For 26 years, Yale staff member has helped bring summer fun to area kids

Carlos Pinela
Carlos Pinela ’82, director of the Yale Bulldog Sports Camp. (photo by Michael Marsland)

During the month of July, Carlos Pinela ’82 will begin his weekdays doing what he asks of all the children who file into the Payne Whitney Gym’s Lanman Center at 9 a.m. each morning: completing a certain number of pushups, sit-ups, squats, and other floor exercises.

Pinela has been following this summer routine for 26 years, and says it’s one of his favorite times of the day during the five-week Yale Bulldog Sports Camp he has directed all those years.

I lose about five pounds every summer doing calisthenics with the campers,” says Pinela. “I try to coax the kids into a daily fitness routine, and those mornings are one of the joys for me of running the program.”

In the Yale Bulldog Sports Camp, children ages 6-14 develop their skills in in a range of indoor sports and recreational activities, including basketball, swimming, ping pong, volleyball, squash, gymnastics, and yoga, as well as outdoor sports such as soccer, baseball, tennis, golf, field hockey, lacrosse, kickball, and more. The indoor sports take place in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium (PWG), and the campers travel twice weekly to Yale’s athletic fields for the outdoor sports. Every Wednesday (weather permitting), the campers journey to Yale’s Outdoor Education Center (OEC) in East Lyme for lake swimming, fishing, and more. Youngsters are enrolled at the camp for weekly sessions for up to five weeks.

Our days are spent doing wall-to-wall sports at campus facilities or fun and games at the Outdoor Center,” says Pinela.

Pinela became director of the Yale Bulldog Sports Camp just one year after it began, and has seen the program grow from its early days, when it had some 50 campers, to its current average of about 100 children per week (although it has sometimes enrolled some as many as 150 participants weekly).

He was a recent Yale graduate when he began a part-time summer job to direct the sports camp. A political science major, Pinela took part during his student days in intramural football (razzle dazzle and tackle) and basketball, and gained experience as an athletic coach and a referee after he graduated. He was glad to be back on campus sharing his love of athletics, he says.

It’s easy to be excited around a bunch of kids who are excited themselves to play sports,” says Pinela, who has for many years also coached sports teams at Hamden Hall Country Day School.

Within a couple of years, Pinela was hired on a full-time basis as the Yale camp director, and he eventually also became assistant director of athletics and the director of aquatics.

Part of our mission with the summer sports camp is to showcase Yale’s exceptional athletic facilities as we introduce kids to a range of sports,” says Pinela, noting that the PWG is one of the largest athletic facilities in the world.

For Pinela, preparations for the summer camp get underway in March, when he begins interviewing camp counselors, many of whom are college students who are home in the New Haven area for summer break. Some attended the Yale camp themselves, so Pinela has gotten to know them well over the years. Altogether, he hires a staff of about 25, which, in addition to the counselors, includes several lifeguards and a camp nurse. The counselors lead a group of children (sorted by age and gender), and also coach one indoor and one outdoor sport. All attend a one-day training orientation at the end of June, which Pinela leads.

When I interview counselors, I always ask them if they swim,” says Pinela. “The kids love to play with their counselors in the water. In all of the sports, the counselors always have a skill advantage, but in the water, things are more equitable: Everybody’s a kid in the water.”

About a decade ago, the Yale Bulldog Sports Camp began to offer lunches to all of the campers, with food catered by nearby restaurants. On Wednesdays at the OEC, hotdogs and hamburgers are on the menu, and on Fridays, the campers are treated to pizza from the Big Green Pizza Truck.

Providing lunches to the campers has definitely been a hit with busy parents,” says Pinela. He notes that while food prices have gone up, the fee for the camp has remained the same over many years, and one of his challenges as director is to ensure that the expense of running the camp is mostly covered by registration fees.

During his more than two decades directing the camp, Pinela has watched the children of many Yale staff and faculty members — as well as those of non-Yale affiliates — grow up and go off to college or careers themselves. A particular pleasure for him was to have two of his own three children participate in the Yale Bulldog Sports Camp. His daughter Sona is now a senior at the University of Connecticut, where she swims competitively, and son Simòn is a junior at Villanova University. His other daughter, Natalie, did not attend the sports camp, but she will be a Yale sophomore in the fall.

Natalie sometimes stopped by for the pizza truck,” Pinela laughs, “so she wasn’t entirely absent.”

With his various roles in Yale’s Athletics Department, Pinela spends much of his time at the gym or on Yale’s fields. As assistant director of athletics, he is responsible for some of the facilities maintenance and scheduling, and he assists at many of the varsity contests that take place at the gym, including swimming, volleyball, gymnastics, and basketball. He has spent many of his Friday nights and Saturdays at sporting events at the gym, often with his children tagging along.

Between the summer camp and sports events, I’ve long had the privilege of being able to bring my family to ‘work,’” he quips.

As he approaches his 30th year at the university, Pinela says he’s is grateful for his long career in athletics, especially since he had barely known the name “Yale” while he was growing up in a large Mexican-American family in Los Angeles.

My mom and Dad only had elementary-school educations, but they had the good fortune to bring up seven children who all went to college,” Pinela says. “What I knew of the Ivy League when I was a kid was just some grainy video of the Yale-Harvard game. Later, one of the guys from my high school who attended Yale came back and gave a talk, and one of the things he said really resonated with me. He said, ‘It’s a different place, and if you go and don’t like it, you can always come back.’ I did enjoy it, and also enjoyed the city of New Haven, especially because it is a pedestrian-friendly place, like Paris.”

Pinela says he has a long list of memorable moments during his summers managing the Yale Bulldog Sports Camp. Every year, on the last day of camp, he receives exclamations of “thank you” from both children and their parents, and he poses for photos with the many youngsters eager to take a picture with their camp director. He recalls how one year a young camper gave him a handwritten note, in which she wrote, “I’m so sad this is my last day of camp.”

That really says it all,” says Pinela. “That’s the best compliment I can get from a child. The greatest compliment I get from parents — and do get often — is when they tell me their child or children went home, ate dinner, and then went straight to bed. We keep the kids busy and tire them out, in the best way possible and while having a lot of fun.”

The Yale Bulldog Sports Camp runs through Aug. 2. For more information and to register, visit the camp’s website.

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Susan Gonzalez: susan.gonzalez@yale.edu,