Little champs thrive at camp

HARLINGEN — They all seemed to be going gaga over the game.

Maybe that’s why it was called “gaga ball,” because the kids at this year’s Champs Camp kept talking about it.

“It’s like soccer but you have to get the balls by hitting them with your feet or your hands,” said Sophie Yzaguirre, 9.

Sophie is one of about 100 kids this week participating in the annual camp organized by the First Baptist Church of Harlingen. The church holds the camp each year to give local kids something to do during Spring Break, said Pastor Wade Hood.

While many kids are headed to the beach or out of town, local kids have Champs Camp filled with arts and crafts, Bible study, sports and classes in sewing, cooking and dance.

“There’s some learning of places in different nations so the kids learn about cultures,” Hood said. “A craft, I just saw the kids making a little jewelry box for their mothers or grandmothers. It’s just a good opportunity for the kids to find a way to serve somebody else.”

The kids ranged from first through fifth grade. Older kids and adults served as crew leaders of five kids each.

Lily Alaniz, 13, seemed to be having a blast.

“We walk the kids everywhere and through all the breaks we get to talk to them about what they just heard,” said Lily, a crew leader who was working with first and second graders.

“The craft and the snack time are opportunities to talk about what they just heard, the Bible story, and see how it’s impacting them,” Lily said. “They hear the story and I just have to reinforce it, because sometimes they’ll get the wrong detail and they’ll think it’s something else. Basically they have a lot of good questions.”

When parents signed their kids up for the camp, they could get two electives in the afternoon. Andres Rivas, 10, picked gym and Legos.

“The first day at gym elective was gaga ball,” he said. “That same day at sports we did basketball at the Boys and Girls Club, and yesterday we went to Palm Valley Gymnastics. We did beginner gymnastics.”

He’s also enjoyed Lego time.

“In Legos me and my friend are building an island,” he said. “Some of the other things are crafts, Bible study, and today’s is when Jesus rose again.”

J.P. Garza has worked with the camp for three years.

“I just get to see all these kids grow up,” said J.P., 16, a crew leader.

“I see some of the kids I had in third grade and they’re fifth graders now, and I see how much they’ve grown and how God worked through them,” he said. “They love learning new things about God and the way He works. It’s a great thing to see.”

Hood said the church created the event 20 years ago as a sports camp.

“We set it up for an opportunity for parents who have kids in school and don’t have anyplace for the kids to go during spring break,” he said. “They needed somebody to keep them.”

These days the camp has moved away from being strictly sports related to something much more.

“It’s just a camp so that a lot of kids that aren’t necessarily into sports feel like they’ve got some place to go,” he said. “We still partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs and Palm Valley Gymnastics.”

The camp began Monday and concludes today.