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[Photos by www.PhotoandGraphic.com]
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Camp Abilities, sponsored by the Saratoga Lions Club, is in its fourth camp year this summer. This camp, which lasts a week, is an active overnight educational sports camp for children that are visually impaired. Taking place on Skidmore College campus, campers are able to experience a week of just being a normal kid.
“This is one of the only weeks where kids can just be a kid. A lot of times, they’re the only kid that might have visual impairment in their school. This week is the one time where they don’t have to worry. If they bump into something or if they make a mistake, they’re not being looked at like ‘oh you did that because you have a visual impairment.’ They just did it because they’re being a kid. They feel comfortable here,” says Tiffany Mitrakos, director of Camp Abilities.
Camp Abilities has 26 campers, each with their own counselors, so they have a one on one experience. To put on the camp itself, it costs roughly $100,000 and is $3,500 per camper, though it is funded by donations and sponsors, no money is out of the camper’s pocket to attend. The requirement for campers to attend is that the only disability they have is a visual impairment, they must be independent and otherwise capable, and they have to be between ages 10 and 18. Camp Abilities first year had 18 campers and now they are capped at 26 due to cost and less chance of forming lifelong friendships if there are an overwhelming number of attendees. Saratoga Lions Club (SLC) took on this camp as a service project four years ago and is instrumental in the planning and execution of the entire week of camp. SLC organizes all of the nighttime activities that take the campers off campus. Camp Abilities Saratoga is unique among all of the other Camp Abilities because of their nighttime activities. Other camps are confined to their campuses but with the help of SLC and donations from local restaurants, campers eat dinner off campus and attend different activities.
From day one, the staff was adamant that the kids set goals and focus on reaching them. Campers participate in sports tailored for them, such as beep baseball and goal ball while also participating in sports and activities that all peers their age play. Beep baseball, for example, is baseball tailored to the visually impaired. This game lasts six innings and only has first and third bases, which are four foot high padded cylinders with speakers that give off a continuous buzzing sound when activated. When the ball is hit, the base operator activates one of the bases and the runner must identify the correct base and run to it before a defensive player fields the ball. Each team has a sighted pitcher and catcher. Kids are also shown how to play sports not tailored for them that they can adapt and show their physical education teacher at school how they can successfully play with the other kids.
The camp is made up of 41 staff members. They have a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week nursing staff, six sports specialists with degrees in adaptive physical education, 26 counselors, and several other people who band together to help this week of camp meet it’s full potential.
A special treat for the campers is a Judo class instructed by Olympian Jason Morris, of Jason Morris Judo Center. Morris donates his time and staff to the camp.
Tiffany Mitrakos, director, has been a part of Camp Abilities for nine years. Mitrakos originally became involved at the camp’s initial location at Brockport College, where she was involved for five years before coming to Saratoga’s camp for the last four years. Mitrakos’ assistant director is Jeff Yellen, who also started with the camp in Brockport for two years and this is his second year as assistant director for the Saratoga camp.
On the Saratoga Lions Club (SLC) side, John McDonald has been a member of SLC for 18 years and is a past president of the club. He has been instrumental in the planning of the camp since it’s inauguration.
“This camp gives kids an opportunity to participate in a summer sports camp just like their peers,” McDonald echoed Mitrakos, proving the point of the camp really is for visually impaired children to feel like normal kids, if only for a week.
Joanne Soles is the current president of Saratoga Lions Club and was also involved in opening the Camp Abilities in Saratoga Springs. She is at the camp every day to oversee and enjoy.
“We are really taking advantage of what Saratoga has to offer for our night time programs. Those programs are why we stand out,” Soles said.
Some nighttime activities include going to Saratoga National for golf and disc golf, which is the new activity added to this year’s camp. They also have stand-up paddle boarding, equestrian, ice skating in conjunction with the Saratoga Ice Stars program which is also an SLC service project, and bowling at Saratoga Strike Zone Bowling Center.
“We’re already thinking about what we’re going to do next year. Our gears are always rolling,” Mitrakos said excitedly.
