When driving south on Route 1 past the National Guard base in Bethany Beach July 24, passersby could see dozens of children in colorful T-shirts running around with tennis rackets.
Tennis professional Marty Godwin, USTA Middle States Tennis Service Rep Kelly Rasero and a few other instructors were on site to teach children the fundamentals of the game. It was just one of several activities included in the annual Camp Colwell, a week-long getaway for children of Delaware National Guard personnel.
“They’re getting a great introduction to tennis as part of this camp,” Godwin said. “Credit to the National Guard for doing it.”
Godwin set up two temporary nets in the parking area and provided all of the equipment needed for a morning full of tennis fun. He taught the kids the basics of the sport, including shots they can use to play again after the camp.
Camper Desiree Taylor had taken a lesson from Godwin last summer and spoke highly of his ability.
“I was better at tennis this year than I was last year,” the 10-year-old said.
For many campers, the morning of tennis was their first experience.
“I had fun playing for my first time,” said 10-year-old Kalia Kane.
When asked what was her favorite part, she said, “All of it.”
Rasero said they used transition balls that are slower and easier to hit – great for beginners.
“Our goal is to grow tennis in Delaware and show that it is a lifetime sport,” she said. “We also want to expose kids to tennis who might not otherwise try it.”
The camp is open to military children 9 to 17 years old. They are split into younger and older groups.
“All of these kids are in a similar situation with a parent or family member who is in the Guard and may be deployed,” said Chris Slicer, head camper counselor for the younger group. “They’re going through similar emotional family issues and things like that. They have a real connection with each other, and they make lifelong connections.”
All three of Slicer’s children have gone through the camp, and one has returned as a counselor. Slicer has volunteered with the camp the last 12 years.
Tennis is just one activity on a full slate of experiences the campers are exposed to throughout the week. They also go to a water park, try crabbing, go to the beach and, toward the end of the week, had an opportunity to check out two Black Hawk helicopters.
The camp is regimented with a strict schedule, but it is designed to be fun, Slicer said. While still aimed at a fun week, the older group does have leadership and character-building activities on the schedule.
Ryan Fedorkowicz first attended the camp when he was 10 years old. He came back every year until he was 17. After joining the Marines, he took leave to return as a volunteer.
“We’re a big family here,” he said. “That’s something we really emphasize throughout the whole camp. I want to give these kids the same experience I had growing up.”