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Baltimore-area summer camps facing uncertainty due to coronavirus

For some Baltimore-area children, summers are consumed with the carefree days of summer camp activities like swimming, singing songs, perfecting a lacrosse pass, making crafts and sharing snowballs with newfound friends.

But the uncertainty of coronavirus has forced organizers around Maryland to re-evaluate what camp will look like, if they are able to hold it. And some others are already canceling some activities.

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Y in Central Maryland CEO John Hoey said his organization is making contingency plans should its camp schedule need to eventually be altered.

“We are not just waiting, we are doing a lot of work to prepare for what will be a very different camp than I think any of us have ever experienced,” Hoey said.

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One of the differences will be monitoring the health of the campers.

“We are going to be ready, we certainly know that there will be significant health restrictions that we will be prepared to deal with,” he said. “We know that there are going to be fewer kids, even though I think clearly everybody who has kids at home would love for their kids to be going to camp this summer. But certain parents are going to be very careful about that and they are going to not want that.”

Hoey is also aware that the lack of person-to-person contact learning for children because Maryland schools have been closed since March 16. Schools will not reopen before May 18, if at all for the remainder of the school year.

“We also recognize that while summer camp is going to be and needs to be about fun for the kids, there is going to be a segment of parents who feel that they will want a little more academic enrichment and we’ve always had in our camps enrichment activities interspersed, so we are looking at ways to maybe amp that up a little bit without having it overtake camp,” he said. “I always say the trick is to have learning opportunities for kids while they are not realizing that they are learning.”

Hoey has seen the effect it has had on summer camps at the 17 Y camps in five counties (Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll) and Baltimore City.

“Before this whole situation resulted in the shutdown, our registration levels were as high as they have ever been and people have continued to register, but obviously at a much slower rate,” Hoey said. “If we can’t deliver camp for the week they registered they will get a full refund, so nobody is really putting any money at risk.”

While the Y camps and many other local organizations are continuing to accept registration, other camps — like the UMBC Summer Day Camp — have already canceled sessions.

The first three weeks of the UMBC camp, scheduled to take place between June 15 and July 2, will not be held and a refund plan is being developed for those families who have already made payments.

The downturn in the economy which has left many families struggling financially is also a concern, Hoey said.

“The other issue is, sadly, the unemployment rate is skyrocketing, so there are people who are not going to be working, so they may decide against it,” Hoey said. “We are not for-profit, so we raise money to try to get everybody into camp, but we know that the need is going to be much higher than it ever has been, so we are actually working hard on raising money to fund people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.”

There are three Y camps in Howard County:Camp Ilchester, the Y in Ellicott City (Dancel) and St. John’s Parish Day School.

The tenuous situation extends to camps of all shapes and sizes, with plenty of camps not affiliated with the Y of Central Maryland facing similar obstacles. In Howard County, that includes a multitude of camps associated with the Columbia Association and Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

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Amid the uncertainty, these organizations are holding out hope that camps might be able to be held in some capacity. Along those lines, registration largely remains open.

The Columbia Association, for example, is accepting registrations for camps in June, July and August despite the organization itself currently being closed and no reopening date set.

“It is too early to make decisions as the situation is rather fluid. If we are not open by the first week of June, the camps that operate in June will be cancelled,” said Paul Gleichauf, CA interim chief marketing officer.

Gleichauf added the Columbia Association reopening is directly subject to the “determinations of the governor and his public health officials.”

“CA leadership continues to plan for re-opening under a range of potential scenarios driven by length of closure and the possibility that some facilities and programs may be permitted to re-open sooner than others.”

Howard County is operating under a similar mindset, as Marketing and Public Information Superintendent Anna Hunter said the rec and parks department is “still planning for and taking registration for summer camps.”

The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks has currently cancelled all programs and events through May 15 and will be reassessing the need to extend that date when it gets closer.

Both the CA and rec and parks have said that should camps be forced to cancel because of the coronavirus, registrants will be able to receive a refund. In the case of the Department of Recreation and Parks, an option would also be available to apply the registration fee as a credit toward a future camp or league.

Sport-specific camps are not immune to the uncertainty either.

In Harford County, one of the oldest sports camps in the Baltimore area — the Harford Lacrosse Camp — is hoping to hold its 40th camp at Rocks State Park.

The camp, started in 1981 by Harford lacrosse legends John Grubb and Frank Mezzanotte, began as a boys only camp. It has since added a girls camp and this year, for the first time, a camp for younger boys only.

Co-directors Grubb and Mezzanotte still run the camps along with co-director Jason Bellamy, who joined forces with them a few years ago.

“So, right now, we’re just waiting to see. We’re waiting to see the directives from the governor, all the way down to the facilities that we are running camps in,” Bellamy said. “Once we clear any of those hurdles, we’d have to make our own decisions on the safety of what we are able to offer student athletes.”

The camp for younger boys, grades three through eight, is scheduled for July 6 to 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Arena Club.

The overall boys camp at the Rocks State Park 4-H Facility, is set for July 13-16 for boys entering grade one through 12.

“Last year we had over 200 kids here,” Bellamy said.

The girls camp, also at the 4-H facility, is set for July 20 to 23 and is for girls in grade one to 12.

Both camps have options for campers. They can do a short-day program, a long-day program or there’s an overnight option.

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“Our registration is open on our website. When schools closed in middle of March, we removed the requirement of paying a deposit, so now you can register without paying a deposit,” Bellamy said.

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Bellamy said they will continue to work to get plans in place. Thought is on their end, that they can go to the last minute.

“It’s really just staffing, letting our staff know whether we’re gonna do it or not. Other than that, we’ll have all the tools and things that we need to run the camp with, whether we have it this year or not,” Bellamy said. “We can probably go pretty late on the decision. It’s just going to be the governor’s decisions and the two facilities that we run the camp at. Their timelines and those things.”

Big picture, Hoey and fellow directors expressed a similar sentiment — they would like nothing better than seeing kids having fun again at various camps.

“Kids are cooped up, we want them out, kids need to be active, we all know that and while as parents we are all trying to keep our kids active, it’s just harder,” Hoey said. “I always say plan for the worst, hope for the best.”

Baltimore Sun Media reporters Brent Kennedy and Randy McRoberts contributed to this article.

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