Local Sports

Serving it up

AVON PARK - Kim Crawford knows a thing or two about volleyball. The South Florida State Volleyball Coach has been running summer volleyball camps for a handful of years now, and she's right in the middle of another five week session. "We started June 10, just as soon as the kids got out of school," Crawford said. "I've got fifth grade to eighth grade in one group, and ninth to 12th grade in another." The younger kids start in the morning, around 9:30, and stay until noon. That's when Crawford and her staff get a short break, before the older kids start in the afternoon, playing from 1:30 to 4 p.m.. Camp runs five days a week between Monday and Friday.
Campers mostly work on the same activities and drills every day. Usually Crawford focuses on serving, volleying, and teamwork. She organized drills for the kids to practice setting the ball from their back, spiking shots against the wall, and even had them playing games of two-on-two on smaller courts. "I've got a few girls helping me - Kaitlyn Richardson, Leah Snell, and Kate Sanders," Crawford said, pointing out her staff. "What we do is literally teach fundamentals. We want to get the kids comfortable with the ball, their footwork, and court awareness." Crawford, a former volleyball standout at SFSC, led the school to back-to-back conference championships in 1991 and 1992. Along with setting numerous records, she still holds the recognition as the only Lady Panther to be honored as an All-American. "When we started, we just had one camp. Now we're up to five," Crawford said, who didn't even pickup voellyball until after high school. "And what's great is that we've been able to draw a lot of different ages. We've got some kids who have never picked up a volleyball while others are here working in between the season just to get better." Despite the early morning start of each session, campers said they were excited to be there. "It's a lot of fun," said 12-year-old Karina Ramos. The Lake Placid Middle School student has been a regular at this summer's camp, but she's still unsure of whether or not she wants to play for the Dragons. "I'm not sure I want to join the middle school team yet," she said. "But maybe when I'm in high school." Crawford stays busy with volleyball outside of camp as well. Along with coaching the Panthers in the fall, she also runs a summer league at the gym, and recently started the XCEL Volleyball Club. "In the summer league, we get teams from nine high schools in here," Crawford said. "They play on Monday night and this place gets packed, with people even coming from Desoto, Okechobee, Lake Wales, along with Sebring, Lake Placid, and Avon Park." Meanwhile, she's been overseeing the XCEL Volleyball Club, which she just established this year. The club plays on the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit, and serves as a "competitive and developmental" volleyball club for youth in Central Florida. "XCEL volleyball doesn't have anything to do with the SFSC," Crawford said. "It's more similar to a travel team. We have eight teams in a beach league right now, seven girls' and one boys', and they play in pairs of two on sand." As a volleyball camp veteran, Crawford said she's never lost sight of what it means to work with a different set of kids every summer. "The camp is here to give kids a starting path in volleyball," Crawford said. "If you've never picked up a volleyball in your life, but you want to learn the game, you should be at this camp. But it's also about getting the kids out of the house during the summer and keeping them active, as well as bringing the parents out to the campus." bhoward@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5841