APU Summer Sports Camps Build Community

by Nathan Foster

Azusa Pacific University’s campus is quiet over the summer—for all of three weeks. Then, at the beginning of each June, hundreds of excited kids and talented high school athletes flood campus to participate in six summer sports camps—baseball, basketball, football, softball, soccer, and volleyball.

APU football head coach Victor Santa Cruz leads an annual camp where more than 375 high school athletes attend each sold out session. “We draw athletes from all around California, Colorado, Texas, and even Hawaii. Parents will put their kids on a plane to travel here because they don’t want to miss our camp,” he said. “We limit the camp size to ensure the best experience possible. We provide personal attention to each student athlete.”

Santa Cruz said he recruits many of these high-caliber players. “Camp gives us a good opportunity to find students with strong character, academic skills, and athleticism. We’re looking for visionary young people who want to do something bigger with their lives,” he said. “We share who we are spiritually and academically. These athletes are really hungry for that. We often hear, ‘You guys are different. How can I be a part of this place?’”

APU’s other sports camps focus on a younger crowd (grades K-8). Cougar baseball head coach Paul Svagdis has led a summer camp for 10 years. The program has grown from about 25 kids in 2009 to 100 children per session today. An average day at camp is jam packed, beginning at 8 a.m. with warm ups, throwing, and stretching. Campers then split into two groups to practice offense on the Cougar Baseball Field with stations, including base-running and hitting, and defensive fundamentals at the Dillon Recreational Complex. After an hour, the groups switch, then they take a lunch break before afternoon games. “We play games on different parts of the field. They always want to play in center field because they can hit home runs there,” Svagdis said. “While home runs are great, we reward kids for demonstrating good character and sportsmanship. That’s where the big bucket of candy comes in.”

A Glendora resident, Svagdis said he often sees kids across town wearing their Cougar baseball gear from summer camp. “I’ll be in a grocery store and a little guy will come up to me and say, ‘Hi Coach Paul, do you remember me?’ They’ll tell me how excited they are for camp next year and how they asked for a week of baseball camp for Christmas,” he said. “Their parents will even tell me how they did extra chores all year so they could attend a second week of camp.”

Svagdis said APU’s camp is truly special because of the student athlete volunteers. “APU students are first class,” he said. “Just a couple weeks ago, I had four players travel to a little league game to support one of the kids who came through our camp. That’s not uncommon with our players. We build relationships within the community and it opens up opportunities for people to connect with the university.”

APU women’s soccer head coach Brooke Lincoln seconded this. “It’s pretty special to see these kids interacting with my college players. It gives our players an opportunity to give back. It wasn’t that long ago that they were one of those little campers. Now, it’s come full circle for them,” she said. “Some of them want to coach in the future, so this is an opportunity for them to get their feet wet. For other players, it gives them a different perspective on the game, not just as a player, but as a teacher. They can be a bright light, an encouragement, an inspiration, and a role model for these children.”

Lincoln said the best part of summer camp came months after camp ended last year. “We had a lot of these kids come to our games,” she said. “We invest in them for a week or two, help them develop their skills, and they come out to support us at our home games. They’ll never know how much that means to us.”

To learn more about APU summer sports camps, click here.

Nathan is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a double major in journalism and public relations.