WARSAW — More than 1,700 kids in Kosciusko County have benefited from the efforts of Agaitas Sports Camps since its founding in 2012.
The nonprofit organization offers free soccer, baseball and basketball camps to youth from kindergarten through sixth grade. Attendees are taught the fundamentals of the game and overall athletic and character development.
In fact, “it is so much more than sports for us,” said Ryan Burgher, the organization’s founder and executive director. “We are a Christian organization and we tell kids about Christ. We share with them each day of camp.”
Often Burgher or his fellow leaders will bring in individuals from the community to address such topics as adoption, running an art studio and installing water wells in Third World countries.
“I believe youth sports are one of the primary ways to reach not only large numbers of kids, but their families,” said Ryan Bricker, basketball camp director. “Through sports, we have a tremendous open door into the lives of people in our community.”
Agaitas is a portmanteau of the Greek words agape, meaning unconditional love, and veritas, meaning truth. “We love because we know the truth,” said Burgher, a devout Christian who came up with the idea at church.
“My wife, Neena, and I were sitting at Mission Point Church in Warsaw,” he recalled. “The sermon was about ‘If you are feeling called to do something, just do it and don’t look back in regret.’ I looked at Neena and said, ‘We are going to start a free soccer camp.’”
That first camp drew 37 kids. This year’s camp, conducted in June, served 250 kids.
“Overall in 2017 we had more than 700 volunteers and campers,” said Burgher. “So far this year we are already over that,” not including the 2018 basketball camp, which will run for four Saturdays this fall. “We’ll have close to 1,000 kids altogether,” he said.
This year Agaitas instituted “pickup camps,” impromptu evening sessions held at two local mobile home parks. “We signed up 175 kids within an hour and 15 minutes,” but “we take any kid who comes.”
Volunteers with the organization provide free meals at all camp sessions, a benefit with a more profound impact than Burgher had anticipated. “One girl said her brother’s stomach didn’t hurt anymore because he had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” he said.
Agaitas enlists middle school and high school students to help with the camps. “They are seeing what it feels like to lead,” said Burgher. “Our goal is for the younger generation to see how the older kids are leading” and take up the mantle to perpetuate the program.
Denny Wilson, lead pastor at Warsaw Community Church, serves as director of baseball. Bricker, owner of Village Barber in Winona Lake, directs the basketball program.
Burgher played soccer in high school and at Grace College and served as the women’s head soccer coach at Huntington University. He is passing his passion on to his two sons, both adopted from Haiti.
His older boy, a fifth-grader, wants to run a soccer camp someday and the younger son, now in second grade, wants to start a football camp.
Agaitas is always willing to receive donations of time or money, said Burgher.
For more information, contact Burgher at [email protected] or visit www.agaitas.com. The website contains a link to the organization’s Facebook page.