NYSP at UNT
Away With Me
an hour I rarely see on a summer Saturday morning, on the first
day of last June, I woke with butterflies in my stomach. Excited
about spending my day outside, meeting new people, playing sports.
Then, when I arrived at the practice field where the other campers
were checking in and lining up, the butterflies turned to stone.
My stomach sank. And the old feelings from childhood of not knowing
anyone and not fitting in came rushing back.
After all, I really didn't fit in. I was 29, large and different
in every way compared to the 100 or so kids lining up around me.
I stood anxiously in the line of 14-year-olds, saying hello to everyone
who was there before me, smiling, hoping someone would say something
back. They didn't. They were too busy wondering why I was in
line with them and not at the front with the other adults. I was
beginning to wonder the same thing.
But before I could back out, the drill sergeant — or coach — ordered
us to spread arms-length apart across the field to stretch and do
jumping jacks, before he ordered us to lap the field four times — "quickly!"
As the air escaped my lungs at a rate faster than I could replace
it, I felt certain my adventure would end in humiliation.
It was a certainty I lived with for five weeks as I attended the
2002 National Youth Sports Program at UNT.
an intensive program that uses group sports
as a way to teach socialization skills and build self-esteem.
Sponsored nationwide by grants from the federal government, the day camp also
includes a class curriculum that focuses on math and science, nutrition, substance
abuse, higher education and job responsibilities, anger management, conflict
resolution and personal health.
It's one of dozens of camps held on campus during the summer.
I enrolled as a camper to learn more about what UNT looks like
to the thousands of youths who participate in activities here during
their summer breaks.
Since football was the first sport my group practiced, I learned
that UNT looks surprisingly like an oblong, brown leather ball — one
hit me in the head while I was busy trying to observe my fellow
"Ooh … that had to hurt," "Good catch — try
using your hands next time" and "Way to go, old lady" came
the muted chatter from the kids waiting for their turn to run the
offensive pattern we were practicing.
picking my glasses up off the ground, I changed reporting tactics
and threw myself into the camp purely
as a camper no different from the others.
It paid off.
When we rotated to softball and my first glorious swing returned
a strike, "Watch the ball," "Concentrate" and "You'll
get it" were the words being shouted in encouragement. When
my next swing connected for a double, rounding first and running
toward second never felt so good — not even when I was 8
years old and playing in little league.
And in basketball, when I managed to steal the ball and charge
for the hoop (failing to score), everyone cheered.
Off the field we worked together to learn computer skills, like
how to put together PowerPoint presentations, and discussed career
Since it was a sports camp — and these kids were talented
members of their schools' sports teams — most of them
wanted to be professional athletes.
The teachers did a good job balancing the reality of keeping your
dream alive and the importance of having
a "Plan B."
There was also a lot of encouragement for the budding artists,
business leaders and writers.
we learned in our classes made its way into discussions on the
So after five weeks, what started as good-humored ribbing became
references to our reality. "All right, superstar," "Way
to go, ace," and "Fantastic" weren't just
phrases we shouted to encourage each other — they were how
we felt about each other and ourselves all the time.
And when it came time to say good-bye, what I learned about UNT
in the summer is very similar to what I learned here as a college
student — it's here to provide opportunity for growth,
but the growth comes from you.
And, I really do enjoy sleeping in on Saturday mornings.
1998, about 300 children ages 10-16 from throughout the
North Texas area have participated each year in NYSP,
which is run at UNT by the School of Community Service's
Department of Anthropology. The campers, who are often
from low- and moderate-income families, come to UNT five
days a week for five weeks to participate in the free
program. They play a variety of group sports and take
math, science, nutrition and health classes to build
socialization skills and self esteem. They are also introduced
to the opportunities a college education can offer.
For more information about NYSP, please call one of the
program's administrators, Tyson Gibbs or Laura
Washington, at (940) 369-7875.