By Janee Law
Jason Mercurio, founder and coach at Mercurio Basketball Camp, said that running a successful camp is all about building relationships and engaging with the campers.
“I think it’s really important when the kids that come to the camp have a relationship with the people that work with the camp,” Mercurio, 40, of Greenlawn, said. “All of the campers that come to camp know all of the coaches that are there so it’s much more of a community type atmosphere.”
Mercurio, a fourth grade teacher at Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School in Greenlawn, and coach of the Cold Spring Harbor boys varsity basketball team, started up the camp in 2006 with only 13 campers.
Since then, the camp, which is held at St. Paraskevi Church on Shrine Place in Greenlawn, has grown in numbers. Three hundred campers enrolled in 2015 and 250 campers enrolled last year.
While older basketball campers develop their skills through high school varsity level training, younger campers are taught the basic fundamentals of basketball. The goal of the camp is to teach the kids leadership skills and being good people, Mercurio said.
“I feel like I have a big responsibility to the kids to teach them some life skills,” he added. “We’ve been able to mold really good basketball players but they’re much better people and I think that’s a huge part of what the camp is about.”
The camp also gives its campers assignments, through which campers are asked to write down a random act of kindness they did outside the camp.
Also off the court, the camp raises funds to donate to local charities and participates in charity work.
Boys and girls from third to 10th grade can join up. Once athletes age out of the program, they are given the opportunity to work as camp coaches for following years, Mercurio said.
“Every year, we take a five kids when they age out of the camp and then we give them jobs,” Mercurio said. “They train for a year and then they become coaches as well. That’s probably one of the best parts of the camp is that you get to see kids when they were campers and then they become coaches themselves.”
With four directors, the camp has 65 coaches on staff and each coach is assigned to a group of 10 campers.
“All the kids that work for me are really good basketball players but they’re also great people and they’re super enthusiastic,” Mercurio said.
The basketball camp runs for six weeks and offers three, two-week programs with 9 a.m.-12 noon and 12 noon-3 p.m. sessions throughout July and August. The first session runs from July 10-July 21; second from July 24-Aug. 4; and third Aug. 7-Aug. 18.
Campers also have the option to participate in full-day sessions or sign up for the unlimited membership, where campers can come and go as they please, Mercurio said.
“If you’re an unlimited member, you can come just for the mornings, or just for the afternoons,” Mercurio said. “Hammering out a summer schedule is really tough for parents so we started the unlimited memberships last year and a lot of people like that the best so that they don’t have to commit to dates and they can come and go as they please.”
Enrollment for this summer began in March and Mercurio said the camp already has 150 campers enrolled. With the two-week program running $500 and the six-week program running $1,000, campers can register early through May 1 at Mercbasketball.com. Regular registration, without multiple-session discounts, will continue through June.