By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Okra Kids Camp, the annual day camp offering from Delta State University, has become one of the most popular activities for children during the summer.
Todd Davis, assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation at Delta State, is the director of the Outdoor Recreation Program and the director of the Okra Kids Camp.
The camp was first held in 2010 and was funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“We had all this gear and equipment, so we thought it’d be really nice to have a kids camp,” said Davis.
The camp is two weeks long with one week per age group. Ages 6 through 8 attend the camp week one while ages 9 through 11 attend week two.
Registration is incredibly competitive, and Davis said that the 2019 sign-up saw a line surrounding Forrest E. Wyatt Gymnasium at 5:30 in the morning for an 8 a.m. start.
Davis and his staff begin their day around 6:30 a.m. where they prepare the fields and hold a briefing on the goals for the day.
Once the children arrive, they participate in a variety of 45-minute stations that sees them play disc golf, lacrosse and basketball. Water-based activities at the Delta State Aquatics Center include kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
Children are shuttled all over campus from the Delta State Quad to the fitness trail.
“We make sure that every child has a station to work in so there’s not any waiting or sitting around,” Davis said. “Each kid has a basketball, each kid has a soccer ball, whatever it is. That’s a huge philosophy for us.”
“We follow the E3 principle, which is something we developed here, which is we focus on exposure, education, and experience.”
“If you can experience something positively, then you’re going to want to come back and experience that again, or in a different way,” Davis said. “And we can look at that at anything: fitness, wellness, outdoor recreation.”
“Our camp tries to really focus on positive energy,” Davis said. “We don’t yell; we don’t coach. We’re not here to coach athletes. We’re trying to get a hold of the kids that aren’t going to go to football camp or basketball camp.”
In ongoing years, the Okra Kids Camp has gone on to be self-sustaining thanks to participation fees and revenue generated from the Delta Down and Dirty youth race held yearly.
The participation fee helps fund the necessary equipment, materials and support needed to manage the 12 groups of 12 children each, the maximum capacity for the camp that is reached every year.
“We’ve been really fortunate to keep fees at $100, which for a whole-week camp at this kind of magnitude is pretty great.
“We did an analysis of all camps last year, and we are the largest camp on campus with the most contact hours. We have 33.6 contact hours per week with kids.”
The camp originally had a limited set of events for a much-larger grouping of 250 children per week.
“We certainly streamlined the camp and have become more resourceful. We’ve shaken out through funneling what works and what doesn’t. We’ve gotten to a pretty well-oiled machine after our 10th year of trying things.”
Davis said that through a decade of satisfaction data, the camp still averages over 95 percent positive response from parents. Feedback is how Davis decided to offer a sack lunch program to children that attend the camp for an additional $45.
In 2018 the camp introduced a pilot program, a trip to Dahomey National Wildlife Refuge, that Davis said received overwhelmingly positive reviews, so it became a regular part of the rotation for this year.
The program was only used for the older age group in 2018 but was expanded to include all age groups thanks to parental feedback.
“It’s only 15 minutes (away), but for them it’s a whole other world,” said Davis.
The camp also includes a nutrition class that was introduced thanks to parental feedback, which allows nutrition students at Delta State University to earn credit hours by teaching the classes.
“We utilize our physical education majors in this program,” Davis said. “We offer a summer class, called practicum in physical education, and we have some of those people here that are in the class.
“That’s great, partnering with our academic programs so that students get real hands-on experience to teach all these variety of things.”
Davis said he wants to find a way to introduce an aquatic obstacle course to better introduce children to swimming and is looking for ways to fund the experiment.
“You don’t get an experience like this at any other camp,” Davis said. “For the Delta, for us, having access to those resources here, and access to the university-level, we’ve done a good job at trying to provide as close as we can to what you’d do at a residential, high-priced camp.”