Annual soccer camp brings out best in kids, their high-school age instructors

WILLMAR -- A gloomy, rainy morning drove them indoors for a while Thursday morning, but the kids at the first annual Cardinal Soccer Camp didn't seem to care.

WILLMAR -- A gloomy, rainy morning drove them indoors for a while Thursday morning, but the kids at the first annual Cardinal Soccer Camp didn't seem to care.

Instead of running on the grass in soccer cleats, the 35 children at the camp wore tennis shoes or socks as they ran drills in the gym at Roosevelt Elementary School in Willmar or watched soccer videos in the cafeteria.

Girls' soccer team members from Willmar Senior High volunteered their time this week to work with the campers, boys and girls ranging in age from 5 to 12.

Varsity coach Jeff Winter and junior varsity coach Chelsea Brown ran the camp. They came up with the idea last year and ran a one-day Saturday clinic last fall.

They plan to make this one-week summer camp an annual event.


The camp charges $45 for each camper. It's a fundraiser for the high school team to pay for uniforms, equipment and an awards banquet after the season.

The camp has also brought out the best in the young women on his team, Winter said.

"I have been really impressed with how the high school girls have stepped forward on this," he said.

The coaches gave the high school girls some homework when they volunteered for the camp -- "to find drills that would be fun for little kids," Winter said. The girls did their research on the Internet and developed a variety of shooting and ball handling drills.

The coaches gave them the freedom to develop the drills themselves, the girls said.

"We've all come up with our own drills; it was a lot of fun," said Samantha Thompson, 16 of Willmar.

But there was a little pressure, too. "If you didn't find any (drills), you're letting your team down," said Jasper Sweazey, 17, of Willmar.

One drill had a group of young campers crawling along the gym floor pushing the ball with their foreheads. Others practiced making shots into a net or worked on dribbling. The kids will leave the camp with a better understanding of the rules of the game, too.


"It's sweet to finally be the coach at a camp instead of a player," said Sweazey. She spent her early years in Canada and started playing soccer at age 5 at "little camps like these guys."

For a time, she played on an all-boy team at Community Christian School, she said, because the other girls were more interested in volleyball or other sports.

"Soccer is such a competitive sport," she said. "If you really want to get down and dirty, you ought to play this game."

It's challenging to work with the younger kids, Sweazey said. She admitted to being a little worried the night before camp began, because she didn't know what to expect, but once camp started, the worries were gone.

Both Sweazey and Thompson had the same thing to say about the camp -- "It's been a blast."

They also had lots of good things to say about their energetic coaches.

Winter's guidance has helped the varsity girls come together as a team, they said. "We've just grown from it," Thompson said. "We've come to enjoy the game a lot more."

Brown watched the campers and their young coaches as they paused for a water break and munched on energy bars. "I'm so proud of our girls," she said. It's impressive that the teenagers have volunteered a week of their time in the middle of summer and had been there at 8 a.m. each day, she said.


The camp runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day at the soccer fields behind Roosevelt. The campers participate in 5 40-minute drills with water breaks in between. When it rains, they move inside. When it's hot, they stay cool with water balloon fights and spraying players with super squirt guns.

Several businesses supported the camp with donations. Bremer Bank and Rambow Inc. donated shirts for the campers, Bernick's Pepsi gave them water, and Cash Wise gave them bananas.

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