It all started six years ago.
Jim Siple was getting set to coach another Columbia County Recreation Department team, as he had done for years. But two children interested in playing on his 11- and 12-year-old football team were in danger of not making the weight limit for the league.
"Their parents called me. They had about 12 pounds apiece to lose," Siple said.
Siple intervened, taking the pair out for conditioning drills. The drills were hard on the boys, he admitted, but they worked.
By the time the season started, the two players Siple had trained dominated the children they competed against.
"I thought, 'If this will work for two, it'll work for whoever wants to come,' " he said.
The longtime volunteer coach is at it again. He started his free conditioning drills about two weeks ago at Blanchard Park in Martinez, at 4541 Dewey Drive off Belair Road. He will continue the workouts through the end of August.
Siple has had as many as 50 athletes attend at one time. Last year, 25 to 30 attended consistently.
He conducts the camps on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. First-time attendees should get there at least 15 minutes early.
The program is designed for boys and girls 10 and older -- there is no age cap. Siple said he would love to have more high school athletes attend.
The drills are for general conditioning, so the camp caters to athletes in all sports, though most of those who attend play football.
"I enjoy working with kids, especially kids that are trying," Siple said. "I'll tell all of them, 'You don't have to be Superman. You just have to be the best that you can be.'
"And that's what I believe."
Stephen Vance has been bringing his son, 12-year-old Skylor, to the camps for a couple of years.
"Big Jim has a good attitude," Vance said. "He's hard on the kids, but they respect him and they have fun with it."
Vance said the athletes who are the most serious about getting in shape are the ones who stay with the program.
"Some kids might play football because their mom or dad want them to. They might be at home right now, playing Xbox," he said. "The ones out here want to make the school team, and they want to start. They want to be better kids."
Jonathan Newman, 12, attended for the first time Thursday. His mother, Becky Newman, said she was excited to hear that the camp lasted most of the summer.
"We live in Harlem, and they do have a football camp. They have it for one week," Becky Newman said. "They give them a detailed list about what they need to do during the summer, but they need the push to really do it."
Siple said one of the more enjoyable aspects of the program is seeing children come out of their shell and show what they can do.
Last year, he said, Shannon Cartledge would come to the park with her brother, Kyle, who already attended the program.
"After a couple days, she comes up to me, really soft-spoken, 'Mr. Jim, do you think it would be all right if I tried to do this?' " Siple said. "Shoot, it didn't take but two weeks to realize, even though she was smaller, she might be the best athlete out there."
Her hard work paid off. Shannon is a member of the All-Star team that will be representing Columbia County in the Dixie Youth Ponytails (11-12) World Series, which starts Saturday at Patriots Park.
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