Summer sports camp changes lives of both campers and counselors

Deerfoot Camp

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: August 20, 2009

For Tony Rosselli '08, it's about more than just a summer job.

Tony, a senior kinesiology major, works as a counselor at Deerfoot Youth Camp, a summer sports camp for at-risk, underprivileged boys ages 10 to 13 in Magnolia, Texas.

"You've got a cabin with six to eight kids. You're their parent, teacher, coach and mentor," Tony says. "It's very draining, but it's very rewarding at the same time."

Tony came onboard as a counselor in 2006, after being asked by Michael Thornton, camp supervisor and clinical assistant professor.

"It's a big deal to me that we hire good people because of what they're going to be doing," Michael says.

Deerfoot was established in 1978 by Thomas and Joan Read to give boys the opportunity to attend a summer camp at no cost to them or their families. In 1981, he approached Leonard Ponder, then head of the Department of Health and Kinesiology, about running the camp.

"My conception of what I was going to see was a creek, some pine saplings and a couple of pup tents," Leonard recalls. "I walked onto the campus and realized I was way off the mark."

Today the department continues to operate the 450-acre camp, which typically has 130 campers over a summer. The boys compete in all kinds of sports activities, ranging from swimming and canoeing to basketball and floor hockey. Campers also go on field trips to area attractions including NASA and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

"You feel like you're making a difference, and you can see you're making a difference in these kids' lives," Tony says. "To be a part of these kids' lives-it really is something special."

In addition to the short-term benefits of having counselors as role models, campers can have longterm benefits as well. Campers who attend Deerfoot four consecutive summers and are later accepted to Texas A&M University or Texas A&M at Galveston are provided with financial support through the Read Scholarship program. Deerfoot currently has seven former campers at Texas A&M and three at Texas A&M at Galveston.

Smiling, Tony remembers making a positive impact with one troubled first-year camper in his cabin. "This kid was from a bad home. No respect, none of this, none of that. He was like my project kid, and they stuck him with me."

He worked with the boy for several weeks. "Eventually, he came to the point where I was his guy, and he wanted to be around me and get my attention. One day we go to a Round Rock Express baseball game, and he's just laying it on me. I'm thinking, ‘I can't stand this kid, and I can't wait for the summer to be over.' And he looks up at me and says, ‘Coach Rosselli, I love you.' It was touching, and it let me know I was doing something good in his life."