"They love it, he says. "And I look forward to this week every summer. I have family that comes back and coaches, and our house is full of coaches. We enjoy it and it's a tradition that we've grown to love. Now my daughters are old enough to go to the half day camp, so it's adding another special element to it."
The camp is aimed at all kids. The camp typically attracts around 150 kids from Kindergarten through 10th grade every summer. Heck says that the main purpose is to have fun while learning the fundamentals of soccer.
"It's not an elite camp. It's not premier players. But certainly there are players who come that are good -- and they get better," he says. "It suits the purpose of having fun and being part of a camp. It suits the purpose of getting kids ready for the next step in the fall within the soccer world. And it also suits the purpose of getting the kids to understand a foundation we strongly believe in. This is a huge way to support the Lansing Recreation Program and its a huge part of our soccer program."
The coaching staff is drawn from college and high school coaches and players. Current varsity players become coaches, and get to see the game from a new perspective that Heck says gives them new respect and insight into the coaching they receive as players. Adult professional coaches are also part of the mix, with guest speakers featured each day as well as instruction and practical exercises and games.
"Alumni come back to coach, current college players like Sean Streb who is going to go to Cortland State. He'll coach some of the older kids now that he's far enough removed from those kids in age," Heck says. "It's a great connection that the kids continue to have with the current high school players and post high-school players. We also have coaches and campers from other districts. It creates a little bit of a camaraderie between neighboring school districts, and it creates good, healthy rivals. They play at camp together and then in the fall they're playing against each other. It's a friendly environment, which is great."
Heck, in his 19th year coaching, is exceptionally qualified to lead the camp. He has led the Lansing Boys Varsity Soccer team to 16 straight winning seasons. That included more than 200 victories, nine division titles, four league championships, 7 sectional titles, three regional titles, 2 state finalist, and 12 top twenty final state rankings. He also coached the Empire State Game’s Scholastic Boys Soccer team to win the gold medal in 2006. He was named New York State Coach of the Year for 2007 and 2012 and East Regional Coach of the Year in 2012 and was a finalist for 2012 National Coach of the Year.
Children from Kindergarten through 3rd grade come for a half day from 9am to noon. The older kids put in full days from 8:30am to 4:30pm.
Heck says the camp has begun to attract players from other towns, including Ithaca. He says that forges relationships that translate into good sportsmanship when friends from camp become competitors in the varsity soccer season.
"It promotes a more healthy way of playing the game," he says. "You help a kid up when you knock him down. I've seen a big improvement in that, especially through the camp. Then the next step is the campers come watch the high school kids play. On a Monday night when we're playing T-burg at 7, you have a handfull of campers watching their coach play. So now they're on the spot about sportsmanship and winning and losing the correct way because the young kids are watching them. It comes full circle."
Many people credit the Lansing varsity soccer team's success with consistant training, unity of playing philosophy and strategy, and highly motivated and involved parents and coaches. Heck says the synergy between the town Recreation Department and the school teams plays an important role in that success.
"People talk about modified sports as being your feet and your foundation," Hec says. "I think it starts before that. Steve Colt and the Rec Department -- the booklet he puts out, the programs he puts out -- when you open that book your kid can go to a sports camp, a music camp, an educational camp, you can go to an outdoor camp. They have everything. It's amazing, and all of them is cost effective so you could send your son or daughter to camp every week if you wanted to and if you add it up it's probably the cost of one or two big-city camps. We try to keep the cost low, and we embrace that with soccer camp so if a family of four want to go it's less than $400. If you go to a college camp it's a lot more expensive."
But when it comes to the soccer camp's popularity he says it's about sticking with the basics.
"It draws kids because it's fun, the coaches are great," Heck says. "The instruction they get embraces all kinds of kids and it's co-ed. There is something about that. You keep the old school: let's learn, have fun and play. You keep it simple and you keep it fun and you keep it healthy and the kids are going to want to come back."