Basketball's the hook but learning's the goal at day camp

The smell of fresh country air on a cool summer morning is enough to lure any city dweller away from the honking horns of uptight commuters and the stench of exhaust fumes.

But Paul Pellicani was trying to do more than lure just any city dweller away. Pellicani was trying to hook 40 city-dwelling fifth-grade boys.


So Pellicani used a bait he knew few boys could resist -- basketball.

"If there's one thing fifth-grade boys like, it's basketball," he said. "The hook is definitely basketball."


The boys, graduates of Robert A. Coleman, Federal Hill and Thomas Johnson elementary schools, began a weeklong day-camp program at the Gibson Island Country School yesterday.

Pellicani has run Great Play, a basketball mini-camp, at the country school for several years. But this year, Gibson Island Headmaster John Hewitt approached Pellicani about inviting students from Baltimore who might not otherwise have an opportunity to spend time out in the country.

Hewitt said the Abell Foundation agreed to provide funding for the camp, as well as set up the link between the country school and the three city schools.

The students were selected by each individual school's principal, based on which youngsters they thought would benefit most from the camp.

"These kids are getting to that age where they are faced with all kinds of decisions," Pellicani said. "And a lot of times it's easier to make the wrong decision than the right one. We want to raise their aspirations while they're here. We don't want them to deal ++ with, 'Am I going to school today?' We want them to say, 'Where am I going to college?' Or, if they're going to be a fisherman, then we want them to go out and be the best fisherman possible. Raising aspirations is the message."

Basketball is just one of the camp activities. The boys also will spend time each day working in a computer lab. By the end of the week, the campers will have compiled a journal on the computer that they will be able to print out and take home.

Chauncey Clifton, 10, began his journal writing about his first day at camp.

rTC "I wrote that the first day was great," said Chauncey, who just graduated from Robert W. Coleman Elementary. "I wrote that the school was kind of small, but bigger. I wrote that I met a lot of nice people."


The boys also will learn some French, make a miniature stained-glass window and study crabs, oysters and other organisms that inhabit the nearby Magothy River.

"I caught four jellyfish and 12 grass shrimp," said Nathaniel Nelson, 11. "I really like the science part and being down on the pier. That's the best part. And playing basketball."

The boys begin their journey from Baltimore to Gibson Island each day with an 8 a.m. bus ride. William Brooks, a parent volunteer from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, said for many of the boys, including his 10-year-old son, Terell, and his nephew, Darryl Brooks, also 10, the bus ride down was pretty exciting.

"It's just a different atmosphere for them, to get away from the neighborhood," Brooks said. "Just riding down here, because they usually walk, was fun. And they were pointing out the windows, looking at all the horses. That was fun."

Upon arriving, the boys break up into four groups -- the Charlotte Hornets, the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics and, of course, the Chicago Bulls. Throughout the morning, the boys rotate among the computer, science, art and basketball practice classes. During the afternoon, the boys will hear from such guest speakers as Mark Amatucci, the former men's basketball coach at Anne Arundel Community College.

Amatucci, who also is helping out with the camp, encourages the boys to play hard. But his main message is sportsmanship.


"The first thing is we never argue. Never," Amatucci tells the boys on the Denver Nuggets team as they prepare for a game against the Bulls. "We always try and be positive."

"All these kids want is for someone to give them some direction, some encouragement," Amatucci said later. "I wish more people were interested in working with the kids and just see what they need. There's nothing more rewarding."