts.”

That success, and the success the school saw with e-learning for the last months of the school year, made Chandler confident that they could pull off Zoom sports camps for kids.

“The first couple of camps we’ve been able to run have been good,” Chandler said. “And we’re finding a wider reach. We had a girls’ basketball virtual camp in May. There was a girl up in Canada who that registered and took part. We could say that was international camp.”

St. Laurence’s Zoom camps are shorter than in-person camps, coming in at a half-hour to an hour instead of an hour and a half, and coaches give campers drills they can practice on their own, at home, without necessarily having access to the space and equipment they would have at the school.

“Our coaches have done a great job of making it as exciting as possible,” Chandler said. “They give them things they can work on until they can get back to their programs and teams.”

Sharron Brown was impressed enough that he recommended the Zoom camp to his other players, he said.

It was good for Logan, who’s been playing basketball for three years, to learn from someone who is not his father, Brown said. Logan developed his skill in handling the ball with his opposite hand, “which as his dad, it’s not easy to get him to do.”

This article was updated June 29 to indicate that Jonathan Blevins is director of evangelization and formation at St. James Parish, Arlington Heights.


  • catholic schools
  • coronavirus
  • covid-19

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