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Going camping: Children enjoy learning football skills
Bulloch Academy's FUNdamental football camp attracts nearly 50 participants
Bulloch Academy football head coach Ronnie Hodges keeps a watchful eye over children during the FUNdamental football camp Thursday at Gator Alley. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Summer camp doesn’t open for Bulloch Academy’s varsity football squad for more than a month, but Gator Alley has been full of excitement throughout the week.
    Boasting close to 50 participants, this year’s FUNdamental football camp has brought together another big group of children who are getting plenty of summer fun while learning the basics of football.
    Bulloch Academy football head coach Ronnie Hodges is heading up the effort as rising second- through fifth-graders from around the area — students from all schools are welcomed — have been hard at work, but also hard at play, since Monday.
    “This is always a great program and I’m excited to do this each year,” Hodges said. “It’s a great way to reach out to the younger kids and provide a fun and educational environment.”
    The camp teaches football basics such as passing, catching and throwing, but the main goal is for all participants to be active and have a good time. For every passing or running drill, there are also plenty of games, such as Wednesday’s tug-of-war which saw a small army of fourth- and fifth-graders take down a team of camp instructors.
    “It can be a challenge early in the week,” Hodges said of trying to get everyone organized. “But things always come together after a day or two. Once everyone gets organized, we start having a lot of fun. I guess this is good practice for when we have to get the varsity team going in the fall.”
    Usually on the other side of the whistle, Bulloch Academy high school players also have their part in the camp. Ranging from freshmen to seniors, 10 Gators have helped to run drills and coach teams of campers while BA junior-varsity players have helped to set up the fields each day.
    Many of those coaches and helpers are nearing the end of their playing days, but thanks to Bulloch’s elementary football program, many of this year’s campers are just beginning their careers.
    Lynes McKinney and Carter Snipes, both 10, are rising fifth-graders who are four-year veterans of the FUNdamental football camp and elementary players.
    “I’ve been coming to this camp since the first time I was old enough,” Snipes said. “It’s something I look forward to every summer.”
    “It’s cool having the (varsity) players coach us,” McKinney said. “I hope I can coach this one day when I’m older.”
    Football may be limited to boys in most places, but Bulloch’s FUNdamental camp welcomes all. Regan Hillis, 10, is the only girl in camp this year but she has fit right in with her fellow campers. Hillis routinely hauled in passes during receiving drills and was right at the front of the rope, coaching her team on during the tug-of-war.
    “I like competing against the boys,” Hillis said. “It’s mostly just a lot of fun. We get to throw and kick the ball, but we also get to play a lot of other games.”
    By far, the highlight of the FUNdamental camp for most of the children is Gator Ball. At the beginning of the week, the campers were split into teams which compete against each other in a modified game of two-hand-touch. There are no set plays or positions, but the constant action keeps the children involved while allowing all of them to put the skills they have learned all week to good use.
    “With Gator Ball, everyone has a chance to throw and run with the ball,” Hodges said. “We aren’t focused on the execution of plays or who can throw the ball the hardest or farthest. We just want all of these kids to learn skills like accuracy and to have fun while doing it.”
    The FUNdamental camp concludes at 11 a.m. today with another round of Gator Ball. The top-performing teams throughout the week will play in the Gator Bowl, with other teams holding their own games. All parents and football fans are invited to attend.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.