Courtesy of Ryan Juran Decathlon Sports Club’s adventures like a beach run, pictured here in 2019, draw special power from the teenage leaders who graduate from camper to counselor and return to share their traditions and continue to play, in a new role.

“Summer fun” makes a very broad promise, but Decathlon Sports Club’s slogan captures a founding intent that has brought kids together to play for 40 years in Los Altos.

The camp enrolls kids ages 6-12 with a focus on all types of sports, arts and crafts, and board games, but its impact extends to teenagers and beyond. A high return rate – families who come back year after year – as well as conversion of campers to staff has created a culture of friendship at a camp started by two friends.

Scott Berridge and Rich Wohlstadter decided in 1981 they wanted to create a camp that resembled the childhood they so loved, where kids would join together in the neighborhood and play activities such as kick the can and hide-and-seek.

Berridge and Wohlstadter now run two Decathlon camps, with Berridge overseeing the camp in Los Altos and Wohlstadter the camp in Woodside. I participated in the Los Altos camp for years. Jeff Berridge, Scott’s son, has been a camp director at the Los Altos camp for more than 25 years after attending the camp since he was 5 years old. He said camp is like a second home to him, a feeling that has become a central part of Decathlon’s identity as well.

“Camp is more like a community,” Jeff said. “People meet up every summer to see some familiar faces where they can keep building relationships. It is centered around sports, so there is a lot of physical, athletic stuff going on, but there’s a lot of social things going on, too. You might have your friends who don’t go to your school but you go to camp with, so you get to see them every summer.”

From camper to counselor

Returning campers, family legacies and campers-turned-counselors give the camp a family feeling. After kids are too old to be campers, they have the option to apply to become a staff member, either a junior counselor in training, a junior counselor or a counselor. The Berridges said they think that approximately 80-90% of campers apply to become a staffer, and that continuity makes the camp special.

Joel Arcune, a junior at Homestead High School, grew from a camper to a junior counselor over the past decade and said the experience of “genuine care” from leaders kept him coming back.

“It’s just so different from any other camp because this camp really has such a great staff that helps every single kid,” Arcune said. “The connections that you build as a camper to your counselor and other campers is something no other camp can replicate.”

Similarly, the Webster sisters, Jenna and Julia, have been returning campers/counselors every summer.

Jenna, a senior at Syracuse University who has been participating for 12 years, said the best part of progressing to counselor was watching campers experience the things she had loved. Both she and Julia, a junior at Mountain View High School, said forging deep connections outside their school community created an opportunity for friendships that last to this day.

“I wanted to work at Decathlon because I couldn’t imagine the camp not being part of my summer,” Jenna said. “Not being there this summer was the weirdest experience for me because Friday would come along and I’d be, like, ‘Oh, if I was at camp, we’d be at Raging Waters right now,’ or thinking about how it should be Olympic Week.”

Emma Price, a junior at Mountain View High who has participated in the Decathlon camp for the past decade, said being a counselor brings back memories of being a camper, and noted that counselors are really campers themselves.

“It feels like such a community, and you see a lot of the same people every year and so they become your close friends,” Price said. “The counselors and JCs make it so fun because they are participating with you, not just chaperoning.”

Honoring traditions

Decathlon not only prides itself on its staff, but also on the appreciation shown to returning campers and staff. The camp recognizes participants who have attended camp for at least seven years with a “Hall of Fame” tradition, complete with secret handshake.

“We have a lot of traditions that have kind of evolved over those 41 years, different little things that come up like that,” Scott said. “The Hall of Fame, which is one of my things I’m most proud of, is that the kids who have gone to camp are remembered. We immortalize them by keeping them with the camp from year to year, bringing the (photo) boards out and sharing that with the new campers.”

After each four-week session comes to a close, the group gathers and counselors honor each camper with an award in a category they feel the camper excels in.

“The counselors really get into it, and they tell these elaborate stories about things that happen in that session specific to each camper, and no one could know unless you were in that group,” Jeff said.

The camp’s focus on the camper-to-counselor cycle has become a central lesson of the experience for participants.

“People who help other people are generally happier. That’s exactly what our workers do at Decathlon,” Scott said. “They’re out there helping these kids to be better citizens. They are helping other people and then, in fact, that makes them happier.”

For more information on Decathlon Sports Club and its 2021 camp dates, visit decathlonsportsclub.com.