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Local soldier surprises his children at SUNY Potsdam basketball camp

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POTSDAM — The last day of the 44th annual Potsdam Bears Basketball Camp was a memorable experience for all who attended, but not for the reasons you’d expect. And for Vincent P. and Cassi L. Boyer, this year was unforgettable.

Expecting to receive a camp award Thursday, they were instead greeted by their father, Army Maj. Del P. Boyer, whom they have not seen since January. They had no idea he was coming.

As they turned around on the court of SUNY Potsdam’s Jerry Welsh Gymnasium, the response was immediate.

As they locked eyes, there were no words, only movement. Drawn by a love that seemed magnetic, the three were instantly in each other’s arms, prompting a standing ovation.

“It was completely amazing; I had no clue he was going to come home,” Cassi said. “It was, like, the best experience of my life.“

The major is home for two weeks of rest and recovery, having spent three days in transit, bouncing his way through Kuwait, Germany, Atlanta and Syracuse. He is stationed at Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division headquarters.

“It means the world to have him home,” said Maj. Boyer’s wife, Karri A. Boyer, an alumna of SUNY Potsdam who welcomed him home two days ago.

According to Mrs. Boyer, her husband is normally a private man and would not choose to reunite with family publicly as he did on Thursday. The Boyers originally planned to surprise the children at home. But when the camp called, asking to organize a surprise visit, he decided to do it. A mock award was created to get Vincent and Cassi on the court floor, and once there they were promptly spun around to meet their father.

When asked to describe the meaning of the moment the major paused, unable to find the words.

“I don’t think I can describe it,” he said.

Life in the military can be hard on families, because of an inevitable physical and emotional separation, Maj. Boyer said.

“In my opinion, the people that have it the hardest are the spouses and the children“ he said.

He regretted being gone for the everyday moments his kids are going through. “Dad’s not there to shovel the driveway; dad’s not there to mow the lawn, to take care of the everyday things” Maj. Boyer said.

A native of Tupper Lake and one of seven children, Maj. Boyer valued how his parents were there for the important times in his life.

“My mom and dad were there for every single thing,” he said.

For these two weeks he intends to be there for all the family moments he can, including his son’s baseball game Friday night in Cape Vincent, and his daughter’s upcoming softball game in Watertown.

“Whatever I can do, even if it’s something like catch in the backyard or shooting baskets,” Mr. Boyer said.

And basketball is likely, as his daughter is already deeply in love with the game.

“I’m here because I have a passion for basketball and I would really like to learn more and become a better player,” she said, calling the weeklong event “the best camp in the world.”

The camp began Sunday and finished Thursday. It has been held every summer since 1970. Women’s basketball coach Tara M. Ruckh and men’s basketball coach Sherry E. Dobbs Jr. ran this year’s camp, along with college and high school basketball coaches from across the Northeast, who come both to teach and to learn.

The camp featured skill development stations, three-on-three games, several tournaments and two games daily for participants, said Mr. Dobbs, whose goal was “to get here on Thursday and have all the kids have a great experience.”

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