SMC ETS ventures back outdoors
DOWAGIAC — After last summer’s homebound Zoom camps, Southwestern Michigan College Educational Talent Search Director Maria Kulka eagerly got her students up and moving with July 12-16’s Outdoor Adventures Camp.
Nineteen students explored nature careers and learned how health and wellness are tied to success by traveling the width of the Michigan mitten, from Lake Michigan dunes at Saugatuck to kayaking in Detroit.
Steffany Cruz, Delandah VanDyke, Seleste Williamson, Tanner Cox and Bailey Roeder, Brandywine; Alayna Rogalski and Amari Gaston, Dowagiac Middle School; Cavina Marquez and Piper Ruff, Dowagiac Union High School; Balois Franco, Casimir Smith, Brylee Jones and Jenna Lemon, Cassopolis Middle School; Ossian Duckworth and Elliott Roseberry, Edwardsburg Middle School; Vinnie Pisani, Edwardsburg High School; Michelle Clapp and Katie Lull, Marcellus High School; and Ariah Evans, Marcellus Middle School, attended.
Sandwiched in between were more localized excursions, from the Mattawan fish hatchery and Dr. T.K. Lawless International Dark Sky Park near Vandalia to learning disc golf, which exploded in popularity during the pandemic.
Established in 1927, Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery produces steelhead, Chinook salmon, walleye and Great Lakes muskellunge for inland and Great Lakes waters.
“They met the fisheries biologist and technician,” Kulka said.
They also met Cass County Parks Director Scott Wyman and amateur astronomer Robert Parrish, instrumental in getting Dark Sky Park designation.
“He shared his story with students on how he fell in love with the stars,” Outreach Advisor Allyson Harris said. “He was 8 years old when he received his first telescope for Christmas. Students learned about basic astronomy and light pollution concepts. It was a bummer we were unable to stargaze (due to rain), but overall students learned some amazing information.”
Wednesday’s disc golf, hosted by Scott Wilson of Three Rivers, exposed day campers to St. Joseph County’s Meyer Broadway Park, where MVP Disc Sports professionals and members of Ferris State University’s four-time (2015, 2017, 2019, 2021) national collegiate champions demonstrated gear and techniques. Ferris’s student representatives major in digital animation, criminal justice and business.
Jennifer Sawyer, a construction manager, installed the park’s 54 concrete tee pads in preparation for the 2015 Amateur Disc Golf World Championships.
“Discs fly differently,” Sawyer said. “I can’t throw a Frisbee to save my life, but I can throw this 350 feet.”
Kulka, who favors a forehand release, learned to play while a Ferris student in 2008. Disc golfers speak in lingo, such as “hyzer,” an angled throw designed to curve opposite the throwing arm — left for a right-handed player, right for a southpaw.
There is a Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), boasting more than 120,000 lifetime members in 54 countries, and a Michigan Hall of Fame with 23 inductions since 2015.
The PDGA is the governing body, sanctioning competitive events for players of every skill level. There are more than 8,000 disc golf courses worldwide since the first in California in 1975, with more installed every day, including SMC’s Dowagiac campus, Lawless Park and Madeline Bertrand County Park near Niles.
Originally played with Wham-O Frisbees, patented in 1966, the game has evolved to flight-rated discs specialized for “driving” to “putting.” Players pull bags containing a colorful array of flat, round “clubs” and a marker to jot contact information on discs because errant shots get lost.
As shade-seeking missiles whistle through the tree canopy at chain-mesh baskets, campers also used a phone app to snap pictures of wildflowers and plants posted to an online community which helps identify their finds.
Wilson, 65, turned his hobby into a disc golf business and coached high school sports and Little League baseball while watching it develop over the past 35 years. He also plays “ball golf.”
Tutor/mentor Jose Medina started with ETS in eighth grade, attending 2017’s Agricultural Science Camp and 2016’s 11th annual CSI Academy, which culminated at Dowagiac Conservation Club with a shooting demonstration of AR-15 rifles and Glock 22 pistols, the Cass County Warrant Services Team’s bullet-resistant, turreted Hummer, maneuvering “throbots,” trying on tactical gear and meeting Officer Tole the German shepherd.
Medina graduated with Dowagiac Union High School’s Class of 2021 and is taking five classes at SMC while living on campus in William White Hall. His eventual goal is social work, transferring from SMC to Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University or Ferris.
“Our disc golf group had fun. We cheered for each other,” Medina said. “I got tired hiking (4.5 miles) on Monday. On the dune buggy ride, the kids said, ‘You’re supposed to be a leader,’ so they made me run down the sandy hill. I kept falling, then I had to get back up the hill.”
ETS is a federally-funded TRiO program committed to ensuring the academic and personal success of eligible middle and high school students. ETS advocates for completion of high school and advancement to college and/or post-secondary training.
ETS, which hosts STEM Camp next week, operates year-round for 750 Brandywine, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Marcellus sixth-12th graders.