“Wow, a quarter of a century,” said Hayford as he looked at photos of past coaching staffs. “I’m just proud we’ve been able to sustain that momentum over such a long period of time, but I owe it to our student athletes who come back and give back. They provide that feeling of pride we have in our little camp.”
Deerfield Valley Soccer Camp began in 1990 with 13 coaches, and was the brainchild of Hayford and his wife Cindy. While pursuing his graduate degree at Penn State in 1986, Hayford worked as an administrative assistant intern for the school’s summer sports camps. Upon returning home to his job at Wilmington High School, he and Cindy had the idea of creating their own summer camp for the benefit of the youngsters of the valley, as well as its sports programs. “Being the varsity head coach, I thought it would be a great feeder program that could help put Wilmington High School soccer on the map for generations to come. One thought we had to alleviate the struggle our teams were having in the 1980s was to start a summer soccer camp. I also needed a summer job and that’s my area of expertise, so I put two and two together and we finally got the camp up and running.”
The camp is focused on having fun, plain and simple, and features boys’ and girls’ teams divided by grades. The groups include kindergartners or “K Kampers,” first-and-second grade “Major League Soccer,” the third-and-fourth-grade “Lalegas;” and the fifth, sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade “Premier League.” The camp teaches techniques in passing, shooting, and finishing, and group play including attacking and defense. It also aims to teach about healthy lifestyle choices including good nutrition, daily exercise, a good sleep routine, and the effects of drugs and alcohol.
“We keep it simple and fun, but no stone is left unturned,” said Hayford. “Some kids will come and they’ll drop out because it’s not for them, but it’s a rare kid who doesn’t like to play soccer. It’s a really simple game, it’s a safe game, and the more years they attend it gives them a leg up. I think it’s had a really positive impact on the culture of the valley’s sports and the quality of play, and it’s just one piece of the puzzle. It’s become a rite of passage for many kids.”
But Hayford says the greatest measure of the camp’s success is the number of former campers who have returned as members of the staff. “It’s really neat to see all these faces of kids gone by who started when they were 5 years old and now work or have worked at the camp. That speaks volumes.”
Each year there are former campers champing at the bit to join the DVSC coaching staff. One year the camp had so many participants that the coaching staff reached 26, but in recent years it has been scaled back as attendance fluctuates. This year looks to be another big year however, as a total of 97 campers have already signed up for the five-day event. One of the many coaches looking to pay it forward this year is Beau Doucette, a 2012 graduate of TVHS, a nine-year DVSC camper, and a lifelong soccer player. This is Doucette’s third year on the coaching staff. He works at the camp because he believes he can have the same effect on today’s youth as his camp coaches had on him.
“It’s incredibly helpful,” said Doucette. “When you’re there you work on literally everything you have to know as a soccer player including how to play with other kids who you might see on your team that year, and that helps round you out for the upcoming season.”
Doucette said that as an adult it’s about passing on the knowledge and love for the game to a new generation of soccer players. “I want to give these kids the same experience I had. The biggest thing as a kid was, you go play soccer with your friends for a week and you get coached by these older kids who aren’t necessarily adults and you’re being taken under their wing. It made me want to keep playing, and it’s nice to have the support of that camp in this valley, because it’s easy to get into something else and lose interest when you’re a kid.”
Soccer camp is held at Baker Field on Beaver Street, August 4 through 8, every day from 9 am to 12 pm, and 9 to 10:30 am for kindergartners. The camp is open to every youngster in grades K through 8, and registration does not end until Monday August 4. The cost per child is $90, and $55 for kindergartners.
“We had no allusions about where this would go,” said Hayford, reflecting on the early years of DVSC. “We thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot, maybe it will last three years.’ Here we are 25 years later still churning out little footballers and what’s probably the coolest part of it all is it’s something I look forward to all year long. It’s becomes part of my life and my whole family’s life. We care about our camp. We’re a small mom-and-pop shop, but these kids will hopefully play for TVHS, and because the vast majority will, I think we put even more into it than you’ll find at some larger camps.”