Ours is a storied history. Actually, it’s not. It’s just a story. Most of which is true. And here it is. It was back in 2000, or 2001. Maybe it was 2002. I don’t know, it was sometime around the turn of the century, my memory is not good, when the camp started. I was a young graduate student, working my way through the ranks of Chicago’s most elite private schools as a teaching assistant, after-school teacher, camp counselor, babysitter, and odd job man. Working at the Franklin G. Parton Summer Camp, I decided to break out the Wiffle ball equipment one day and see if any kids wanted to play.
I’d grown up on Hampton Beach, a beautiful strip of sand on New Hampshire’s short seacoast, pounding Wiffle balls off the beachfront home of the DiGironimo’s. The DiGironimo’s were a well-off elderly couple who owned this prime real estate, as a summer home, but hardly ever spent time there. My best friend, Adam “Guido” Loffrito, and I would play all day out there, smacking Wiffle balls off of the windows, over the A-frame roof, into the grotto. We’d only take the occasional break for a Fla-Vor-Ice freeze pop. Most of the time we’d just play with the freeze pops hanging out of our mouths. We’d go through about a 24 pack every day. Freeze pops and Wiffle ball. Every day. It was the best of times.
Until that day at the summer camp, when I pulled out the iconic yellow bat and white perforated ball, it had been a long time since I played Wiffle ball. I’d been distracted with many curious diversions during my young adult years, but Wiffle ball wasn’t one of them. But as soon as I picked up that ball and made it dance out of my hand, that feeling came back to me. I organized a game with the kids at the camp. I got into it. The kids got into it. We got the freeze pops. We played it everyday for the rest of camp.
The camp ended on a Friday in early August. There were still a few weeks before school started and the mom of one of the campers who really loved to Wiffle asked me if I’d be interested, as a baby sitting gig, in taking her son to play Wiffle ball in the park for a couple of hours on Monday. His friend joined up on Tuesday. By the end of the week I had six kids playing Wiffle ball in what is now the nature preserve near Cafe Brauer at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The parents asked me if I’d do it the next week. We picked up a few more kids. And then we kept it going the week after that. We Wiffed all the way up until school started. A camp was born.
Each year since then the camp has grown a little more. A few more kids. Baseball cards. A staff member. A kid counselor. T-shirts. Awards banquets. Field trips. More kids. More staff. More teams. A website. Official teams. Guest speakers. A blog. More kids. Home run fencing. Freeze pops. Jerseys. A podcast. A Director of Communications. More kids. Hats. Twitter. A medical center. A YouTube Channel. Two fields. A Hall of Fame.
In 2012 we celebrated our 10th Anniversary. It was a gala affair honoring all the legends and founding fathers of the camp. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids that have graced the fields at Bill’s Wiffling Camp. And though we’ve grown a little bit every year, one thing has stayed the same. Everybody wiffs.