Saratoga County

40 years later, Clifton Park rec program is still popular

From its modest beginnings 40 years ago, keeping a few hundred town kids occupied with story tell

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From its modest beginnings 40 years ago, keeping a few hundred town kids occupied with story telling, checkers and group singing, the town’s summer recreation program has blossomed into a multi-location whirlwind of activities for about 5,000 antsy children newly released from school.

Launched in 1968 on a shoestring budget of just $4,325, the program employed a director, assistant director and six camp counselors. Organizers back then hit the pavement seeking donations from civic organizations and political committees to fund supplies, including soccer balls and baseball bats.

When this year’s program starts on June 30, it will be staffed by 170 people, operating under the auspices of the town’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Affairs, which carries an annual operating budget of $1.3 million.

“It’s an enormously successful program,” Myla Kramer, director of parks, recreation and community affairs, said. “We have people coming from across the state to look at what we do and to use our program as a model.”

In 1968, the recreation program got off to a good start when the Shenendehowa Central School District agreed to share its playgrounds, fields and tennis courts, as well as its restrooms and the bus garage, where long tables were set up for arts and crafts stations. There were occasional field trips to Saratoga Spa State Park and a couple of local swimming pools. Campers were separated by gender for activities. All the kids were offered chances to wield a badminton racquet, strike a softball, spike a volleyball and toss horseshoes.

Eugene Stefanacci, a faculty member in the district’s physical education department, was the first program director. His wife, Betty, who was a district kindergarten teacher, supervised arts and crafts. Even in its early days, the summer recreation program relied on punctual parents.

“Closing time is 3:30 p.m., and if the parents abide by these hours, I anticipate no undue problems for the forthcoming season of activities,” Eugene Stefanacci told a local newspaper in an interview published on June 22, 1967. “We are not providing a babysitting center. The program as it is set up will provide many hours of fun and education alike. The area has waited a long time for this; let’s hope nobody spoils it.”

Registration for this year’s program is well under way for parents to sign up their kids for everything from swimming classes to American Red Cross Life Guarding courses, archery, cheerleading, golf, theater, field hockey, crew, lacrosse, quilting and performing arts. Kids enrolled in the Comic Book Project dream up their own superheroes or evil villains, sketching and creating an original comic book. There’s an outdoor Adventure Challenge Course for ages 11 to adults, described as a group problem-solving obstacle course of high and low ropes.

“Even businesses rent out the course for groups of employees to learn to work together,” said Kramer, the parks director. “You get pretty close to people when they’re helping you haul yourself through ropes and suspended tires.”

There are full- and half-day programs for kids age six and up, and to make it easy on parents, extra hours are available to as late as 6 p.m. for a $15 per week fee. Park locations are at Collins Park, Locust Lane, the Shenendehowa Middle School, Jonesville and Okte Elementary, as well as Barney Road, Country Knolls and Locust Lane pools. The town’s skateboard park on Clifton Park Center Road is also a camp location.

Kramer said the recreation program is known for being not only a great place to hang out over the summer, but also as one of the best places for a summer job.

“We start going through applications in January, and this year we have far more applicants than we have jobs,” Kramer said. “Most of our staff want to return each year, so we’ll only have about 30 openings. We do try to employ as many local teens as possible.”

Jen Tambasco, who graduated from Shenendehowa High School in 2003 and is now an English teacher at Niskayuna High School, is coming back to town for the summer job she began at age 16.

“I started as a camp counselor, and I loved it,” Tambasco said. “This year I’ll be a site director. This is just the ideal summer job. You get to be outdoors and the kids are all relaxed and happy to be out of school. Everyone around knows it’s one of the best jobs in town.”

For information about the town of Clifton Park’s Summer Recreation Program, call 371-6667 or log onto www.cliftonpark.org.

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