May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Camp Slapshots: A Camp That Became the Camp

How does a one-week sports camp with 14 boys from Teaneck evolve to a three-week day camp with over 200 boys from a dozen communities across New York and New Jersey? How does a small camp started by a newly married 23-year-old continue to grow 20 years later? How does a camp become the camp?

Well, here is the story of Camp Slapshots.

When Camp Slapshots first started in 2003, the camp managed to enroll 14 boys going into eighth grade who enjoyed five glorious days of hockey in a high school gym, Torah learning and some of the tastiest food from Teaneck’s local dining establishments.

At the time, many boys attended just one month of sleepaway camp, which left parents scrambling to find a suitable alternative that satisfied their boys’ needs to play sports in a Torah-filled environment.

By the second year, the camp boasted 18 kids and a rapidly growing reputation for the place to be in August. Propelled by the growing popularity of the elementary school yeshiva hockey league, several parents began approaching Camp Slapshots Director Rabbi Sariel Malitzky to expand the camp, and by year three, Camp Slapshots added basketball to the mix and had 36 boys who were about to enter seventh and eighth grade. The following year the camp grew to 45 campers and a second week was added: week one  for older campers and the second week for younger campers.

Then something magical happened: TABC, which hosted Slapshots, started a construction project, so Slapshots moved locations to Yeshivat Noam, a school with two gyms and prime outdoor space. Slapshots quickly realized they could take on more campers. “We thought maybe, somehow, we’ll get to 80 campers and we got 80 campers!” said Rabbi Malitzky.

After two years, Slapshots moved back to a newly expanded TABC and hosted 120 campers. The camp continued to grow and last summer Slapshots boasted approximately 220 campers over three weeks at Yavneh Academy’s sprawling grounds in Paramus. The Yavneh campus has allowed the campers to play flag football and soccer in addition to basketball and hockey.

This past year proved particularly special and poignant for Rabbi Malitzky because his son joined him as a camper for the first time, along with two of his nephews from Baltimore.

Rabbi Malitzky is an assistant rabbi at Ohr Torah in Edison and teaches at JEC high school in Elizabeth during the year. He grew up in Teaneck and taught at TABC for 10 years. He said: “We want to have a positive influence on the campers—like teaching good sportsmanship, character building, religious perspective. … We spend a lot of time and effort on hiring a staff of role models…. It is important that the staff show the campers that when you play sports there is a correct way to win and a correct way to lose, and that one must always maintain respect for teammates, referees and opponents.

“Our philosophy has always been to hire the best staff in all areas, have great facilities, top-of-the-line equipment, good food and fresh and creative swag. Put out a good product and people will come out and appreciate it,” Rabbi Malitzky explained. “We take pride in trying to put out a strong product that kids love and parents are proud of!”

But while the athletics are a major feature of Slapshots, it is the Torah atmosphere that makes this camp so special. Taught by semicha students at YU or rebbeim in the local day schools, the Torah learning at Slapshots is carefully cultivated with every aspect planned accordingly.

“In recent years we reimagined the learning program and invested a lot in it,” Rabbi Malitzky explained. “We have smaller groups. There are never more than 10 campers per learning group and they learn relatable, interesting and engaging topics.” The subjects definitely have a sports or camp theme and typically involve halachot or philosophies behind sports. For instance: Can you daven that a sports team wins? Does Hashem predetermine who wins the Superbowl? What is the halacha on wearing tzitzit while playing sports?

Over the years the camp has grown to include more age groups, evolved to three weeks of camp and adapted to the growing needs of a large camp, including the addition of sports-themed trips and late-night activities.

Every summer, campers travel to a Yankee or Mets games and Jets or Giants training camp. Each week, every division enjoys one late night where campers get to eat a special dinner and play extra sports. “Everything is thought through and thought out and set up in a way that maximizes experience,” Rabbi Malitzky added.

With Slapshots entering its 20th year this summer, Rabbi Malitzky has added some new programming, including a special program for boys entering ninth grade and a few more trips for the rest of the camp.

This year the staff is gearing up for 230 campers and plans to have a staff of 55 to oversee the activities. With kids coming from as far as New Rochelle and White Plains, West Orange and Springfield, Rabbi Malitzky marvels at how amazing it is for kids to meet each other from all over the tri-state area, making for better leagues, better teams and better tournaments.

Stay tuned for information about Camp ALLSTARS, the girls’ division that Slapshots is starting this summer.

Registration is now open and spots fill fast. To register or to learn more please visit www.campslapshots.com.

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