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Camp's growth a credit to Springdale community

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 11:12 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Kelsey Armstrong, 11, of Springdale checks over the tin can windchime she crafted at the Fun and Freedom summer camp held in Springdale on Tuesday, June 18, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Morgan Blanchflower, 12, of Springdale, attempts to eliminate Fun and Freedom summer camp Co-Director David McCutcheon as Alyssa Galioto, 12, of Hampton, looks on while playing 'Octoball' (also referred to as 'Gaga' or 'Israeli Dodgeball') along Willow Street in Springdale on Tuesday, June 18, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Logan Merritt, 7, of Harrison, packs his potted marigold plant with dirt with other members of the 'Rookie' group at Fun and Freedom summer camp in Springdale on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. The plants will be distributed as gifts to neighbors near the summer camp location.

When the annual Fun and Freedom summer camp opened Monday in Springdale, camp directors David and Jeannine McCutcheon ushered in the largest class of youth campers since the Christian faith-based sports camp's 2009 inception.

What began with 54 first- through sixth-grade campers then has blossomed into the non-profit Fun and Freedom organization's most popular and widely supported program.

The nondenominational camp, which runs through Friday, is designed to combine sports and faith in positively impacting youth.

Its appeal is growing more pervasive each year among Springdale-area elementary students.

“Five years ago, I held the counselor orientation meeting in my living room,” David McCutcheon said. “This year, we held it in the elementary school gymnasium. We have about 80 junior and senior counselors and 154 registered campers this year.”

David's wife, Jeannine, said she believes the key to the camp's success lies in the support they receive from local organizations and the community at large.

Both Riverside Community and Springdale Open Bible churches, as well as the borough, provide the camp with transportation and space for worship and sporting activities. They also receive support from dozens of adult volunteers from the neighborhood.

“I know that a lot of other communities have tried things like this and they've fallen apart,” she said. “I think the fact that this one here is continually successful speaks volumes to how amazing this community is.”

Fun and Freedom campers spend a portion of their days in Bible study and performing community service projects such as painting and landscaping for the borough.

The remainder of their time is spent playing sports in friendly competition. Lacrosse and cricket are among the least common of the sports offered, which includes soccer, basketball and volleyball.

Kathy Kotlinski, Fun and Freedom assistant sports director, said the camp benefits the area's youth because it provides an atmosphere in which athletes of all abilities can learn to play absent the myriad of pressures inherent of organized sports.

“From such a young age, kids are pressured to win at all costs,” she said. “It takes the fun out of it.

“We put the fun back in it and give kids a chance to learn about the game and the importance of teamwork and respect. That's what Fun and Freedom was founded on.”

Fun and Freedom was founded in 2003 by former Springdale High School physical education teacher and girls basketball coach Deeni Riddle. According to Riddle's longtime friend and Springdale neighbor Lorie Sakala, the coach and educator was inspired to launch the non-profit after doing some missionary work over a decade ago in Bolivia.

Riddle traveled to the South American nation with a group of college women basketball players. On the trip, the women confided in Riddle that the game at that level had lost its “fun and freedom.”

That's when, Sakala said, Riddle decided to combine her love of kids and sports with her Christian faith and launch Fun and Freedom.

The organization first put on a three-on-three basketball tournament on Sunday nights before initiating a weekly summer basketball program in Natrona Heights, Harrison.

Riddle never saw the summer day camp open. The longtime coach and educator died in September 2006 at age 58 after a seven-month battle with leukemia.

Fun and Freedom co-founder and current Director Penny Houston said the summer camp is the embodiment of what Riddle stood for. She believes its continuation is the best way to preserve her legacy of service.

“She loved sports,” Houston said, “she loved kids and she loved Christ. This program reflects her core values and reminds the community what kind of a person she was. I believe that she, in some way, is still alive through it.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-226-4673.

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