Coast Sports Founder and Author Steve Morris Takes His Youth Camp Online
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
For two decades, Steve Morris has kept a thriving youth sports community alive with his unflagging enthusiasm and innovative ideas. This summer was supposed to mark the 20th anniversary of his popular Coast Sports Camp at Brentwood Magnet—that is, until the coronavirus outbreak led to the closure of all school campuses, jeopardizing all sports activities in the Palisades and adjacent communities for months.
Morris was in a bind, knowing his coaches and kids were counting on the camp. So he decided to take it online at coastsports.com. He has come up with a virtual concept with several rooms for kids to visit, each with a different activity. It’s called “Summer of Fun LIVE” and the mission is to empower children by providing a nurturing, creative and fun-filled setting where they get to choose what activities they want to participate in.
“We ask the question ‘If we were kids what would we want to do?’ and go from there,” Morris says. “During these difficult days it’s even more important for kids to feel connected, be with their friends and be engaged and entertained in an environment that’s safe. In fulfilling those needs we provide continuity and optimism while helping our campers become the best versions of themselves. Our motto is ‘Why Not’ which is our emphatic response to any suggestion for a new activity or diversion at camp. It goes a long way towards explaining the singular, child-centered quirkiness of what we do and how we’re different from everybody else.”
Born of a little boy’s desire to play soccer with Coach Dad, Coast Sports began on a patch of Barrington Park grass with a bag of half-inflated balls and a set of cranky PVC goals. It grew from one class to a weekly slate. “Summer of Fun” began in 2001. It’s a community wherein each child is the most important child on the field. Each family is an integral part of a larger one. Such is the program Morris has cultivated.
Morris described his passion to keep his camp going in a blog post titled “Kids Need Camp.”
The post reads: “From the middle of March when the cancellation of sports big and small confirmed with a disorienting finality that the Twilight Zone was a real place I nursed the hope that by June life would be back to normal, or least a workable version of it. The possibility we wouldn’t be on campus to celebrate our 20th anniversary was too remote and too grim to contemplate. A few weeks later, even as LAUSD was canceling the remainder of the physical school year I clung to a belief that campuses across the city would reopen for the summer. The coup de grace came shortly after. Schools would remain shuttered until, virus-willing, mid-August. But kids need camp! They need to unplug their brains and power up their primal selves. They need to run, jump, dance, draw, play, kick, shout, splash and laugh. Camp is life’s laboratory, where kids get to experiment and experience and make new friends. Kids need to be around other kids, which is why, after watching camps all around surrender to the COVID menace, I made the decision to go virtual.”
Though Morris lives in Santa Monica with his wife Marcy, an entertainment attorney, and their family, his heart is in the Palisades. AYSO Region 69 has been his home for 23 years. He coached 30 league and All-Star teams for his kids, Evan, Dori and Griffie when they were in the program and he served as Coach Administrator (head coach) for 16 years, currently enjoying emeritus status. He still teaches the coaches every summer and his cache of emails, admonitions and pep talks are still utilized by the region.
Technically, Morris is not a Palisadian but he has spent more time on the fields there than any where else. Coast Sports, which for years offered little kids sports classes, had a standing permit at the Palisades Recreation Center. Half of the kids that have come through his camp, as well as his staff, which populates the high school, are Palisades denizens. His kids, in their athletic primes, were soccer and lacrosse players. All played AYSO through U12, then went to the Galaxy Alliance (since renamed FC Los Angeles and then reborn as LA Breakers FC) for club. All three played varsity soccer at Brentwood School before before Evan headed to Union College in New York while Dori (now a third year at Fordham Law) and Griffie (a rising senior) went off to Penn.
“I founded Coast Sports in 1997 because my 4-year-old son was taking soccer lessons with a coach who made the kids cry and the parents squirm,” Morris says. “Based on my enthusiastic if undistinguished soccer career at Baldwin High School back on Long Island, I felt I could at least teach the kids something and offer them a tear-free good time. It worked. I’d been a terminally-aspiring screenwriter, but over the next few years the percentage of time I spent writing versus time spent on a field flipped and I gave up writing, except for emails, and dove into coaching.”
