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Sports camp participants gain experience but risk burnout
By Marie Wilson | Daily Herald Staff

Emily Okmin of Lincolnshire, an incoming freshman at Stevenson High School, returns a shot during a volleyball clinic at the Sports Academy in Buffalo Grove.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Coach Roy Velazquez serves up some balls during a volleyball clinic at the Sports Academy in Buffalo Grove.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Kendall Shoaf of Palatine, an incoming freshman at Fremd High School, returns a shot during a volleyball clinic at the Sports Academy in Buffalo Grove.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

High school students work on a drill during a volleyball clinic at the Sports Academy in Buffalo Grove.


Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/6/2009 11:28 AM

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On her third day of summer, Catherine Ernst grabbed an entire box of granola bars and left for volleyball camp. The granola bars would serve as breakfast and lunch during a day packed with at least five hours of volleyball, basketball and possibly golf.

Ernst, an incoming freshman at Fremd High School, is one of many young athletes who participate in multiple summer sports camps, creating an almost year-round season and causing some to wonder how much athletic involvement is too much.

While some say those who continue their seasons throughout summer risk overuse injuries, burnout and a lack of down time, high school athletic directors insist camps have done nothing but grow over time, and many athletes want to participate.

Some, like Christine Rovani, an incoming junior at Hersey High School, find the hours they spend in camps, clinics and summer leagues worthwhile because of a simple love for their sports.

"It's a lot of fun," Rovani said. "I love to swim and I love to play water polo, so it's worth my time."

Others, such as Ernst and her friends Jackie Zara and Ellen Ormerod, also incoming freshmen at Fremd, join camps to maintain or improve their skills.

"During the summer, these kids' schedules are pretty packed," said Kimberly Wallner, assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at West Chicago High School. "But you feel like you're missing out or you're not going to keep up with what other high school athletes or other coaches are doing (if you don't offer a camp)."

Athletes also feel they are missing an opportunity to improve their chances of making a team if they choose not to attend a camp.

"Because those could be your coaches in the future," Zara said.

This creates an added layer of pressure for student-athletes, said Cindy Brignola, of The Sports Academy Northwest in Buffalo Grove.

"There's an unwritten rule that you do the high school camp because it's a good thing to do for good visibility," Brignola said.

While Ernst and Rovani play more than one sport, many high school athletes choose to specialize - finding time to play on travel teams, go to elite overnight camps and work with personal trainers - all toward the goal of excellence in one activity.

"Probably the most obvious risk for participating in a single sport year-round is overuse injuries," said Dr. Eric Hoeper, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Advocate Medical Group in Arlington Heights.

Brignola's son Anthony, an incoming senior at Barrington High School, is a one-sport athlete focusing on baseball. He is playing in showcase tournaments across the country this summer, but his parents make sure he takes time off.

"More and more kids are doing only one sport," said Marc Brignola, Anthony's father and managing director of The Sports Academy. "And if that's the case, there has to be some down time."

Teens participating in one sport year-round also risk burnout, Hoeper said.

"Parents drive kids to participate in sports at a young age and they don't necessarily see that," Hoeper said. "You look at professional athletes, and they're getting more time off than some high school athletes."

The Illinois High School Association limits each coach to 25 days of contact with players during the summer - effectively capping camp durations at 25 days per team. "The purpose of the contact days is to limit some of the summer contact and let kids have the time to be kids and have jobs and do things they have to do and not be year-round athletes," said Matt Troha, IHSA spokesman.

But for athletes involved in more than one sport, those contact days add up to a large summer time commitment.

"Probably (I'm busier) in the summer just because all the camps are conjoined together," Ernst said.

Athletic directors say they are not trying to overload athletes' schedules, just offering options for those who want to improve their skills.

"You need to be able to schedule your time," said Briant Kelly, Libertyville High School's athletic director. "More than anything, I still think they need the opportunity just to be teens."

And schools say they would not continue to offer sports camps if they were not popular with their communities.

"Is there potential for a downside? Yeah," said Rob Lindgren, outgoing boys athletic director at Hersey High School. "But there's a whole lot more potential for upside or else people wouldn't be participating."