AVON PARK - Even in the offseason, you'll still find Rick Hitt on the baseball diamond. After all, the South Florida State College Athletic Director and baseball coach has been running summer baseball camps since the turn of the century. Now in its 16th season, Hitt said this year's camp is just as enjoyable as ones from years past.
"We get a lot of great effort from all the kids," Hitt said, whose camp is on its third and final week. "We started them June 10, and opened it up for kids aged 5-13. We believe in building a solid baseball foundation based on fundamentals, and this year's camp is no different."
While Hitt added that certain activities have been altered or tweaked, the basics will always remain.
"We want to get the kids comfortable with the mechanics of baseball, whether it's with hitting, fielding, or even conditioning," Hitt said. "There are six stations, and the kids rotate in groups from each one. They'll get to work on their pitching mechanics, line-drive hitting, bunting, baserunning, and most importantly, on their teamwork."
The coaches even hold a "championship Thursday," which lets campers go head-to-head in a skills compeition to show off what they've learned. Camp usually runs from the early morning, starting around 8:30-9 a.m., and runs until Noon. The early morning starts are an effort to beat the brutal Central Florida heat and the occasional afternoon showers. And even though it means less time to sleep in during the summer, many campers, like Peyton Spencer, said they enjoyed getting up early to play ball.
"I'd actually rather wake up earlier to play baseball," the 9-year-old said. "It feels good to be out here. I don't mind it at all."
Spencer, who participated in last year's camp, added that he's been really pleased with being able to work on improving his hitting in the offseason. The Woodlawn Elementary student said he hopes to make an All-Star team this Fall.
With the summer heat a major factor in how Hitt and his staff organize camp, they've taken all the steps to keep players hydrated. There are a bevy of water breaks, which come complete with a 15-minute break between sessions where players can get a cool snack, usually a popscicle, and relax in the shade of the dugout. When it gets closer to Noon, campers have the choice to participate in a game of backyard-baseball or cool off with a dip in the pool.
From the outside looking in, the primary goal of Coach Hitt's camp appears to be only about improving a player's baseball ability. But there's more to it than that, as Hitt explained that it's really about involving the community.
"This is for the kids more than anything," Hitt said. "We love this. We love helping out with baseball and getting kids from everywhere involved. We've even got kids from out of county that came in this year."
Hitt has also gotten a lot of help from some of his Panthers staff, including assistant Andy Polk and freshman Kyle Cunningham, a local product, whose set to make his debut for SFSC next January. Polk is a former Panther as well, and helped lead the school to a record 38 wins in 2004.
"It really pleases me to see how guys come back," Hitt said. "And we've had a lot of players go onto four-year colleges, play minor league and even major league ball. So to come back and help out just really means a lot. And you never know, there could even be some future Panthers in this year's camp."
With summer camp coming to a close, Hitt said that there's still upcoming camps scheduled for the Fall. There's even going to be a four-day camp during the Christmas holiday. Prices should run at about $20 per person, and those interested should call Rick Hitt at 863-784-7036 or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.