Coast Sports continued flourishing and in 2001 Morris started a summer camp: “The surroundings weren’t lush, a small field and lots of blacktop, so we exploited what we had—boundless creativity and an imagination that wouldn’t quit. We had all the traditional sports but added food fights, mudwrestling, a human car wash (set the kids on scooters and roll them down a ramp while the coaches hose them down), flour pinatas, homemade go-carts, all-day water wars, burping and lip sync contests, Bubble Wrap Day, Human Foosball, graffiti art, “Dirt and Worm” eating (pudding and gummies), Color Dunk Tank…and so much more. Our staff is 100 percent homegrown. Every one of them has come through camp. We were going to celebrate our 20th year of Coach Steve’s Summer of Fun with a giant party and massive celebrations each day. Then Corona hit, and LAUSD closed schools for the year. I held out hope that they’d reopen for the summer, but on April 22 they sent a notice that, in fact, their facilities would remain shuttered. I was on the fence about doing a virtual program as I heard nightmarish stories from parents whose kids were hating Zoom school. Then I got an email from a former camper and coach who has become a teacher and she said she wasn’t sure if I’d be doing anything but if there were some form of camp she’d love to help out. That triggered an epiphany. What if I could put together a greatest hits staff, bringing back together some of the Hall of Fame coaches from our past, and combine them with fan favorites from the last couple of years? I started to get excited but I wanted online camp to resemble what we do on-site, which is present a smorgasbord of activities that the kids can dip in and out of as they like. I latched onto the music festival model, Coachella specifically, where there are multiple stages running simultaneously and the motivated music fan can see a ton of performances. I felt that if we could create an analogous platform, multiple rooms in which different activities would be offered in continuous 45-minute segments through the morning and if campers could easily navigate between them, then with my all-star staff we could recreate the spirit and connection, if not the physical presence, of camp. We’ve wildly exceeded all my hopes. The technology has proved seamless, the coaches have been spectacular, and the kids have laughed their way through the first two weeks.”
“Summer of Fun” has five rooms: Arts & Crafts, Rookies (for 4- and 5-year-olds), the Game Room (where we play soccer, basketball and do Olympic events), the Why Not? Room (scavenger hunts, tick-tock video making, cartoon voices and more), and the Coach Steve Room, where we’ve done ‘Name That Tune,’ ‘Zoom Yoga’ and ‘Wacky History’ as well as being a place the kids can just hang out and be together— something they’ve missed the past 3 1/2 months. We make the point that this isn’t school. We’re not teaching, preaching or lecturing. We’re not muting their screens. We want them to interact, to feel empowered and engaged and to have a summer that’s safe and secure, one that’s a diversion from everything they’ve experienced since this abrupt change in their world began. The camp is virtual, but the fun is 100 percent real.”
Since his plate is never full, Morris has also seized this opportunity to finish a book he’s been working on for a long time, called “What Size Balls Do I Need?” It’s a memoir, a road map and a warning to parents not to mess with the 10-year window they get to enjoy youth sports with their kids.
“Those 10 years, give or take, can be a most wonderful blessing for the entire family so we parents should relax and let them have a good time,” Morris says. “For 99 percent of youth players, no matter how hard their parents prod, push or dream, it ends the same way–experiencing sports as a fan or, if they’re lucky, a recreational adult player. In a very real sense, the book is a love letter to my kids, the players I coached, the families I shared sidelines, weekends and memories with and the culture and community of Region 69. The day I hopped onto the end of the registration line at Paul Revere Middle School, my life changed forever and I couldn’t be happier.”
To register for “Summer of Fun LIVE,” log on to coastsports.com/ and click ‘Register.’ The camp runs 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through August 14 for kids ages 4-15 with additional pre-recorded content throughout the afternoon. For information, email Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 310-913-3224.
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