When Hayden Richner, a Mountain View alum from Nicholson first stepped onto the soccer fields as a thirteen year old camper in 2011, no one could have predicted how many years later that same athlete would still be on that same field.
Fast forward to 2019 and first team all-CSAC selection last fall Richner is still here, now as a coach.
“I went to this camp as a kid, and I go to Keystone now, so I am thrilled to be a part of it from the coaching side,” said Richner. “We have a little under 200 kids registered this year, and Coach Joe is extensively organized. The coaches come a few days early to set up- pump up balls, organize shirts and bags, set up goals- things like that.”
The senior midfielder began coaching as a Mountain View student, looking for National Honor Society volunteer hours. “It is great to be able to give back to the sport that I love, and I have seen a bunch of these kids grow,” said Richner.
That is because of the almost 200 future young athletes, camp director and Keystone College men’s head soccer coach Joe Schneck estimates 150 of them are returners.
“We are a youth soccer camp that is packed with soccer,” he explained. “We teach things in a soccer specific way, promoting a positive environment. We work on self esteem, team work, and leadership all while learning the game.”
“Our biggest advantage,” he concedes, “is that we hire the best coaches. They are passionate about soccer and care about the camp.”
Now in the fourth year under Schneck, kids have come as far as Dunmore, Eynon, Greenfield, Dickson City, Mountain Top, Archbald, Clark Summit, and Carbondale, as well as boasting a strong local presence from Tunkhannock, Lackawanna Trail, and Elk Lake school districts.
All coaches on Schneck’s experienced roster have either coached or played at the collegiate level, and most have continued to stay involved with the sport in some fashion.
Schneck explained, “Everyone on staff provides something different, but we still cover all the bases.”
In the first session of camp, the third day was billed as Wacky Wednesday. Richner explained that the first two days were average camp days, but once the players get acclimated to the groups, the silliness begins. After the shenanigans on Wednesday, Jersey Thursday and camp tee-shirt Friday rounded out the camp.
“We like to mix things up around here,” said the director. “The kids are having fun, they love the competitions, they love the scrimmages, and the full day campers love to eat in the cafeteria!”
“That is the best part, lunch at the cafeteria. Then I think it is the scrimmages,” echoed four-year camp veteran and Tunkhannock Area sixth grader Caden Newswanger.
Simply put, Schneck said that the camp offers a fun environment to learn soccer skills, and still have a silly camp-like experience.
The camp, which is offered in full and half day sessions, needed to be capped for the first week because of the popularity. The second camp, which is running now, had around 110 campers signed up before the weekend.
Parents were approaching Schneck with comments like, “My child is having so much fun this week, how can I sign up for the next session?”
Since the camp began, before Schneck came on board at Keystone, the philosophy has always been about providing a great service to the kids of the community.
“We have grown- no doubt. We have added groups, added another day, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the kids,” said Schneck.
He added, “The key is the players experience and the direct relationship with the coaches. We have a real good retention rate because we offer a positive learning environment where the kids can be kids, as well as learn -and enjoy- soccer.”
“Look at Coach Richner- started out as a camper, now a player here at Keystone and coaching at the camp. Hayden does a great job as a student of the game, the local success she had in high school as well as right here on this field, translates well to the younger kids. Hayden does a great job explaining and breaking down things in drills- is real passionate about the sport- and is just a great player. We are fortunate to have coach out here with us,” offered Schneck.
Though the camp tried to handle all requests for team placement, the groups were mainly broken down by age and ability.
Tunkhannock freshman Dylan Mateus is in his third year at the camp in LaPlume. Moving up from the junior high team to the high school team is a big jump, and he wants to be ready.
“I am learning new techniques at the camp,” said Mateus. “It is a good environment for soccer and socially. I made friends here from Montrose and Elk Lake that I talk to through the school year.”
“I like the camp because it gives me a chance to get better at soccer,” said Tunkhannock seventh grader Ethan Dominick, who is in his second year at the event. He is going from the Tunkhannock Youth Soccer Association to the junior high program this fall, and is eager to begin.
Elk Lake’s Aidan Mecca, a fifth grader, said he was excited just to play soccer and will definitely be back next year.
“Our kids ask every year if we are coming back,” said Brian Hiller, a Clarks Summit dad of two players. “We always say yes.”
“This camp offers my kids the chance to learn soccer in a fun environment, he continued. “But the best part of it, from a parent perspective, is how well the coaches relate and connect with the kids.”
Hiller enjoys the nice mix of younger and more experienced coaches, to offer his sons more opportunities to learn the sport.
“They both play for Abington Youth Soccer, and my oldest is on a travel team. So this is a great chance for them, in the middle of the summer, to sharpen their skills and get some exercise at the same time.”
Coach Richner summed up the whole camp by simply stating, “We are just here for soccer.”
And apparently, the secret is out.