‘Tis the season to reflect on the events of the past year and look forward to the opportunities and challenges that are sure to come our way in the year ahead. We are so grateful to the wonderful families who entrust their sons to us each summer, and we reaffirm our commitment to providing another amazing experience in 2017 that is full of fun and friendship and that strengthens the values you are teaching in your home.
As a special remembrance of a terrific summer, we have sent each of our campers a copy of our Video Yearbook commemorating all the wonderful events of the 2016 camp season. This year, we put the video on a flash drive (just keepin’ up with the times!) so you can watch it from multiple devices. (And a note for our current parents…if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer or Hanukkah gift, consider an iPod Shuffle, which is the only electronic device allowed in camp!)
A final note…there is no greater feeling than seeing the relationships forged at camp that lead to enduring and cherished friendships. It is impossible not to be optimistic for the future when we witness firsthand the spirit, enthusiasm and compassion that our campers and counselors exhibit every day of every summer.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and all the best in the New Year!
We have always maintained the virtues of a well-rounded athletic program in youth sports. It is so important, especially for pre-high school children, to cross train and play multiple sports to develop their motor skills and athleticism. Now that the world of “early sport specialization” has been around awhile, studies are showing that concentrating in one sport is detrimental to a child’s physical – and emotional – development for a whole host of reasons. This article from Changing the Game Project speaks to the perils of the “early sports specialization madness.”
Excerpt: “According to all the expert evidence linked to above, evidence provided by actual specialists in sport science, medicine, and psychology, any organization that is allowing, encouraging or forcing a child to play a single sport prior to age 12, and is not actively developing that child in functional movement and all around athleticism, while also mandating rest and time off, is creating a dangerous situation for that child. They are taking huge risks with his or her health, well-being, and lifetime love of activity. End of story.”
After what has been unquestionably the best weather I have ever experienced throughout a camp season, the weather gods threw us a curve ball today. Temperatures quickly rose into the low nineties, and the oppressive humidity level made the air feel heavy. On some levels, this was the most challenging day of the summer for our staff, for they had the prodigious task of packing all of the campers’ belongings. The bunks were sweltering, and there was nothing we could do but grin and bear it. Our counselors performed magnificently and stayed on task until every camper was properly packed. We tried to wash everything before it was packed, but remaining dirty clothes items were left in the laundry bag. And, because we have had no rain this summer, a light dust might coat clothing and equipment, such as chest protectors and helmets.
We took a break from packing and brought all of the campers down to the lake for one final swim. The campers enjoyed a leisurely day of shooting baskets, playing tennis, and hanging with their friends. With the exception of their time packing with their counselors, the rest of their day was unstructured and very relaxing. We turned the Rio Olympics on in the lodge, senior rec. hall, and the air-conditioned dining room so the boys could enjoy viewing the competitions.
After our final dinner of the summer, we headed back to the Indian Council Fire Ring for one last time to be entertained by the Warriors in a good, old-fashioned campfire sing-along. Interestingly, this has become a favorite tradition of our graduating seniors. It gave them the opportunity to kick up their heels and have some fun. While, at the same time, they created wonderful summer camp memories.
Each Warrior bunk got up in front of the rest of the camp and led us in fun camp songs– a perfect way to cap off a memorable summer. Before filing out of the Indian Council Ring for the last time, the Okeechobees invited the Sub-Seniors (one age below) to stay behind. Our Okee’s passed the torch to this up-and-coming group of young men, who will be next year’s leaders in camp. This tradition is heartfelt and somewhat emotional as our oldest boys said goodbye to their camping years for the last time. The pure emotion is genuine, and our Sub-Seniors realize the impact this experience has had on our older boys.
As you read this blog, I imagine that you are excited to see your son (brother, nephew, grandson) tomorrow. I am sure the refrigerator is probably stocked with his favorite snacks and a dinner reservation has been made at his favorite restaurant. While there may be a little camp dirt around his neck or a haircut may be in order, your love and intense desire to snuggle will help you overlook those minor flaws.
While you will not be receiving a daily blog post from me for a while, I promise to stay in touch and to remain available to you and your family whenever needed. I send my love and sincere thanks for allowing me the privilege of caring for your boy.
It has been an emotional day at camp. On the heels of an amazing final campfire, I woke up this morning to the threat of rain, but once again it avoided us. We spent the morning in the bunks organizing for packing day tomorrow. As one might imagine, it is a tedious job. We have boys staying for Father Son Weekend who need to leave certain items out to play with their fathers. We have more campers who are heading out on vacation with their families and need to be packed and ready to go upon their return home. We have boys starting soccer practice on Monday, who need to be reminded to pack their cleats as a carry-on. We have boys who take medications, and we need to make sure it’s packed with them in case their parents don’t have a supply when they return.
