BYU summer camps return following last year’s pandemic-forced hiatus

It’s summer at Brigham Young University — and once again the soccer pitches, STEM classrooms, theater stages, swimming pools, football fields, dance studios and volleyball courts are packed with youth (and a few parents).

Drive through campus and you are certain to see plenty of kids breaking a sweat with their fellow cross country campers or maybe enjoying some fresh outdoor air before getting back to crafting short stories with fellow youth authors.

And each day, after maybe polishing their jump shot or crafting a few quips for a comedy sketch, each camper enjoys opportunities to build testimonies and connect with other Latter-day Saints.

The sprawling Provo, Utah, campus has long been a summer destination for boys and girls from across the United States and beyond to participate in camps ranging from baseball to Broadway Bootcamp. 

No surprise, that warm-weather tradition was interrupted last summer by the COVID-19 pandemic. While a few BYU camp options in 2020 were shifted online, most were placed on hiatus until local health regulations and protocols began allowing large groups to again gather.

A largely campless summer “was a bizarre experience,” said BYU Continuing Education associate dean Steve Taggart, who has been associated with the gatherings for decades.

Now that time has arrived — and the campers are returning in droves. 

Over 12,000 youth are expected to participate in BYU sports camps alone. A sizable number of dads are also burning a few calories this summer at father-and-sons/daughters camps.

“It feels great to be back in operation,” said Vince Stroud, BYU’s sports camp administrator. “Last year was different for everyone. For the sports camps, operations were entirely shut down. Now things have progressed to being very close to normal.”

Enrollment for the nonsports camps, including the popular Especially For Youth sessions, is a little over 6,600. Those numbers could increase if COVID-19 restrictions continue to relax over the summer. 

“For now, we still can’t operate at full capacity because the school is being so careful about not putting the youth at risk,” said Taggart.

Camps at BYU are directed by a few different offices. The sports camps are the claim of the school’s athletic department — while the performing arts, academics, Especially For Youth and other nonsports conferences are conducted by the school’s continuing education and conferences and workshops offices.

Campers are obviously eager to return.

“The demand has been through the roof, beyond anything we’ve seen any other year; we have massive waitlists,” said Stroud. “It is wonderful to be back. It helps us all heal from what we’ve felt over the past year.”

College-sponsored youth camps are not unique to BYU. They are happening across the country. But as a Church-owned school, the mission of each camp goes beyond sports, performing arts or academics.

“The mission of this institution, after all, is to help people on their own quest to perfection and improvement,” said Stroud.

The camps are also great opportunities for young Latter-day Saints to make new friends while being mentored “on their path of discipleship” by BYU athletes, musicians, performers and student counselors. 

Regardless whether a boy or girl is enrolled in, say, softball camp or youth ballroom camp, said Taggart: “We want each youth to feel the Spirit and have their testimonies strengthened. … We want them to have opportunities to interact with each other in a wholesome environment.”

Typical camp activities include nightly devotionals, testimony-building activities and prayer.

The variety of BYU camps offered each summer is consistent with the school’s efforts “to bless the youth any way we can,” said Taggart. “Parents can send their youth here feeling safe about what they will be exposed to.”

For many, he added, the BYU camps allow young people to disconnect from their devices for a few days and place all their energy on growing physically, spiritually, socially and intellectually.