The Big River Cross Country Camp returns to this week in suburban St. Louis.
Kyle Deeken, camp director, noted the camp will look a little bit different this year but will host the camp after having to cancel last year's due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is definitely a fun time and I was upset we didn't have it last year," he said.
The camp will run from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Friday.
In past years, the campers stay and are fed lunch, but that won't happen this year - that is one of the changes amid the current pandemic. Another is the usual pool part on Friday at the end of camp has been nixed with safety in mind.
"There are things we weren't able to do but we do have a chance for kids to come out and learn from me and all the counselors," Deeken said.
There have been about 40 runners signed up for the camp and that number may rise at the start of the camp, which will meet at Christ, Prince of Peace Church in Manchester.
Most of the running work will be done across the street at Queeny Park, though the church will be utilized for bonding and team activities.
Deeken, who is the new head cross country coach at Wentzville North Point that opens this school year, noted the campers will do different types of runs through Queeny Park, from running on a scavenger hunt to trail runs.
There is also a large hill called 'Dog Museum Hill' the runners will tackle, but also running on flat grassland to work on tempo running.
"After running we do water balloon tosses, egg tosses, red light green light," said Deeken, who worked at Ft. Zumwalt East this past school year as cross country coach and assistant boys track and field coach. "We try to do fun stuff to mix it up and do different stuff."
Deeken will oversee the camp and this will be his sixth year working the camp, which has been around for more than a decade. He will be assisted by a handful of camp counselors who will help share running tips and do drills they have done in high school and at college.
The group includes Blake Selm (Parkway West/Purdue), Andrew Lofgren (Parkway West/Missouri S&T), Cameron Sakuma (Ft. Zumwalt West/Webster); Bella Racette (Nerinx Hall/Emory) and Emma Harrelson (Webster Groves/Truman State).
A lot of the campers that pre-registers are part of the St. Louis Blazers Running Club, part of a big influx of middle-schooler runners planning on attending.
The camp has seen as many as 80 runners some years but the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the numbers. Another aspect is some area high schools hold 'team camps' this week, which makes it hard for a runner having to pick between the two.
The camp will feature Brad Ahrens from Windsor (Imperial), who was an all-state runner in cross country and track and field this past season.
"We will have sixth graders that come in and learn from a senior (like Ahrens), it is always nice," Deeken said. "We have big names that have been here and it is interesting to go through high school and college, especially when they came in as a sixth grader and six years later, you are saying, 'oh my gosh, this kid is a stud.' It is good to have a camp and get out and learn, grow and have fun."