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Parents Can Help Safeguard Their Children’s Summer Camp Experience

by Jane Nicholson

BOONE–Millions of children will head to camp this summer, eager to try new experiences such as horseback riding, canoeing or rock climbing.

But will they be safe while they are away from home learning new skills?

Herb Appenzeller, an executive in residence in Appalachian State University’s Department of Health, Leisure and Exercise Science, suggests that parents concerned with a safe summer camp experience for their children first determine if the camp is accredited by the American Camping Association. “It’s one way to know if the camp has complied with regulations regarding housing, supervision, staff training, waterfront safety and other standards,” he said.

The ACA sets standards and guidelines for health care, staff supervision and training, and supervision of activities, among other standards relating to safety.

Parents also should check with past campers about their experiences at the camp. And it’s not unreasonable to determine if the camp conducts background checks on their counselors as part of the screening process, he says.

Appenzeller is president of Appenzeller and Associates, a consultant for the Center for Sports Law and Risk Management, and a professor emeritus and former athletics director at Guilford College.

A visit to the camp can reveal a lot about the operator’s attention to safety, Appenzeller said. Facilities should be safe and in good order, and water depth and warnings regarding the hazard of diving into shallow water should be posted frequently around pools or the swimming area of a lake.

Parents should also ask about the camp’s emergency medical plans and plans that address hazards such as lightning, Appenzeller said.

Instructors should be qualified to teach the activity for which they are responsible, such as horseback riding or rock climbing.

Safety training also should address more than physical injury, Appenzeller says. Camp staff should have some behavior management training.

“I’m as concerned about harassment as safety issues,” Appenzeller said. “When a child goes to a summer camp he or she should come back better for the experience not worse. There are always some situations where campers harass other kids for whatever reason,” he said.

Appenzeller has spent his professional career identifying risks associated with sports, sporting events and a variety of outdoor activities. He has conducted risk reviews across the country for sporting arenas, golf courses/golf tournaments and campus recreation complexes, among others. “In my work, a lack of supervision is alleged in about 80 percent of all cases that go to court.” That’s why he suggests parents learn about a camp’s staff-to-camper ratio.

“Summer camp is supposed to be a time for adventure and discovery. But poor supervision can turn the experience into tragedy,” he said.

Appalachian offers a bachelor’s degree in recreation management and a master’s degree in sports management. Graduates are employed in commercial recreation and tourism management, recreation and park management and in outdoor experiential education.