BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — When Jules Paul first started running a youth softball camp in the town, it was a small enterprise filled with novice players.
“Our first year, we went only one week and we had eight campers,” Paul said July 22 at River Road Park.
This year, the growth of the camp — and the game of softball in Niskayuna — is on display. Fifteen campers were at the July 20-23 camp and another 15 were already signed up for the second week of the camp from July 27-30. After those two half-day camps, Paul said he is planning to run a sandlot-style softball camp for scrimmaging in the second week of August. (Paul said interested players could sign up through the town’s website.)
“What I’m seeing is we get a lot of return campers, and every year we get some new campers, too, as some girls age out,” Paul said.
Teaching fundamentals is at the camp’s core, which has players ranging in age from 6 to 12. Each session of the camp ends with a scrimmage or game-type activity, but camper Jordan Zenner, 11, said working on her skills is her favorite part of the camp.
“The drills help me the most,” said Zenner, who plays in Niskayuna’s recreational league and with a local travel squad. “I get to move my feet more during those [drills] and really work on what I need to work on personally.”
While Paul leads instruction at the camps, his assistants are some of the players from his varsity softball team at Niskayuna High School. The players, he said, volunteer to help in exchange for hours of service that are used to fulfill requirements for the National Honors Society.
“The [campers] look up to them, and it’s great to have them here,” Paul said. “It also gives them some exposure to coaching, too.”
Angela Grant, a rising senior, was one of the volunteer counselors at the July 20-23 camp. One of the challenges of the camp, she said, is the large age range of the players; by the midway point of the week, though, Grant said it had become much less of a concern.
“Just over this week, they’ve improved so much,” Grant said of the girls. “It’s exciting to see.”
When many of the campers showed up in past years, Paul said he spent substantial time teaching them basics, like how to throw and catch. Now in the fourth summer of offering camps to local softball players, Paul said he is able to teach the game at a more elevated level. That should continue next year, too, when Paul said he thinks the local area is ready for the startup of a softball camp for teenagers.
“We have enough interest now at that level where we can have a high school camp,” Paul said. “It’s been pretty cool to see the evolution.”