Soccer has been ingrained into the fabric of the community in the Golden Isles.
Frederica Academy is doing its part to keep the tradition alive this week in hosting its annual youth soccer camp.
The four-day camp began Monday and acts as an arena in which rising first- through eighth-graders can learn and develop new skills and a love for the game.
Christy Bumgarner is the coach of the Knights’ middle school soccer team and an assistant for the girls’ varsity team, and she led Tuesday’s instruction. A St. Simons native herself, Bumgarner is quite familiar with the significance the camp experience plays in the area’s love for the sport.
“I grew up here and I played growing up,” Bumgarner said. “We had a lot of camps going on in the summer here, and I came to all the camps that were here. I came to any camp locally.
“We just really had a lot of great, influential people coming up through the 80s and the 90s that sewed soccer, soccer, soccer, and got kids coming to these camps at a young age. When they get hooked on soccer at a camp, they want to play club soccer, and that’s where they develop as players.”
In the past, it was the Jeff Seymour’s and Morgan Brian’s that inspired a generation of soccer players in Glynn County.
On Tuesday, five members of Frederica Academy varsity girls team — Tatum Miller, Cate Seymour, Belle Slapikas, Erica Daley, and Katelyn Todd — joined Bumgarner in an effort to put their imprint on the camp and contribute to the local soccer culture.
“They want to be out here, they approached me and said, ‘Can I come to camp?’” Bumgarner said of the volunteer coaches. “They love coming out here and working with these kids.”
Taking advantage of the respect and admiration the younger campers have for the varsity players, Bumgarner used the camp assistants for demonstrations for different drills and activities.
Many of the campers know the players from around school, or from attending the Knights’ games, and the familiarity helps in developing trust in the lesson plan.
“Not all these kids go to Frederica, but a lot of them do, and a lot of them come to our games and they’re ball girls or ball boys,” Bumgarner said. “They come and they watch them, and since Frederica is such a small school too, they walk around campus and they see some of them and they say, ‘Hey, coach so-and-so.’
“It creates such a great atmosphere that these kids feel really comfortable around these older girls.”
Like a lot of the players on the team, Miller went to similar camps when she was the age of the campers, and when her younger sister asked if she would join her at Frederica, she felt obligated to pay her experience forward.
“She wanted to do it and she was like, ‘Are you going to coach?’” Miller said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I should.’ It’s good to teach kids and see them.
“They really look up to us, honestly, and it’s really good to see them actually learn and actually get it. I know it’s frustrating at first, a lot of them get frustrated, but at the end, they usually get it and it’s actually really cool to see.”
Of course, keeping a group of elementary and middle schoolers engaged and focused on the task at hand is easier said than done. It requires an agenda that has campers constantly moving and playing games in addition to recurring water breaks to combat the humid coastal summer.
Wrangling a group of energetic tykes for a few days and teaching them the finer parts of the game has given the Knights’ varsity players a newfound respect for the work of Bumgarner and head coach Gabe Gabriel.
“Yes,” Miller said with a laugh. “It takes a lot to control a bunch of teenage girls like us during the season.
“But they’ve done an awesome job, especially with us going to the Final Four two years in a row. It’s been an awesome experience.”