West Hartford resident and former UConn basketball player Meghan Pattyson Culmo hosted a girls’ basketball camp at Saint Joseph’s University.
By Meghan Morhardt. Pictures of Ronni Newton
On Friday, August 5, just 30 minutes after her last day of camp, Meg Culmo pulled into the driveway of her West Hartford home, already wishing she could be back at the gym with the group of young girls who had been attending. at its last session of the summer.
“I was relieved in a way because a lot of work is going into this camp,” Culmo said. “But I already really missed it. It was really fun and last week was great.
In its second year, the Meg Culmo Women’s Basketball Camp held three sessions this summer, two at the end of June and one the first week of August. With approximately 45 campers at each session, Culmo and his staff were able to reach out to a large group of local girls and work to spark the love of basketball that originally inspired Culmo’s dream of starting this camp.
“I love what basketball has given me so much,” Culmo said. “And if I can continue to develop this great game and kids enjoy the game no matter if they play in high school or college. I just want them to enjoy summer camp and play the game. »
Culmo played at UConn where she earned All-Big East honors and helped lead the Huskies to Geno Auriemma’s first conference title before joining the coaching staff that won their first national title in 1995. Culmo is remained local after her stint with the Huskies and worked as a broadcaster and color analyst for 25 years at ESPN and SNY. She has three children, all of whom will be attending Hall High School in the fall, and she remains “intimately involved” in the UConn program.
The idea of starting this camp had been brewing for a while, but the COVID-19 pandemic was the last push Culmo needed to make it happen.
“The kids had missed it so much, and that really motivated me to do it,” Culmo said. “We really wanted to get the kids out of the house, away from screens, and just with other kids laughing and having fun.”
To help spark that love and interest, Culmo made sure to staff the camp with a group of energetic counselors who would be able to help with skills, but also provide the encouragement campers needed. His three children, Angelo (17), Kathleen (16) and Claire (13), worked all three sessions this summer and Culmo couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
“The coolest thing for me was doing it with my kids,” she said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams, and maybe I waited as long as I did to start so I could do it all with my kids.”
The rest of the staff were other local children who were friends of her child or family friends. Northwestern Catholic 2020 graduate Nora Staunton served as an advisor for the two years with West Hartford resident and rising senior Carys Baker at Loomis Chaffe, who just committed to play at Virginia Tech. Both girls, especially Baker, were great role models for girls to see what hard work and a love for the game can do on the road.
While the camp is basketball focused, with an age group of 6-13, skill level can vary, so Culmo and his team prioritized making it a positive environment where they could both learn to play the game, but also to enjoy it. this.
“You just want them to enjoy the feel of the basketball in their hands,” Culmo said. “And the laughs and smiles with their teammates. Many children even came without knowing anyone, and left with new friends.
Fostering this love for the game was especially important to Culmo as a sporty woman. In a city like West Hartford, basketball for girls after college is not accessible beyond high school or AAU programs, while for boys the city league continues until in high school. This is largely due to local girls’ lack of interest in high school, but Culmo believes that if she and others can continue to inspire girls from a young age, there could be more options for girls. in the future.
“Parents told me there were no other things like this for girls in the area,” Culmo said. “And with the UConn women’s basketball team that Connecticut is so proud of, I thought it would make sense to have all girls for now. That might change in the future, and I I’m not opposed to having boys, but I’ve had very positive feedback so far.
Culmo has not been alone in her efforts to grow women’s basketball in West Hartford, many people in town have supported the camp through her sponsorship program. The program is designed so that anyone can donate a scholarship equivalent to one, two or three weeks of camp. Culmo is working with Bugbee Director Kelly Brouse to find local children who may be interested in participating but may need additional financial support to do so. In some cases, they were also able to organize a bus for the children without transport to Saint Joseph University, where the camp was held.
“At first people just started offering to sponsor kids, I never really asked anyone to do it,” Culmo said. “It really makes you realize how generous people are. And thanks to the kindness of the people of the city, we were able to give these children an opportunity which was brilliant.
In addition to local donors, a few UConn team members were also able to enhance the experience by stopping to meet the campers. Players including Caroline Ducharme and Azzi Fudd spent time chatting with the girls, taking photos and singing their jerseys and basketballs.
“We didn’t tell the kids the girls were coming,” Culmo said. “But the kids loved it, they were so nice and took pictures with them and everything.”
With the growing interest in her camp and the support she receives from USJ and the local basketball community, Culmo knows she can continue to inspire young girls to love basketball.
“St. Joe’s has been amazing, it’s a great facility and we’re so lucky to have the camp there,” Culmo said. children of today in a fun way.”
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