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Rounding the bases
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The Billy Roper Baseball Camp ended Thursday at Riverside Park, but not before many young ballplayers left the field better than they were before.

Just ask Roper's six-year-old son, B.J.

"I (had) fun," said B.J. "I like (playing) baseball and hitting."

B.J. has attended the camp for the second year in a row. In fact, the little slugger just made the All-Star team, making his instructor quite proud.

Roper has been the head baseball coach at Newton High School since 1998, but has been coaching baseball for 12 years. He has been running the camp every year since he began his tenure at NHS. In 2001, Roper was chosen to be the head coach of the Northeast Georgia All-Star Team.

The clinic included many different sessions involving lectures on basic fundamentals, drills, batting practice and pitching fundamentals.

But the reason why he operates the camp is because Roper wants to help carry on the tradition of playing baseball, more importantly playing it the right way.

"There are so many places (where) the kids don't play baseball the way it's meant to be played," said Roper. "Even though some of these kids might be going to Eastside or Alcovy, this camp (is) able to help these kids get better. Obviously, they're paying a little bit, but it (isn't) about the money; it's about getting out here and teaching these young ones the correct way to play the game. Anytime you can help teach a little bit about the order of the game is very pleasing."

Despite there not being many older athletes participating in the camp due to travel ball, American Legion and vacation, Roper was quite pleased with the overall turnout.

"I want to thank Ludie's Sports Shop for allowing us to place our applications over there," complimented Roper, "and the Newton Recreation Department allowed us to advertise, too, so I want to thank the coaches of the teams over there for telling the parents about the camp."

Of course, Roper wasn't alone in helping manage the camp. Four assistant coaches and several NHS players helped him along the way, including Jason Lachappelle, John Baker, Tyler Hensley, Michael Sabo, Chris Boyd and Clay Johnson.

"Without them I wouldn't be able to do it," said Roper.

For twins Luke and Spencer Dispain, not even a day after going to the Atlanta Braves game and the Varsity could stop them from grabbing their gloves for the clinic.

"They've been out here all week," said mother Kimberly Dispain. "Honestly, I think they learn more here than they did this entire past season. Really, they have learned more at this camp, and I'm thinking about hiring (Roper) for some one-on-one lessons."

One such drill Dispain mentioned that her boys learned was the "shuffle," in which players scoot from left to right - in fielding position - and keep their eyes on the ball as they field grounders.

"Mine have played four seasons and have never been taught that," said Dispain.

Luke liked "meeting new friends" at camp the most, while Spencer enjoyed "hitting" more than anything else, especially the scrimmage game.

Jason Cloer, who is 10-years-old and plays second base, has participated in the camp for many years now. In fact, the Cloers have all been big supporters of the NHS baseball program, including Jason's older brother, Josh, who plays on the varsity team.

"It definitely gives them something to do and (gets) them off the couch," said mother Michelle Cloer. "The scrimmage game is what Jason (had) been looking forward to all week; that's the best thing.

"I've seen so many boys (who) my older son played with at his age that aren't even playing ball now," she added, "so my thing for him is to have a good time while he's here and enjoy making friends. If he continues to play ball, that's great, and if not at least he's got some new friendships."

Hunter Ballard, who is 10 years old, has really enjoyed the camp, and plays recreation baseball for the Braves. In fact, the season recently ended and his team had a record of 10-5.

"He's been out here since Monday and really likes it," said Hunter's father, Terry Ballard. "I think he needs to work on his hitting some. He also likes to pitch, (which is) he hasn't done really well, but that's something they've been helping him work on in the camp."

Brandy Thompson, mother of camp attendees Riley (7) and Bailey (6), was extremely pleased with the how the camp was conducted.

"This is their first time and they really liked it a lot," said Thompson. "Bailey was really thrilled with it. They just love baseball, (and) I was really pleased with this particular camp."

Jennifer Hupp echoed the same feelings.

"They love it so much (that) they traded Creative Kids Camp for baseball; they're having a great time," said Hupp, mother of Travis (10) and Shane (8), who both participated in the camp.

It is the second year the young sluggers, who normally play first base, have laced up their plastic cleats for the camp.

"For Shane, it's (about) getting his confidence level up as far as hitting goes," said Hupp. "For Travis, it's fielding; he likes working with the bigger boys. They both just love it, and I'm satisfied and very pleased."

What made this camp so unique is the age differential among athletes, which ranged from 5- to 15-year-olds.

"It was a lot of fun," said 15-year-old Josea Hines. "I've been talking to (Roper) since the ninth grade about (playing) baseball; he's a pretty good coach."

Hines, an outfielder, has played baseball since T-ball; however, he has taken the past several years off but wants to get back into it. Attending the clinic has helped Hines regain his timing and confidence, as well. This year marks the first time Hines has participated in the camp, and he is hoping to earn a spot on the team next season.

"I think he's enjoying it," said Brenda Davis, mother of Josea. "And he's getting whatever tips he can get as far as improving his skills (and) getting his timing back. Coach Roper has given him (many) words of encouragement."

When prompted if he saw any future Newton Rams playing for the varsity squad, Roper smiled and bobbed his head up and down.

"There's definitely some potential."