New Summer Camp Makes Waves with Laguna Youth

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Spearheaded by Local Little League Coach, Mini League combines Baseball and the Beach 

Wes Peters gets ready to sprint as coach Nino gives last-minute instruction. Clara Beard/LB Indy

Imagine a summer camp that couples morning batting practice at Laguna’s charming Riddle Field with an afternoon spent beachcombing at Diver’s Cove. Laguna local William Maniaci has made this unique combination into reality – a first for Laguna Beach kids.

The baseball camp, dubbed Mini League, has just completed its first week out of five and is already popular with Laguna Beach youth. The first week sold out fast, and Maniaci hopes to have similar attendance throughout the summer. The camp follows a simple formula: baseball in the morning and beach time in the afternoon.

Coach William Maniaci explains the next camp activity to Mini League campers. Photo/Clara Beard

“We had about 10 kids on the waiting list for the first week,” said Maniaci, overseeing his counselors pump up campers for a base running competition. “The following weeks are filling up fast. The feedback has been positive from the parents and the kids. I think we give them just enough baseball, but not too much, so they still want to come back and play more. For the beach, I bring small boogie boards called ‘Wompers’ to catch the surf. We do tide pool walks. We break it up.”

During the baseball portion of the day, Maniaci and a handful of instructors, most of whom play baseball at Laguna Beach High or collegiately, usually break up players of similar abilities into groups for smaller drills to increase engagement.

Mason Woravka runs the bases while a Mini League camper looks on. Clara Beard/LB Indy

This coaching method came after a lightbulb went off while watching his son Theo at T-ball practice a couple of years ago.

“One of Theo’s coaches broke up the practice into small drills, and it was completely different from what I have seen from the previous coach,” Maniaci said. “All the kids were really excited about it. We had a hitting station, a grounder station, and a hitting and catching station. I thought, with these young kids, this is how we have to run the practice. We can’t have a line of kids waiting out at shortstop for a ball.”

Since then, Maniaci became a coach and teamed up with other baseball dads and coaches in Laguna to collaborate on coaching techniques and best practices. After two years of coaching Little League AA, Maniaci led the U9 All-Stars to the 2022 District 55 finals.

However, once the season wrapped, parents began to ask, “what’s next?”

A baseball-beach camp was on his radar, but Maniaci needed help getting the idea off the group. He called in his friend Erik Nelsen, who, along with his dad Jeff, started the Ocean Adventure surf and beach camps.

“I thought, ‘how do I do a camp so it’s not too grind-y on baseball and the campers can see another aspect of this town that is so special – the beach,” Maniaci said. “I brought the idea to Erik and said, ‘I have this idea for a baseball beach camp where we start the day at Riddle, then walk down to Diver’s Cove. So it’s half-day baseball, half-day beach. Erik helped make this a reality and helped me overcome the fear of starting something new.”

The beach feature of Mini League is crucial to the ethos of the camp. Maniaci is cautious about baseball burnout and doesn’t want to see his young campers lose interest in America’s pastime. He’s found the baseball-beach combo to be a perfect mix.

“Because I grew up in Laguna, I played at Riddle Field,” Maniaci recalls. “When my time was about over at Riddle, I got into surfing and never played baseball again. It was one of the biggest regrets of my life. I love surfing, but you can surf your entire life – it’s an individual sport. Most kids only have up through high school to play baseball. Then it’s over. So why not take advantage of those team sports opportunities as a kid?”

More information about Laguna Beach’s Mini League camp can be found at https://minileaguelb.com

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