Madawaska Volleyball Camp

Editor's Message

Volleyball Source had the great opportunity this past summer to visit Madawaska Volleyball Camp.  We had individually been to camp as guests, campers and as staff, but this summer was the first time all three of us were there together.  We had an absolutely amazing time up and camp and hope to be back next year.  

For more information, and to register for the 2014 season, visit their website at madawaskacamps.com

Photos: Martin Paul and Shauna Cartlidge

It’s hard putting Camp Madawaska into words.

At least that’s what I tell people when they ask me about my favourite place. Actually, when talking about Madawaska, words come very easily. Most of my friends know not to bring up the subject, unless they want an endless stream of camp talk.

Sunrise at Madawaska Volleyball Camp

The cool thing is that I’m not the only one who shares this sentiment towards Madawaska. I’m joined by the thousands of people who have come to camp since its first year in 1972. Whether you are talking to a friend who’s been there 15 years straight, or to someone who hasn’t been in a decade, everyone gets the same excitement in their voice.

But what makes it so special? Why do Canadian volleyball legends like Paul Duerden, as well as casual high school players, flock to camp at the end of every August?

Maybe it could be because of the beautiful setting. Camp Walden, which hosts Madawaska, is a picturesquely Canadian place that deserves a postcard. From the beautiful waterfront with lounging docks, diving boards and even a slide, to the sprawling Field of Dreams filled with volleyball nets, to the beautifully unpolluted night sky that shines with the light of the Milky Way and shooting stars, it’s a sight to behold.

Even better, it is situated literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s so remote that there is no cellphone service at camp.

But there’s more.

The Dining Hall

Maybe it’s the incredible staff of coaches. Ontario’s best are always present, including Dustin Reid, Lionel Woods, the entire staff of Ontario’s 18U boys’ provincial team and, of course, Duerden. They guide campers through five and a half hours of volleyball each day. The mix of young and old coaches provides a perfect opportunity for idea sharing and mentoring, with the campers being the benefactors of this.

But there’s still more.

Maybe it’s the awesome evening programs offered by Madawaska. There’s campfire night, the sing along Hootenanny, a dance, and even an end-of-week talent show. Every night provides a new experience, allowing campers to leave their comfort zones and make new friends.

There’s still more.

Maybe it could be every little thing that happens at camp, from Togetherness at 6 a.m., dinning hall chirps between the beach and court sections, the Brownstein Cup (named after founder Paul Brownstein, see sidebar), singing a track to get your snack, banging on the tables for dessert, the cheer-off, or playing Kings Court after a two-hour practice.

Actually, all of these things are what make Madwaska great, but they’re not the reason that it’s so special for me.

What’s best is the fact that everyone around you shares one thing - the love of volleyball. The passion for the sport that’s shared by coaches and campers is infectious. It’s like a National Championships without the pressure. It’s the purest form of volleyball, because everyone’s there for the right reasons.

Everyone wants to be there.

Madawaska is a safe haven where campers can learn something new, make a new friend, develop new skills, and maybe even share things that they would never share in the outside world. It provides the perfect opportunity for campers to grow, not only as volleyball players, but into the best possible people.

And coaches want to be there just as much, if not more, than the kids they are helping. Many take a week’s vacation to work at Madawaska, and some have even quit jobs to attend. In fact, I’d bet you my entire camp salary that everyone would do it for free!

That’s because the coaches and staff at Madawaska GET IT. Every day, they put themselves out there, go that extra mile, so the kids have the best week of their lives. In turn, they do as well. Day after day, there are coaches who stay late after sessions to let kids work on their serving, or maybe help young campers perform at Madawaska’s Got Talent. And how about Terrel Bramwell giving a female fan one of his National Team jerseys, just to thank her for being a fan!

Shayne White of The University of Waterloo - One of the guest coaches this past summer.

Everything considered, Madawaska isn’t so much a place, it’s more of a family. The reason so many return is because of the people who bring value to camp. These are people with whom I have created a lifetime’s worth of memories. They are the reason I count down the days to camp every year, like a kid waiting for Christmas. The people are the reason I feel instantly at home every late August.

When campers and staff say their teary-eyed farewells on the final day, they aren’t crying because the volleyball is over, or because there won’t be any more dances to attend, or even because they want to go swimming one last time.

They’re crying because of the people they’ve met and grown with over one short week, relationships that will last a lifetime. They’re crying because they know that, for this year, the adventure is over. They also know that nowhere else in the world will they be able to experience what they had at Madawaska.

When I say I want to linger longer, I don’t mean just for a few more hours or a few more days. I want to spend an eternity at Camp Madawaska, making every day the Best Day of My Life.

Paul and Shelley got it started

No story on Madawaska is complete without a mention of camp founders Paul and Shelley Brownstein, who are now happily retired, spending much of the year in the States. Paul was Ontario coach at Canada Games way back when and saw a need to raise the level of the sport in the province.

Through the OVA, he launched a couple of camps aimed at elite athletes. He subsequently hooked up with Ted Cole, owner of Camp Walden. Cole convinced Paul to make Madawaska a “volleyball for all” camp, regardless of skill level. Soon, the Brownsteins were running the camp, with the OVA as sponsor.

For some 30 years, through 2006, Paul and Shelley operated Madawaska, welcoming players and coaches from across the province and even as far away as Japan, Czechoslovakia, California, Venezuela and Chile. They strived to make it a fun experience for all, which it remains to this day.