The day has finally come – the camp application for West Point Lacrosse Camp has arrived in the mail. My favorite week of the year! I quickly open the tri-fold application like it holds the secrets to the future. I look through the pictures and immediately get even more excited. My mom has to calm me down, “Jimmy, it is only April. We have to wait a few more months.”

I pick up the phone and dial Nicky. “Did you get it?” I ask. “Can you go?” “Which session: 1, 2 or 3?” I am firing off questions faster than he can answer.

Fast forward to July, which couldn’t come fast enough for this 12-year-old. We pack up our things and head off to West Point Overnight Lacrosse Camp. As we arrive on campus, the world changes. The cadets are walking around in their fatigues, the freshmen Plebes are marching and chanting and the place is alive with activity. We go through our check-in, get settled into our room and my parents say their goodbyes. Nicky is already there and we are ready to begin our weeklong adventure together.

It’s only a few minutes before the horn sounds and it is time for our first session. We grab our gear and run to the quadrangle. Yes, run – we run everywhere! Walking takes way too long. As we start our one-mile amble to the fields, we pass buildings, fields, theaters, classrooms, cadets, generals and who knows what else. Since this is our second year here, we know to count the stars on the shoulders of the “guys in the suits.” We have been told the more stars, the more important, but we are not sure what the stars signify. That’s not important to us, just who saw it first. Nicky yells in a thick New York accent, “Four stars, one for me!”

We go through our first session of lacrosse and begin the long run back to the dorms. This time the counselor who is escorting/catching up/responsible for us is a member of the West Point lacrosse team. He starts to chant as we run, and we instinctively drop into a rhythm. “Five crazy kids, running to the dorm,” he methodically chants. “Five crazy kids, running to the dorm,” we respond. Before it really gets going it is over and we are back to the dorm. Too soon, as far as we are concerned, but I am sure not soon enough for the counselor.

Next is our first meal. Dinner! We meet our counselor in the quadrangle, ready to run again. As we enter the huge hall, it is impossible to ignore the history. Deep, dark oak walls and long wooden tables seem to go on forever. There is simply a presence about the place; we never even think about getting out of line.

For the rest of the week we are transformed into a light version of the West Point system. It’s a strict schedule and highly organized camp run by the head coach, Jack Emmer. During the afternoons after the second session of three per day, we get to go to the Olympic-size pool and jump off the top diving platform! Evenings we play games in Michie Stadium under the lights. I think to myself that I am on the field where the Army-Navy game is played and our high school lacrosse state finals are held!

As always, the week ends all too quickly and my parents come to pick me up. I don’t realize how tired I am until the car ride home. As I look back on the weeks I spent on the campus, I do not remember much about the games or lacrosse, although there were plenty. What I do remember is the smell of the dining hall, walking around campus, running up the steps of the stadium and swimming in the pool. Any time I hear a march chant I am immediately taken back to this week of my young life. Although I never went to West Point, I was never intimidated by a college campus. The camp experience allowed me to see and experience college in a very controlled setting.

Colleges these days are very much alive during the summer with a plethora of activities. Not just sports, but academics and the arts as well. I encourage you to research the many opportunities that are possible for your son or daughter at a local college. The type of camp is certainly important, but the impressions will last a lifetime.

Jim Castrataro is the director of summer programs at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. For 17 years, he’s been a director and camp consultant to a variety of camp programs that have served thousands of children and young adults.