summer, there are a lot of happy campers clustered around
Mary Beth Spirk, women’s basketball coach and assistant director
And not just those in Moravian’s basketball
camps for teenage players in June and July, but a couple of
hundred youngsters, ages 3 to 16, at the Bethlehem YMCA, where
Mary Beth is putting in 400 hours—yes, 400 hours—of service
as sports camp director.
All this makes for a breathless couple of
months for Mary Beth, who’s accustomed to down time in the
summer. Normally, that’s when she takes a break from the daytime
classes, afternoon practices, and evening games of the academic
year. But not this year.
Mary Beth is finishing a master’s degree in
sports administration at the U.S. Sports Academy in Daphne,
near Mobile, Alabama. She’s done all the coursework online
and will take her comprehensive exams this month. But before
she qualifies, she must put in 400 hours of what the curriculum
calls “mentorship”: hands-on work in the field.
“I had a lot of options,” says Mary Beth,
who has been an instructor at Moravian since 1987. “I could
have gone to New York and worked with the New York Liberty
[women’s basketball team]. But I’d been teaching racquetball
at the Y through Moravian, and I thought: ‘Why don’t I just
do it here? I already know everybody.’ ”
Randy Ballangee, executive director of the
Bethlehem Y, knew a good thing when he heard it. “It’s been
really good for us,” he said. “We’re having fun.”
In fact, it’s a coup for the Y to have a
college-level coach leading its summer sports staff, which
traditionally is composed of high school and college students.
For Mary Beth, whose first job after graduation
from Dickinson College, Carlisle, was at Wiley House in Schnecksville,
a forerunner of what is now KidsPeace, it was a return to
an age group she enjoys.
“With little kids, you have different
goals,” she says. “You try to keep them occupied,
you get them to play with each other, to channel all that
energy, to listen. You want everyone to leave with a smile
on their face. And you want them to achieve some kind of success
in every session, whether it’s learning to run in a
zig-zag, or play with a buddy, or just meet someone new.”
In the first two weeks of the Y’s summer
program, she worked with 30 children at its main facility
in Bethlehem and another 30 at the Fountain Hill branch. Ballangee
said the camps draw an average of 25 kids, starting with preschoolers,
in areas such as youth sports (for younger children), soccer,
In addition to the day camps, Mary Beth is
leading clinics at the Y in basketball and racquetball.
She also is teaching cardio-pulmonary resuscitation
(CPR) to the Y staff. “They were talking about the need
for someone certified in CPR at a staff meeting,” she
says. “And I didn’t know whether I should tell
them, but finally I said, ‘Um, I’m certified in
CPR.’ ” That was enough to get her some
more service hours.
The U.S. Sports Academy, which offers the
graduate program requiring such a heavy commitment to field
work, is a nonprofit agency founded 30 years ago, just after
the United States was trounced in the 1972 Summer Olympics
in Munich. The USSA web site explains the “inferior
performance” as the result of poor administration, lack
of medical support, and unscientific coaching and training—all
of which it was founded to address.
Mary Beth says its on-line or distance learning
program is perfect for coaches, whose lives are bounded by
sports seasons and summer camps. But because there are no
classes to attend, the program is thick with papers. She has
found the research a challenge and the writing time-consuming.
“I came to basketball practice one day,”
she says, “and I said to the team: ‘OK, I’m
not in a good mood. I have two 25-page papers to write, and
I procrastinated, and now I’ve got to finish them.’
” But she found no sympathy there.
“Coach, you’ve got to learn to
budget your time,” scolded the players, just as Mary
Beth had berated them when they moaned about the overload
of class assignments and term papers.
Now her schedule looks more like theirs. By
the time the summer is over, her camps will have seen a couple
of hundred children. This is in addition to the basketball
camps at Moravian and such administrative holdovers as the
search committee for a men’s lacrosse coach at the College.
On a typical day, she may find herself at the Y from 8:00
a.m. to noon, running to Moravian for a committee meeting
on her lunch hour and going back to the Y from 2:00 to 6:00
“Right now I’m excited, and my
energy’s high,” she says with a grin. “Check
in with me at the end of August, when my camps are over and
my comps are done.”
Beth Spirk, women's basketball coach, is putting
in 400 hours of community service as Bethlehem YMCA
summer sports camp director. It's a requirement
of her master's degree at US Sports Academy.
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