News & Politics

Learning From the Pros

At these summer camps, kids can meet their sports heroes, get help from high-level coaches, and step onto the big-league field, court, or rink.

The Capitals Academy camp aims to build passion for hockey in a fun environment. Photograph by Matt Mendelsohn.

Ask 14-year-old Jay Seline of Alexandria what he wants to be when he grows up and he’ll say he hopes to have a job in sports marketing—not an uncommon dream for a basketball-obsessed teen. But ask where and when he decided on this career path and he’ll give an unusual answer: standing at center court in the Verizon Center one day during summer camp.

Summer programs organized by pro sports teams are relatively new. They give kids the chance to hone their skills and also meet key members of a professional organization. Often, current or former players make appearances at the camps to run drills, sign autographs, and give talks about themselves and their sport.

As a veteran of the Washington Wizards and Mystics camp, Jay Seline has learned how to box out a defender when his teammate is shooting a free throw and how to orchestrate offensive plays and improve on fundamentals such as ball-handling. He’s met Atlanta Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich (on Jay’s birthday, no less), Wizards forward and captain Andray Blatche, and a handful of Mystics players. Along the way, he’s made lasting connections with his camp coaches and friends.

“Not only did this camp give Jay the chance to learn more about basketball and play a game he loves, but he got to practice on the same court as the guys who are his heroes on the Wizards,” says Jay’s mother, Eleanor Seline. “You can’t get that opportunity from any other camp.”

And in addition to having a lot of fun, Jay has learned about sports careers off the court. “Even at 14, he’s had the chance to learn the operational side of the Wizards and the Verizon Center,” says his father, Richard Seline. “It has opened doors to his desired career in sports marketing and inspired him to be passionate about the business of sports. That’s invaluable.”

The experience has meant so much to Jay that he donated a portion of his bar mitzvah gift money to the Wizards charity, Wizards Care, as a way to give back to the organization.

Here are five area camps hosted by professional teams or players.

Brian Orakpo Camp


Hosted and headlined by Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo, this four-day coed football camp at George Mason University accepts kids of all skill and experience levels from ages 7 to 18. The camp aims to teach not only football skills but also lessons in discipline and how to build relationships through sports.

Founded in 1983, the camp was originally headlined by Art Monk, was passed on to Brian Mitchell in 2008, and was taken over by Orakpo in 2011. He invites current and former teammates as well as Redskins special-teams coach Danny Smith to join in the training and speak at the camp.

In its 29 years, the camp has graduated more than 88,000 athletes. Players such as Byron Leftwich (quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers) and Domonique Foxworth (defensive back for the Baltimore Ravens) attended this camp. The top performers from the 15-to-18 age group may be selected by coaches for the Gridiron Elite, and a detailed information packet is sent to more than 2,000 college coaches to aid their recruitment efforts.

Campers can choose between an overnight option ($770) or a day camp ($680).

Capitals Academy


The goal at Kettler Capitals Iceplex—the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington—is to build passion for hockey and teach the fundamentals of the sport in a fun atmosphere. Eight five-day camps are each geared toward different age groups, from 4 to 14.

Campers practice drills and learn techniques, focusing on a different aspect of the game each day, and they get an assessment of their performance at the end of camp. Instructors include Capitals Academy staff, current and former collegiate players and coaches, and former Caps player Paul Mulvey. The camper-to-instructor ratio is 6 to 1.

“The coaches are really cool, and they help you with your shot and technique,” says ten-year-old Quinn Calderone of Bethesda. “I learned that you don’t always want to shoot high on the goal. Sometimes shooting low is better.”

Though the camps are not intended for first-time skaters, all levels of hockey skill are welcome. Prices range from $250 to $550 for the week.

DC United Camp


At this camp, high-level soccer players trying to pursue a professional dream and younger campers who just want to have fun playing soccer can learn from DC United Academy coaches and staff as well as former player Jaime Moreno.

Boys and girls ages 5 to 17 can get a glimpse of what it takes to be a DC United player and have a chance to be scouted for the academy teams in DC United’s elite youth program. The majority of academy players as well as four DC United players have come through the summer camp program.

The camp uses the same warmups and drills as the DC United professional program. Participants are divided into age groups and are guaranteed to meet at least one DC United player.

Camps are held at RFK Stadium ($350 for a week, $650 for two weeks) as well as locations in Virginia and Maryland ($295 for a week, $195 for one week of half days).

Lil Ravens Cheerleading Camp


August 6 through 10, campers ages 6 to 14 can learn from Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders the fundamentals of cheerleading and the role it plays in NFL entertainment. The camp is coed and open to kids of all skill levels. The first 100 campers have the option to buy a game-day ticket package, which allows them to perform at halftime during a Ravens preseason game. The camp is held at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium from 9 to 3:30, with extended care available from 3:30 to 5. Prices for 2012 camps haven’t been set but will likely range from $250 to $350.

Washington Wizards and Mystics Camps


Geared toward campers who have only a few years of basketball experience but are aiming to improve on basic skills, this camp welcomes kids ages 5 to 15 of all ability levels. The staff of college players and coaches teach fundamentals such as ball-handling, passing, defense, shooting, and rebounding.

“My form wasn’t great before camp,” says 13-year-old Angelica Jacobs of Charlotte Hall, Maryland, “but one of my coaches showed me how to move my arms when shooting a jump shot, and when I went back to AAU, my coaches asked me where I learned to shoot so well.”

Campers are guaranteed to meet at least one member of the Mystics or Wizards team.

The coed weeklong programs range from $325 to $375. Young campers (ages five through seven) participate in the half-day program from 9 to noon, and all other sessions last from 9 to 4. Camps are offered at several locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.