On the last Wednesday of every month the planning committed have phone conferences throughout the entire year to plan for the upcoming camp.
“Every year we just get better and better!” Mitrakos said.
Saratoga Lions Club motto is, “A loss of sight, never a loss of vision.”
This camp proves that vision is key.
Blue Streaks Athletes College Bound: Saratoga Seniors Sign Letters of Intent at Special Ceremony
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A crowd of cheering friends and families filled the bleachers in the Saratoga Springs High School’s blue gym as 14 young athletes embraced their futures.
In a special ceremony held on April 12, the Saratoga Springs City School District honored 14 senior athletes as they signed their letters of intent to play inter-collegiate athletics at the universities of their choice in the fall. Athletic director Peter Sheehan addressed the attended crowd – which included other student athletes allowed to attend before their various practices and meets by their coaches – before the actual signings, thanking them for their attendance and congratulating the athletes on their achievements.
“We are so very proud of each and every one of you, and of the time and effort you’ve put in to make this day possible,” Sheehan said.
The athletes honored at the ceremony were, in the order they were seated at the table from left to right: Sarah Winters, who will play field hockey at Skidmore College; Francesca Mangino, who will play lacrosse at SUNY Brockport; Cameron Parry, who will play lacrosse at Quinnipiac University; Emily Fischer, who will play lacrosse at Clarkson University; Tucker Pierce, who will play lacrosse at Westminster College; Elizabeth Maguire, who will play soccer at Le Moyne College; Gabe Olsen, who will play soccer at Mount Ida College; Daniel Varsames, who will play soccer at Utica College; Michael Moran, who will also play soccer at Utica College; Autumn Boxley, who will swim at George Mason University; Victoria Breslin, who will swim at Le Moyne College; Morgan Hoffman-Smith, who will swim at Ithaca College; Nick Cavotta, who will run track and field at Winthrop University; and Mary “Mimi” Liebers, who will run track & field at the College of the Holy Cross. Griffin Taylor, who will play lacrosse at SUNY Oneonta, was not present at the ceremony due to attending a meet at his soon-to-be school, but he was mentioned by Sheehan and was present on the list of athletes at the ceremony.
“I just loved the campus as soon as I stepped on campus,” Parry said about her choice of Quinnipiac. “I knew that that was the place for me. The coaching staff was just really welcoming, and all the girls on the team were super welcoming, and I just really got a good feel for the team and for the… kind of program that I’d be going to.”
“I’m very excited,” Liebers said about attending Holy Cross in the fall. “I’ve always known I wanted to do college sports, and track has been my main sport for five years now. So getting to continue track in college is a dream come true… I wanted a D-1 program, but I particularly liked the Patriot League. And I just loved the school, and I knew I needed to see myself at the school without track, so it all just fell into place.”
“I was looking at schools in the south, and I found Winthrop, it has my major in business and a minor in sports marketing, which is just awesome for me,” Cavotta said about his choice of Winthrop. “It’s a beautiful school. It’s down south, lot of warm weather. Not a huge school, which I like, so I can get some more individual time with my professors. It just has everything I could look for in a college.”
“Super proud,” Cavotta’s mother said about her son’s achievement. “I like the school. Like he said, it’s a nice small school, homey, they focus on academics and education, and parent involvement.”
Notably, two of the athletes at the ceremony, Varsames and Moran, will be playing the same sport, soccer, at Utica. This is fitting, as they have been close friends for years.
“That’ll help a lot,” Varsames said about attending school with someone he is so familiar with. “We both know how each other plays. It’ll help team chemistry, obviously. We’re best friends, so it’ll be fun… [We’ve been playing together since we were] probably like around 10, 12 maybe.”
“I think we have an outstanding group of coaches, we have very supportive parents who allow our student athletes to have opportunities, both in-school and out-of-school, that kinda give them a chance to compete at the collegiate level,” Sheehan said about the SSCSD athletics program. “I think that’s important to have that year-round commitment and to have those year-round opportunities.”
All photos by Thomas Kika.