For the past two weeks, middle and high school boys and girls have set off to the Top of the Podium Camp at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, NY. In the first week, 44 middle school boys, 10 middle school girls, and 48 high school girls went to camp. The second week saw 110 high school boys take over the mats and commit to learning more about wrestling and other helpful life skills.
Both sessions were jam-packed with fun, learning, and lots of wrestling, all staffed by BTS alumni. Each day the campers participated in three wrestling sessions, a life skills class, and recreation time.
The life skills classes included a seminar on the college and high school search and application process, led by BTS Director of Programming Ken Bigley. BTS Executive Director Brendan Buckley taught letter writing. A nutrition class was led by Oliver Lopez. Coach Randy Nathan of Project NextGen led Playing with Pride, an anti-bullying life skills class.
There was also a financial literacy course, led by Toby and Luisa of Santander Bank US -- Luisa being an alum and former TOP Camper herself! “This program gave a lot of great opportunities to grow on and off the mat,” said one camper. “It helped solidify what I knew. I learned how to apply to college and reach further in my education.”
Wrestlers Mark Awards were presented nightly to kids nominated by camp staff. These awards were designed to celebrate remarkable displays of character and emphasize the importance of good sportsmanship on and off the mat. Winners of the “Champion Caliber Character” award, for instance, were those who had demonstrated respect for others through their actions and words.
Executive Director Brendan Buckley may be new to Beat the Streets and has never been involved in a TOP Camp before, but he knew it was an interesting concept:
Now that I am into my second week of camp here with our kids from Beat the Streets, I can tell you that our Top Camp offers a unique opportunity to our kids. They are learning wrestling technique from coaches with strong wrestling backgrounds and also getting an experience that is far different from nearly any camp out there. We are teaching real life skills that are useful in their everyday life and those that are going to help them reach their true potential. This is not simply a tagline.
We have brought in professionals who are helping our kids learn about financial literacy, nutrition, college access from admissions to financial aid, letter writing skills, and goal setting. We have hired Beat the Streets alumni to teach and mentor our kids so they can share firsthand knowledge about the impact Beat the Streets and the sport of wrestling has had on their lives. Our kids will be better in many ways after they attend this camp.
“This camp experience did a good job making sure that we felt as if we belonged,” said Ibrahima Diallo (Brooklyn Tech). “The fact that there were many kids was not a problem at all. We were still able to connect with our group and get one-on-one help from our counselors or anyone we encountered.” Diallo also said it was fun being surrounded by so many interesting personalities.
Elijah Singh (Brooklyn Tech) said that while other sports may have their own camps, “I doubt any campers work as hard and have as much fun as we do.”
Terell Williams (Brooklyn Latin) commented on the rigorous training. “150 push-ups doesn’t hurt the body, it hurts the mind.”
“We are all wrestlers,” Joshua Wong (Brooklyn Tech) said, “we have separate teams, states, and countries, but we all have pride for the same sport.”
Tyson, a BTS alum from Brooklyn, complimented the general program. “It surrounds you with coaches who care about you and who want you to succeed, not only on the mat but also off the mat. It instills a mindset that you’re not alone in the community and you should try to help others.” This is why he has kept coming back to help other kids after he graduated from high school. Just like his previous coaches helped give him a chance, Tyson wants to share that opportunity with other student-athletes.
Deuly Espinal, another alum helping during the high school boys session, was glad to pass the opportunity on, as well. “I’m here giving back to an organization that gave me so much, helping these young men shape their wrestling and their lifestyle to become better people.” Espinal is now wrestling at SUNY Cortland and “trying to become the best I can be.”
Barry Hart, another alum, wrestled for eight years and is still coming back to help other kids at the TOP Camp. “Beat the Streets helped a lot...we had a lot of opportunities and we want to give back to the children.”
Christian Gregory, a student-athlete, talked about how he learned a lot of moves and had fun meeting new people. “I learned a lot about what it means to be a wrestler...it was a great experience for me.”
Maurice from Unity Prep said that he learned a lot about technique and more. “Beat the Streets helped me with life skills and taught me to be thankful for what I have.”
They also enjoyed learning about financial literacy and nutrition, two of the educational courses offered to all of the campers. The a “Healthy Bodega” class allowed students to learn about and sample foods that are likely available in their local neighborhood bodega, but are healthier than traditional bodega fair – for example, baked chips instead of fried chips, and trail mix and granola bars rather than candy. This class was in part sponsored by GoMacro, which donated some of their healthy snacks to the campers.
“We learned about how to eat healthy and respect others,” said one camper. “It made me more mature...it’s going to make me a better wrestler overall.”
“The life skills were good...I can apply it to real life because one of the courses was nutrition,” said another camper.
“What we learned in life skills was really important for me because I knew how to write notes but not how to address it right on the envelopes,” said one camper, referring to the letter writing class that was held for the first time at TOP this year.
BTS coach Penn Gottfried admired the kids’ hard work and resolve. “We’re doing awesome work. We’re helping the kids and their programs, and that’s making the kids’ lives better on and off the mat.” Many campers enjoyed improving on the techniques they’d learned in previous BTS practices. They were left feeling energized and inspired to take a city championship and fight their way to state tournaments.
Coming up next, Gottfried says, is an exciting rest of the summer. “We have the Big Apple Games in four out of five boroughs...we have them all over, a lot of wrestling you can do. We also have Fargo coming up later in July.”
You can also check our archives for our article about last year’s TOP Camp.