Little Liam McGrath sat oblivious to the running children and bouncing balls around him as he concentrated on the red and blue clay on the table in front of him.
"I'm making a baseball game," explained the 7-year-old. "That's the man.That's the bat. That's the ball. It's not really hard, but it takes a long time. You got to think how to do it.
It didn't take long, however, after he had finished a red player (a St. Louis Cardinal), a blue player (a Toronto Blue Jay), a bat, and a ball, for Liam to join a newly forming volleyball game.
Liam, who lives at 6015 Western Ave. NW, is one of 80 campers attending a two-week session of the Beech Knoll day camp which is located at Glover Road NW, just south of its intersection with Military Road. In all there are 11 play camps operated by the D.C. Department of Recreation, with each one offering four two-week sessions.
There is no charge to the campers but they must provide their own transportation to the campsite. The camps are open from 3 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. The camper brings his own lunch for eight of his days at Beech Knoll. On the other two days he is assessed $1 for coconut lunch.
The main activities at Beech Knoll for the 7 to 14-year-old campers are arts and crafts, hiking, nature walks, games, such as volleyball and dodge ball, and singing. The camp is located very near the Rock Creek Nature Center and there are also many clearly marked trails.
The director of the camp is Lyn Henley, 32, who has been at the helm at Beach Knoll for 10 years. A lifetime resident of the Washington area, Henley once was a camper at Fort Stanton, another site at 17th and Erie Streets SE; as well as a junior counselor and director there. However, now his only allegiance is to Beech Knoll, he said.
"Being here so long, I've developed a rapport with the nature center and the park police. I just love it. I'm a school teacher in the off-season. Being outside, it's a different kind of relationship. Out here, it's not Mr. Henley. It's Lyn. Out here, I have fun with the kids. I joke with them, play with them," Henley said.
"It's so much fun. I guess I like the singing and the games - the volley - the best," said Jackie Suggs, 13, a six-year veteran of city day camps who lives at 4500 Arkansas Ave. NW.
"When I get close to school closing, I think about what I'm going to do during the summer. And I think of camp. At home, there's not as many children and you can't play the games.
Keith Lindsey, 10, of 6552 N. Capitol St, has already planned his next few summers. "I'm going to come here every year until I get too old," he said. "I have fun at the creek. Some people fall in sometimes. That's funny. I just like hiking a lot. I think this camp is better than the other camps."
Adrian Loving, 7, who lives at 1300 Missouri Ave. NW, was a little more reserved with his praise of Beech Knoll. "It's a little bit good. There's too many gnats around here," he said. "I like that game over there (volleyball) and I like the game where you try to hit people with the ball. And I like going down to the creek and crossing the rocks."
In all, there is a staff of 18, including three part-time workers, to run Beech Knoll. Often, it wouldn't be possible to differentiate between the campers and the counselors if the campers and the counselors if the counselors weren't usually bigger and older.
"We play with them, cut up with them," Henley said. "The enthusiasm of the staff rubs off on the campers. They see us having fun so they fall right into it."
Jay Jordan, 22, of Southern and Suitland Streets SE, towers over the campers at 6-feet-3. "This is a lot of fun," Jordan said. "I'm outdoors. I play hard sometimes. It kind of stirs the children when sometimes the counselors make the spectacular moves."