Tonawanda News — For the past three weeks, hundreds of Niagara Falls youth have taken advantage of the city’s numerous athletic facilities, thanks to the Niagara Falls City School District.
The district’s ninth annual summer camp came to a close Friday, wrapping up three weeks of sports related activities centered at Niagara Falls High School.
Over 500 of the district’s children, ages 11-18, had access to the high school, Bowl-O-Drome, Dwyer Arena and Hyde Park as district faculty and Niagara Falls Housing Authority staff instructed a variety of sports — all free of charge.
“It’s an age where (the kids) don’t have a lot to do during the summer and you can’t really leave them with someone like you would a 5-year-old,” said Sue Ross, camp director for each of the camp’s nine years. “It keeps them busy. We feed them, we teach them, they’re safe with us and it introduces them to the high school, which is always a benefit because our younger kids get used to the high school in a casual way as opposed to the first day they come in for ninth grade.”
When the camp was first started, it was funded through a 21st Century Grant from the New York State Education Department. The grant ran out in 2009, and the school board decided to foot the bill to keep the camp running.
“I think they believe it’s a good way to repay the taxpayers,” Ross said, “and it’s a wonderful safety net for that really awkward age of students.
“We’re extremely grateful to the board for funding every year. We take alot of parent phone calls and emails, or parents come in person and tell us how grateful they are that we have this opportunity.”
The camp — which Ross said is the only free one for the ages of children it includes in the state — has an unlimited capacity, which helps it serve its goal to keep children off the street.
Years ago, Ross said Niagara Falls Police Chief John Chella tallied statistics of the number of youth crimes during the camp and found that the number of crimes, “drops significantly, because a lot of the kids, instead of getting involved in antics, are here engaged in sports and activities.”
Campers arrive at NFHS at 11:30 a.m. and are served lunch before heading to their respective sports destinations. Children interested in hockey or bowling are bused to Dwyer Arena or Bowl-O-Drome, while other sports — including baseball, volleyball, tennis, basketball and swimming — take place at Hyde Park and the high school.
Children without a particular sport take part in “The Quest,” a program with varying weekly themes.
At the end of each week, the staff hosts “Fun Friday.” In the past, Ross said the camp had seen a drop in attendance late in the week, likely due to campers doing the same thing each day.
“We decided to have one day a week where it’s just fun, crazy activities,” she said.
Ross said camp recruiting for next year will start in May.Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.