Allegations of abusive behavior against children during a Derry Township sports camp prompted officials to cancel the camp and sever a 10-year-old contract with the company that provided its counselors.
The accusations from one local mother resulted in an investigation by local police and a review by the District Attorney’s office, according to officials. But no criminal charges were filed.
The camp was a multi-sports camp for children aged 5 to 11 designed to give “kids a chance to learn about and play various sports,” according to Matthew Mandia, Derry Township Parks and Recreation director. This year’s camp began late last month and was slated to last for five days.
Derry Township contracted with US Sports Institute, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., to run and staff the camp, Mandia said.
“The township has contracted with US Sports Institute for over 10 years and have had a great response from the community on how the camps have been operated,” Mandia said.
But that changed when one Hershey mother posted on Facebook last month that two of her children, aged 9 and 11, who attended the camp, left “visibly upset” over the actions of camp counselors.
“After speaking with them individually, I was told that the counselors repeatedly told the children to ‘shut up.’ They were using profanity and when playing the ‘quiet game,’ a punishment for breaking the silence was placing the child in a porta potty, locking the door and having other children rock it back and forth,” Karen Wall wrote on Facebook.
Wall said her children told her they did not want to return to the camp because of their negative experience.
Wall said she contacted the director of the camp and wrote about her family’s experiences to help make other parents aware of the situation. She said officials took her concerns “very seriously and took swift and immediate action to investigate.” Parents were refunded for the costs of the camp.
“After a thorough investigation by the appropriate parties, the allegations that my children brought forth yesterday against the counselors were found to be completely validated and truthful,” Wall wrote.
Mandia confirmed that his department received two reports regarding concerns over the counselors’ behavior.
“We immediately spoke with the instructors regarding the reported less-than-professional behavior. The department then received a second call confirming the first report,” Mandia said.
“The department immediately took action and canceled the remaining sessions, which included the Wednesday evening, Thursday and Friday sessions.”
Despite the township’s decade-long relationship with US Sports Institute, Mandia said officials decided to immediately sever ties with the company and to no longer use its services in the future.
“We are disappointed that a long-standing relationship has been ended because of this unprofessional instruction,” Mandia said.
“With that said, our department has a standard of high quality programming that is offered to our community. We will continue to make sound decisions that ensure that quality programming in the future.”
Derry Township Police Chief Garth Warner acknowledged that the incident was reported to the Parks and Recreation Department and then evaluated by his department.
“The allegations were reviewed by our department and after consultation with the District Attorney’s Office, determined there were no criminal violations that would result in charges by our department,” Warner said. “It was referred back to Parks and Recreation for their disposition.”
According to its website, US Sports Institute provides sports camps and year-round sports programs to some 500 organizations nationwide, including recreation departments and various non profits.
Mark Wilson, USSI human resources director, would not comment directly on the allegations or discuss anything about the case.
“We dealt with this client for 10 years. We had an investigation with the staff and it’s something we dealt with,” Wilson said.
Most of the reactions to Wall’s Facebook post were supportive, but she did take some criticism on the site for making public her allegations before a formal investigation took place. Wall was unapologetic.
“For those of you that chose to criticize my actions about posting on this page, I wish you would have refrained from being so judgmental and lecturing about what you believe I should have done,” Wall wrote.
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