I read a really heartwarming piece in today’s Irish Times, by Damien Cullen, about the little things that make the GAA so special. **
It reminded me of one extra GAA thing that (as a parent of under 12s) I also love. Namely the massive feat of organisation, co-ordination and enjoyment that is……Cúl Camps.
A week of training, fun and games, at your local club, with full kit and fine school bag (hey thanks!) - sorry, gear bag – thrown in. For half the price of most summer camps. Open to members and non, locals or not, age 6 to 12.
As the advertisement says ‘ Over 1, 000 camps in 32 counties’ this summer. Think about that number….
‘Ah sure they have the club structure and a sponsor’, would be an easy, throwaway comment to make. Now I am guesstimating here, but it also means;
An average 100 children per camp equals 100, 000 kids. And 100,000 kits. And 100,000 medals. Ordered, supplied and distributed around the 4 corners of Ireland. Our local club, Newport, wouldn’t turn a child away last year and even ran out of kits. They ended up with over 200 under 12s, all raring to go. My young lad actually didn’t get his kit shorts ’til the Tuesday, and shorts on the Thursday (not that he cared, flying about in his previous year’s gear). But get them he did. I heard of trips made to clubs in Carlow and Kilkenny to fetch up extra kit. And not one child went short. (A tale of dedication no doubt replicated in clubs everywhere).
At an average of 5 to 10 mentors/trainers per camp also, that’s 10,000 volunteers. Who have their own jobs/families/summer holidays to attend to. But they’ll all be there. And just like last year, if extra children turn up, then extra mentors will be sourced also.
Then there’s inter-county player visits to organise, a myriad of mini matches to play, and probably and a bottle of orange and crisps for everyone when it’s all over.
It’s all such a joy to observe. The smallies dragging their hurleys behind them like ball n’chains, all swarming round the moving football like bees, or stopping for little chats in the middle of a match. And they’re all having fun and getting exercise and fresh air.
But make no mistake about it. These Cúl Camps, for the GAA’s youngest – and largest – membership are about so much more. They are learning about being on a team, about respect and commitment. They are forging friendships that, through the GAA, may well last a lifetime. It is the invaluable groundwork for a future that can hopefully involve sport. I see it as investment in their teenage years, and beyond.
Because I see the teenagers as I drive up to our club of an evening. Sitting in groups on walls, hanging around outside the chipper, walking up and down the quiet village streets. Then I turn in the gates of the GAA club and see more teenagers – pucking a ball with any age kid that will puck one back, putting out water bottles and flags for the imminent match, or just hanging out with the girls from the camogie club.
I know, when the time comes, where I’ll want my teenage children to be.
So, whether it’s tearing yourself away from the fire to drive them to training, cheering them from the sidelines, drenched, or making more buns for the afters, it’s all an investment. And a very small one to make, compared to the massive investment of time, commitment and enthusiasm shown by the thousands of GAA volunteers in this little country, every week of the year.
So, GAA and Cúl Camps, I salute you. (Via extreme bad planning we will very sadly miss this year’s local camp. Not a mistake we will be repeating). See you next year.