42 years and still going strong; Phil Bova Baseball Camp continues top fundamental instruction
By Mike Holzheimer
WESTLAKE-“We are-Bova Camp!” We are-Bova Camp!” We are-Bova Camp!”
Those words could be heard with great enthusiasm each and every morning by eager young baseball players gathered at the outdoor sports complex on the grounds of the Westlake Recreation Center. Over 200 boys and girls came to learn and play the game the right way joining a very proud and long list of former and returning participants that make up the Phil Bova Baseball Camp.
In his 42nd year as the director of this annual summer tradition, Bova, a Westlake resident and former professional baseball player and Big-10 collegiate basketball official, has watched his staff teach the game of baseball to nearly 8,000 campers in total. Bova’s staff, an outstanding collection of high school, college and professional coaches, brings well over 200 years of experience and baseball knowledge to the table.
“I’ve been very blessed,” says Bova, his voice still raspy after firing up the energy level of the campers with positive and inspirational chants as well as his morning talks that dealt with both baseball and life issues. “We’re so fortunate to be able to keep getting kids and their parents who want to commit to this camp every year. In today’s economy, that’s not easy to do. But they trust the Bova name, they trust in what I do and what my great staff does. We simply give every kid the best we have to validate that trust.”
The Bova name has always been synonymous with knowledgeable and quality fundamental instruction. The attention to detail is what really separates this summer baseball camp from all of the rest. Every aspect of baseball is covered during the entire week for seven hours a day. Campers are taught the proper way to play every position on the diamond. If a youngster is an outfielder, he or she will be given individualized and group instruction as to how to play that position.
Unlike other baseball camps that feature a lot of kids in attendance, pitchers or catchers are sometimes just told to play first base or go into the outfield where they simply get “lost in the shuffle.” At the Bova Camp, you will be prepared to be the best outfielder, pitcher, infielder or catcher that you can be. That fact, and the understanding that the Bova name is so well respected and trusted, is what makes this camp the best in Northeast Ohio. Trust is an obvious factor in that the Phil Bova Baseball Camp has been sold out every year-that doesn’t happen by accident.
Unfortunately, what does happen a lot in the Greater Cleveland area is rain. Inclement weather could severely restrict an outdoor baseball camp and its scheduled activities. At “Camp Bova,” a little rain hardly dampens the spirit of the kids and the staff. With a downpour rearing its ugly head on the first two days of camp, everyone simply adjusted. At this camp, the baseball teaching and learning never stops or gets delayed.
“I can’t say enough about how well my staff and the kids adjusted,” said Bova. “It was a task to make sure over 200 kids had all of their equipment and get them over inside the recreation center safely and as quickly as possible. With rain, you need a Plan B. It was a challenge, but we did it.”
Indeed. Upon arrival to the center’s gymnasium escaping the raindrops, the campers found fundamental station areas all set up and ready to go for one large group, while the other half of the camp were led to the film room to watch and learn the fundamentals of hitting and pitching by way of special instructional videos.
After the morning sessions of guest speakers, fundamental stations and individualized attention, the campers break for a hot lunch. The opportunity to sit in a large room and eat with their friends and teammates for the week really makes them feel like big league players. In reality, the Phil Bova Baseball Camp becomes their own “spring training.” The afternoon features more baseball demonstrations, stations, and league games.
“We expect a lot out of the kids, but they know that they will get a lot from our staff,” said Bova. “I tell the kids that if you’re going home tired, you’re doing it right. I know myself, and my entire staff went home tired every night. But that’s what we do, and we love it.”
It is truly a labor of love, and a family affair at the Phil Bova Baseball Camp. Bova’s grandchildren are all campers, while his wife Donna, has been and is extremely instrumental in the overall “behind the scenes” success of the camp. His son-in-law, Dave Mills, provided all of the medical attention as needed throughout the week in addition to multi-tasking with various camp duties.
“I can’t do it alone,” Bova said. “My family and my dear friends in the coaching profession help me make this camp what it is today.”
Two friends, in particular, have been with Bova all through these many years. Ron Coreno, who acts as one of the camp’s administrators, works with all of the counselors regarding their assignments during the week. Jim Delvecchio is also an administrator, and was Bova’s scholastic baseball coach at Cleveland’s old West High School.
The counselors, high school baseball players all eager to work with the young kids, are hand-picked by Bova and his staff, while many of the younger coaches were once campers and counselors in years past. Two would include Justin Rinaldi (Avon Lake) and Tommy Caraselli (Normandy). Caraselli was recently hired to be the freshmen baseball coach at Solon High School.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Tommy,” said Bova. “The first day of camp he throws his arms around me telling me he got a high school coaching job. He thanked me for the experiences he’s received by attending and working the camp. Words cannot describe how great that makes me feel.”
It’s also pretty great to learn from the absolute best when it comes to veteran high school baseball coaches. The Bova Camp is proud to welcome so many of these fine coaches to its staff, namely Hall of Fame coaches Ken Ciolek (Lakewood) and Joe Kilburg (Cleveland Central Catholic). One won’t find a more knowledgeable pair of coaches than these two. Their lectures and demonstrations on the game’s fundamentals is worth the cost of the camp alone.
The week concludes with the annual “Bova Awards Ceremony” on Friday. Bova invites the parents, grandparents and friends to bring the lawn chairs and gather on the lawn to watch a special sliding demonstration that features every camper getting the chance to show their skills to mom, dad, grandma and grandpa.
The ceremony ends with Bova officially introducing the counselors and coaches, while the director recognizes those who have supported his efforts over the years with a special “Man of the Year” Award. Friday also reveals the “Best Camper” honor in addition to the “Best Bunter,” “Best Thrower,” and “Best Hitter” given to selected individuals in each age division.
Simply put, there is only one summer baseball camp to attend if your child or grandchild wants to learn the game of baseball in a very knowledgeable and fun atmosphere, while building friendships to last a lifetime-The Annual Phil Bova Baseball Camp.
“We really enjoy seeing the kids have fun and benefitting from this experience,” said Bova. “And the good Lord willing, we’ll be back next year.”
A thought that has parents everywhere already circling the dates for the 2016 camp on the calendars right now. It’s a date young baseball players won’t want to miss.