seal  Purdue News

June 19, 2003

Purdue camp takes swing at improving children's health

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University youth summer camp, rated best in the nation last year for its emphasis on health and fitness, returns for its second year beginning today (Thursday, 6/19).

counselor Lamar Crane
Download photo - caption below

More than 250 local children, ages 10-16, will spend five weeks this summer learning how to stay in shape, eat right and make positive life choices during Purdue's National Youth Sports Program. The camp, which allows students to participate in sports and swimming at Purdue's fitness facilities, is free for campers who were referred by their schools in Tippecanoe or White counties.

"This country is seeing a greater incidence in childhood diabetes, and we know the growing rate of childhood obesity is part of the problem," says William Harper, professor of health and kinesiology and the program's activity director. "We can be part of the solution. We will introduce kids to new sports, teach them nutrition tips and even enhance their self-esteem, which will result in them making healthier choices."

The camp, which is conducted by the Department of Health and Kinesiology, runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The camp continues weekdays until July 25. In addition to tennis, swimming and other sport lessons, the campers also participate in health and career classes. They are divided into teams and rotate through different physical activities led by two dozen Purdue student leaders.

"We also will be hustling the kids more this summer," Harper says. "Last year, the fitness stations the campers visited were about 50 feet apart. This summer, the stations are drastically spread apart, which will force the kids to do more walking. Every step makes a difference."

The program's goal is to have the same children attend every year so camp coordinators can observe how students incorporate physical fitness, nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices into their lives. About 40 percent of last year's campers are returning for this program. Because there were so many older children last year who are now too old to attend, Harper says he expects to see at least 50 percent of this year's campers retained next year.

"These children are not required to be here every day or from one year to the next, so we have to find ways to make the campers want to return," Harper says. "One of the greatest changes at this summer's camp is the increased opportunities for swimming at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center. We learned last year that swimming was a favorite for all of the children, even those who were petrified of the water at first. They learned about water safety and our staff helped campers feel comfortable in the water."

Starting this year, a dentist will visit camp to provide dental cleanings. Again this summer, representatives from the Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences will conduct hearing screenings, and dietitians also will be on staff to talk about nutrition needs. The Purdue Health Center also provided medical exams for all campers.

"All of us, including youngsters, can make better food choices," says Steve McKenzie, nutrition coordinator for the program and continuing lecturer in foods and nutrition and health and kinesiology. "At camp, students will be given appropriate portion sizes and healthy drinks, such as milk, juice and water, not pop."

The camp costs more than $200,000 to run. The federal program contributes $60,000, and the local community, including Purdue and the health and kinesiology department, fund the remainder.

Purdue students serve as team leaders and join the staff in teaching about careers, nutrition, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as fair play, teamwork, honesty, competition and confidence. Some of the Purdue team leaders also serve as translators.

"A highlight for many of these campers is the daily contact these children have with excellent role models who teach them about playing fair and being good sports," says Tom Templin, program administrator and department head of health and kinesiology. "The positive experience these students have on campus during camp helps them learn what college is about and will hopefully inspire them to seek higher education and even attend Purdue University."

The National Youth Sports Program started 34 years ago and now operates at more than 200 colleges and universities, including the University of Indianapolis, Notre Dame and Indiana University. More than 1.8 million children have participated in the program.

"This may only be Purdue's second year, but we are on our way to becoming a leading National Youth Sports Program," Harper says. "Because of this great support from other departments in the School of Liberal Arts, the community and campus, as well as Division of Recreational Sports, the Residence Halls and Intercollegiate Athletics, we are able to offer such a successful camp."

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: William Harper, (765) 494-1518,

Tom Templin, (765) 494-3178,


Related Web sites:
National Youth Sports Program


National Youth Sports Program counselor Lamar Crane, from Chicago, Ill., helps one of his campers float during swimming lessons at the Boilermaker Aquatic Center on Purdue University's West Lafayette campus last summer. More than 200 children attended the program at Purdue last year. The program includes recreational activities, and counselors and staff stress a theme of social responsibility. The participants also will take part in health classes, including drug and alcohol education, and discussions about self-esteem, family relationships and friendship. (Purdue News Service file photo/David Umberger.)

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