Can You Dig It?

June 28, 2002|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Sports Editor

Southwest High's gymnasium must've been the noisiest spot in El Centro over the last four days as volleyballs — and children — bounced from its wooden floors and vaulted ceilings in one never-ending echo.

Amid the cacophony, Southwest High varsity volleyball coach Karen Saikhon on Thursday afternoon calmly sat at a table, affixing what appeared to be foil stars next to the names of campers and player-coaches worthy of praise for their hard work or dedication at her annual volleyball camp.

Some 21 members of Southwest's varsity and junior varsity volleyball squads helped Saikhon corral and teach more than 120 kids, the most ever in the camp's 4-year history.

With the double aim of teaching children of all ages the basic skills necessary to play volleyball and to raise money for the Southwest squad's yearly expenses, Saikhon gave her take on the camp and what it means to those involved.


"It's gotten to be that the kids here have so much fun that people in the community are calling me to find out, ‘When's your camp going to be?'" she said.

Saikhon said camps, whether basketball or volleyball or any other sport, seem to be communitywide events to which people look forward.

"These kids just love it. They want to do something, and the community really needs something like this," she said, adding children from Holtville, Brawley, Imperial, El Centro and points outside the county were in attendance.

Separated by age, skills and sometimes just lumping school friends together, Saikhon said the kids get instruction in volleyball 101. They dive, spike, hit, pass, sprawl, slide, serve and other single-syllable skills.

But, Saikhon stresses, the kids should have fun while learning. That's why, in addition to putting them through skill stations at five-minute increments, she also lets the children loose on 15-minute game breaks and staged matches at the end of each day of the camp.

By most accounts, the kids were digging it (Get it? Dig, as in volleyball?).

"It's pretty fun," said Bianca Encinas, 14, an incoming freshman at Southwest, "because if I want to try out for volleyball next year in high school, this will help me get down some of the stuff I don't already know."

Bianca's buddy, 13-year-old Stephanie Corda, also an incoming Southwest freshman, concurred: "It's fun, and it's good practice … just because if I want to play volleyball it will help.

She added before coming to camp, she couldn't serve over head. "But now I can get it over most of the time," she said.

Thirteen-year-old Elliott Tagg, a soon-to-be eighth-grader at McCabe Elementary School, said the camp was "pretty fun" but added his mom's "making me come."

Elliott was one of only 20 boys compared to around 100 girls.

The wee ones seemed to like the camp, too.

Tamari Saikhon, 8 and one of Karen Saikhon's four daughters, three nieces and three nephews hidden among a sea of pink, sweaty faces, said, "It's fun."

What's so much fun?

Chimed in Tamari's pal, 8-year-old Ana Gabriella Cordero, "Serving and playing a game against the other team."

"Yeah, I like playing the games, too," Tamari said.

Ana Gabriella said if she wasn't at the camp she'd likely be at home "watching TV in my pajamas getting square eyes (from watching too much TV)."

Meanwhile, Karen Saikhon said the camp gives her players some experience on the other side of the whistle.

"This is a learning experience for my player coaches. They learn where I'm coming from with my 15 player personalities."

Southwest varsity player and incoming junior P.J. Enders, 16, said, "I think it's really good for the kids. It gives them something to do instead of sitting home on the couch."

Enders said her best memories of the camp will be "seeing the kids improve after the first day."

She added the camp has taught her something important — "patience," she said.

Player coach Angie Navarro, also 16 and an incoming junior, said she had been working with one of the younger groups, teaching them proper technique.

"It's really neat because we get to be like coaches. I like working with the skills because while we learn a new skill, we get to teach it to them also," she said.

Calling over one of her campers, 8-year-old Paige Brady, an Imperial Valley resident, Navarro asked her student what she liked about the camp.

"I like to have fun and try new sports," said Paige.

"I really loved it because she (Navarro) was my teacher," she added, putting her arms around Navarro.

While Saikhon said the skills acquired at the camp — "learning and watching and seeing helps them along, builds their skills at an early age" — she concedes a lot of the kids were just having a really good time.

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