After seeing its enrollment grow in each of its first four years, the summer sports camp run by the Niagara Falls School District will expand in services this year to include ice hockey.

The camp, which partners with the Niagara Police Athletic League, brings in students who just finished grades six through 11 for five weeks of instruction in any of eight sports.

After exploding from 80 students in its first year in 2003 to more than 600 last year, officials decided to expand its offerings in 2007 to include ice hockey, which will become a varsity sport at Niagara Falls High School in the 2007-2008 school year.

“It’s a very popular sport,” said Sue Ross, director of the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program in the district.

Ice hockey will be run out of Dwyer Arena at Niagara University, with all other sports operating at the high school. The 21st Century program helps fund the camp, lunch and transportation for all students who live in the Falls district, while a sizable outside donation will make hockey equipment available for free to participants in that sport, she said; students not living in the Falls can also take part in the camp for free, but must find their own ride there.

There are several goals for the camp, which also offers instruction in baseball, basketball, soccer and four other sports from varsity coaches and prominent alumni such as University at Buffalo football player James Starks and recent NU hoops transfer Rob Garrison. Among them are a chance for younger students to get acquainted with their future school, Ross said.

“The coach gets a look at the middle school kids ... and the kids get to work with the varsity coaches,” she said. “It’s a real good opportunity ... to get familiar with the high school. That’s a good thing. It’s a little daunting.”

Aside from sports instruction, there is a character education component that brings in guest speakers to discuss substance abuse, bullying, anger management and other issues pertinent to students, Ross said. Then there’s the fact that camp allows parents to know where their children are.

“We don’t have a lot of jobs in the city for that age range, so what’s there for them to do?” Ross said.

Staff already spend their days making arrangements for the camp, which kicks off July 9. Registration will continue even after camp starts, and there is no limit on the number of participants, said Rocco Merino, a district administrator.

“We can hire on additional staff as we need it,” he said.

A nurse and trainer are on hand to assist in the event of injuries, Ross said. Camp will take place daily rain or shine, as participants will take part in “movie days” in the event of excessive rain or heat. Participants are allowed to miss time due to family vacations or other matters, she said.

Contact reporter Paul Lane at 282-2311, ext. 2251.

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