Meghan Pattyson Culmo, a West Hartford resident and former UConn basketball player, hosted a girls basketball camp at the University of Saint Joseph.
By Meghann Morhardt. Photos by Ronni Newton
On Friday Aug. 5, just 30 minutes after her last day of camp, Meg Culmo pulled into the driveway of her West Hartford home already wishing she could be back in the gym with the group of young girls who had attended her final session of the summer.
“I was relieved in a sense because a lot of work goes into this camp,” Culmo said. “But I really missed it already. It was really fun and the last week was great.”
In its second year, the all-girls Meg Culmo Basketball Camp hosted three sessions this summer, two in the end of June, and one during the first week in August. With about 45 campers at each session, Culmo and her staff were able to reach a large group of local girls and work to spark the love for basketball that originally inspired Culmo’s dream of starting this camp.
“I love so much of what basketball has given me,” Culmo said. “And if I can just keep growing this great game and having kids enjoy the game, and it doesn’t matter if they go into play in high school or college. I just want them to enjoy summer camp and playing the game.”
Culmo played at UConn where she earned All-Big East honors and helped lead the Huskies to Geno Auriemma’s first conference title before joining the coaching staff that won its first National Title in 1995. Culmo stayed local after her time with the Huskies and has worked as a broadcaster and color analyst for 25 years at ESPN and SNY. She has three kids who will all be students at Hall High School in the fall and she remains “intimately involved” with the UConn program.
The idea of starting this camp had been brewing for a while, but the COVID-19 pandemic was the final push that Culmo needed to make it happen.
“Kids had missed out on so much, and that really motivated me to do it,” Culmo said. “We really wanted to get kids out of the house, away from screens, and just with other kids laughing and having fun.”
To help spark that love and interest, Culmo made sure to staff the camp with a group of high-energy counselors who would be able to help with skills, but also provide the encouragement that the campers needed. Her three kids, Angelo (17), Kathleen (16), and Claire (13), worked the three sessions this summer and Culmo couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
“The coolest thing for me was doing it with my kids,” she said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams, and maybe I waited as long as I did to start it so I could do it all with my kids.”
The rest of the staff was made up of other local kids who were her kid’s friends or friends of the family. Nora Staunton, a 2020 Northwest Catholic graduate, has been a counselor for both years along with Carys Baker, a West Hartford resident and rising senior at Loomis Chaffe, who just recently committed to play at Virginia Tech. Both girls, especially Baker, were great role models for the girls to see what some hard work and a love for the game can bring down the road.
While the camp has a basketball focus, with an age group of 6-13, the skill level can vary, so Culmo and her staff prioritized making it a positive environment where they could both learn how to play the game, but also how to enjoy it.
“You just want them to enjoy the way the basketball feels in their hands,” Culmo said. “And the laughter and smiles with their teammates. A lot of kids even came without knowing anybody, and they left with new friends.”
Fostering this love for the game was especially important to Culmo as a woman in sports. In a town like West Hartford basketball for girls past middle school is not accessible beyond the high schools programs or AAU, whereas for boys, the town league continues through high school. This is largely due to a lack of interest from local girls in high school, but Culmo believes that if she and others can continue to inspire girls from a young age, there may be more options for girls in the future.
“Parents have said to me that there isn’t other things like this for girls in the area,” Culmo said. “And with the UConn women’s basketball team that Connecticut is so proud of, I thought it would make sense to have it just girls for now. That could change in the future, and I’m not opposed to having boys, but I’ve had some really positive feedback so far.”
Culmo has not been alone in her efforts to grow girls basketball in West Hartford, there have been numerous people in town who have supported the camp through her sponsorship program. The program is set up so that anyone can donate a scholarship that is equivalent to either one, two, or all three weeks of camp. Culmo works with Bugbee principal Kelly Brouse to find local kids who may be interested in attending but may need extra financial support to do so. In some cases, they were also able to organize a bus for kids without transportation to the University of Saint Joseph, where the camp was held.
“In the beginning, people just started offering to sponsor kids, I never really asked anyone to do it,” Culmo said. “It really makes you realize how generous people are. And with the kindness of people in town, we were able to give these kids an opportunity which was awesome.”
Along with the local donors, a few members of the UConn team were also able to improve the experience by stopping by to meet the campers. Players including Caroline Ducharme and Azzi Fudd spent some time chatting with the girls as well as taking pictures and singing their shirts and basketballs.
“We didn’t tell the kids that the girls were coming by,” Culmo said. “But the kids loved it, they were so sweet and took pictures with them and everything.”
With the growing interest in her camp, and the support that she has from USJ and the local basketball community, Culmo knows that she can continue to inspire young girls to love the game of basketball.
“St. Joe’s has been unbelievable, it’s a beautiful facility and we’re so lucky to have the camp there,” Culmo said. “The most important thing for me is helping to bring the game to today’s kids in a fun way.”
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.