The New Tampa Recreation Center began hosting summer camps this week after easing back into things a few weeks earlier with its dance programs. (Photo: Tampa Parks).

Summer camps at the New Tampa Recreation Center (NTRC) have finally begun for eager — and maybe, a little stir crazy — kids and parents, as the city expands some of its preliminary offerings.

Seven different City of Tampa sites with gymnasiums hosted Summer Kickoff Camps through June 19, which took a cautious approach, with limited numbers. On June 22, the Rec Summer Camps kicked off on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The Summer Kickoff Camps had limited groups and served almost as a test run, as the city tries to figure out the best practices for new, more stringent protocols for social distancing and cleanliness.

“We’d like to be going full-bore right now, but that wasn’t feasible,” says Heather Erickson, the City of Tampa’s manager of aquatics, athletics and special facilities. “We have been very conservative.”

The NTRC did not host kickoff camps. It had been closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, although construction on the center’s expansion, which will be completed later this summer, has continued throughout. 

The city also was able to make a number of improvements all of its facilities.

“The silver lining is that we’ve been able to replace all of our lights in our gyms, and the place is cleaner than it’s ever been,” Erikson says.

The NTRC eased back into things by allowing its softball teams to begin practicing and opening the first week in June for some of its competitive and more advanced dance teams. 

The tumbling mats are mopped between each group, coaches are wearing masks and hospital-grade organic anti-bacterial fogger is used every 28 days to keep the air as germ-free as possible.

“We have some pretty crazy safety protocols in place,” Erickson says, “but this is the new normal.”

By starting with the older, more experienced kids, who are all part of the year-round programs offered at the NTRC, the facility was able to get a feel for the new standards.

“The hardest thing is not letting them hug the coaches,” Erickson says. “They all really missed each other.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ended all restrictions on youth activities for the state on May 22, but other than directing people to the CDC guidelines, offered little direction.

Erickson says the NTRC is offering four different summer camps, and typically they host 175 or so kids. She said the summer numbers will be a moving target this year, and could contract or expand depending upon how the camps unfold. 

As anyone who has ever coached a large group of 9-year-olds can attest, enforcing group social distancing is simple only in theory.

 “I sure wish we had a manual for this,” says Erickson. “We’re really writing it as we go.”

All Summer Camps Get The Green Light

On June 1, roughly 20 kids showed up at the first PROtential Sports camp of the summer at Heritage Isles.

Two weeks later, a similarly-sized group began camp at the Seven Oaks Community Club in Wesley Chapel.

For PROtential Sports co-owner Nyree Bland, it meant she could finally breathe again.

“I am grateful to be opened again. It’s good to be back,” says Bland who, along with her husband (and former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver) Tony, has been running PROtential sports camps locally for 17 years. 

Meanwhile, Bland says PROtential’s camps usually have 100-plus participants at each location, but will be limited to 25 percent of their usual capacity in the early going this summer.

She has canceled the field trips that are usually a part of the PROtential Sports summer camp experience. 

Counselors will be taking the temperatures of each camper daily. 

The groups will be kept smaller than usual, since some of the activities are held indoors. 

“The parents we have talked to that are coming are super excited,” Bland says. “Some aren’t ready. I think it is about 50-50. So, we’ll be a lot smaller. But, it’s the new normal, and I’m embracing it.”

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