Parents camp out for spots at camp

Staff WriterMarch 26, 2006 

Parents lost an awful lot of sleep this month while they scrambled for a head start at summer camp sign-ups.

On Thursday, some of the final, weary ones began to filter into the Cary YMCA before dawn to await the kickoff of the final round of day camp registration.

"I need to get that spot," said the man at the front of the line, John Knagenhjelm, 45, of Holly Springs. He started sitting in line at 5:30 a.m. because he wanted to make sure his 8-year-old son, Joseph, could spend another summer at the branch's day camp.

This is suburbia's form of March Madness. It is all too familiar to many parents, especially those who have heard horror stories of children getting shut out of day camps and preschools because their parents waited too long.

"You have to get up early just to get the best camps," said Kathy O'Neil of Cary as she waited in line at the Cary YMCA with a People magazine in her lap. "It's parents spoiling their kids by suffering."

For most parents, these pre-dawn ordeals are unnecessary because the large day camps can take days, if not weeks, to reach capacity, according to Allison Crumpler, associate branch director of the Banks D. Kerr Family YMCA in North Raleigh. At the YMCA, for instance, the only day camps to fill up within hours this year were small, specialty camps focusing on golf and lacrosse.

Still, some parents insist on showing up for sign-ups before the earliest of early birds.

A couple of weeks ago, one man spent the night in a tent outside the Cary YMCA to be first in line during the member registration for day camp. Some showed up at 2 a.m. for Holly Springs' day camp sign-up.

"It's like a Bruce Springsteen concert," said David Johnson, associate director of the Cary YMCA. "Everybody wants to get in."

Schedule changes are about all that can derail these predawn lines. The A.E. Finley YMCA branch in North Raleigh banished the mini-Krzyzewskivilles that used to pop up before camp sign-ups by moving camp registration to Saturday nights, said branch director Tim O'Connell.

"We figured it would be better for everybody to get a little sleep," O'Connell said.

Elsewhere, though, sleep remains for the childless.

In Cary, more than 70 people lined up inside the YMCA's main hall for the 7 a.m. start of general registration. Some pushed small children in strollers, while others clutched coffee mugs and waited quietly.

Steve Pilkington, 37, of Apex, said he did not mind sacrificing a few winks to get his 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, a spot in one of the branch's summer camps.

"It was well worth it," he said "I'd much rather her have the opportunity to go to camp than me be able to say I slept an extra hour."

Staff writer Toby Coleman can be reached at 829-8937 or

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