I took a break from the monotony of the packing details and invited our thirty-six graduating seniors (our Okeechobee Campers) down to my house for our traditional “swan song” lunch. We ate burgers straight off the grill and enjoyed some great quality time together, away from the rest of the camp. Each year, I gather with our graduating boys and give them the opportunity to ask me any questions they want about camp. In past years, I have been asked questions like, “If I were traveling on a boat with Warren Davis and Bob Lewis, and the boat capsized with only one life jacket, who would I give it to?” Typical of boys who want to rank the importance of my key staff, but in reality, that one is a very easy question to answer. Warren would get the life jacket because I assume that my head of the waterfront would be able to swim to shore.
This year Okee’s asked me what capital improvements I planned on making in the future, what it was like to purchase camp at the age of 28, and how does one determine which profession he would be best suited to pursue. Sitting with these boys in my living room, I think of the bright futures that are in store for these incredible, young men. Some of them are bound to end up at the same college or university and will most likely be roommates or fraternity brothers. Some of these boys are likely to be groomsmen at each other’s weddings or work together on a professional level, down the road. The bonds that have been created over the past several summers are based on trust and love. There is no greater connection than the ones that form at an early age, living in a bunk at camp.
Tonight, the camp celebrated the success of our summer at the final banquet. The boys put on their nicest clothing and came to dinner showered and ready for an enjoyable meal. We enjoyed a delicious steak dinner and listened to campers and counselors recount moments about their summer. At the end of the evening, the campers watched a slide show of the best photos taken over the summer. Every camper appeared in the show, and it brought back great memories from the past seven weeks.
As your boys prepare to head home, let me share one final thought. As parents, you are eager to hear about every moment that has taken place in your absence. However, your boys are coming home incredibly satisfied and tired from this summer. It is analogous to playing a long, hard game; only to collapse from exhaustion when it is over. Give your boys a chance to rest. Try not to over scheduled them their first days home. Provide them with the opportunity for unstructured down time. However, within a few days, get back into your family routine. Over the course of the next few weeks and months, your boys will start to share some of the amazing moments of the summer. The silliest things will remind them of events. But this is likely to happen organically rather than in a “forced” conversation. With just one day to go, I have already started to say my goodbyes, give my hugs, and to tell these boys how proud I am of them, and how fortunate I am to have played a part in their summer.
Another beautiful day in Maine– our Senior campers who qualified during the summer to Swim the Lake woke up at 6:00 am and made their way in several boats across the lake to prepare for this exciting challenge. For our older boys to be selected to swim the lake, they needed to swim fifteen laps on seven separate occasions throughout the summer. Each camper had a counselor in a canoe by his side during the swim. Needless to say, the entire swim staff is present for this event, and all boys that attempted this feat made it successfully back to the shores of Camp Takajo, proudly under their own power.
We had a few activities today in which the entire camp participated. The first was a little less exciting than our last all-camp event. We had a professional company come this morning to check each camper for lice. I am happy to report there were only a few cases discovered by these professionals, and if you have not personally heard from us, then your child is in the clear. I had a chance to have a little fun with one of my favorite counselors who insisted on having his head checked, even though no campers in his bunk had lice. I honored his request and asked the technician to tell him that he had a bad case of lice. The counselor was shocked and somewhat upset, especially when the professionals put the oil in his hair and told him that he needed to keep his head lathered for the rest of the day. One might assume that these last few days would be stressful for me, but it is moments like these that I find great humor in what I do for a living. Every time I saw this counselor, with his hair slicked back with this greasy goo, I had to turn away in an effort not to laugh. I told this counselor that he did not have head lice, and I am happy to report that he took this prank in stride.
One of the other all-camp events today was our song competition. What I love most about song competition is that every camper participates. Campers are split into either the Green or Grey teams and rehearse four of the camp songs, as well as an original song with lyrics written to a piece of modern music. The boys filled in by team to the Indian Council Fire in the late morning to sing these songs slightly out of tune and with (little) harmony. Nevertheless, it was great to see our youngest campers sitting between our older boys, and I am sure the experience was most memorable for all.
After lunch today, our Warrior and Junior camps each had their “Whacked Up Relay Race,” when events take place on every inch of the facility, all around the camp. Campers are assigned to events, and a runner races to each event with a baton. Here the camper needs to complete a task, which is different at each stop along the race. Events include canoe races, foul shot shooting, fire building, archery, three-legged races, a whipped cream smear, and a grand finale, consisting of a pie eating contest between one camper from each of the two teams. The excitement around camp was at an all-time high this afternoon as campers raced from location to location to cheer on their teams. Regardless of the outcome, the relay is so much fun that every camper celebrates at the end.
This evening, the entire camp came together for our final campfire. This traditional event incorporates a heritage ceremony passed down from one generation to another since the camp’s inception in 1947 but also has some lighter moments. Some of our campers and counselors are asked to participate in a traditional Native American Squat Dance. As I looked around the campfire this evening at all the campers and counselors, I cannot help but think about what has been accomplished in camp this summer. It was six and a half weeks ago that I stood in this council ring and challenged our boys to make the most of each and every day. I asked our campers to think about the Arch Ideals that sit at the head of the camp, to think of one of these ideals each day and to implement them into daily life in camp. As I have watched our boys grow, develop a sense of confidence and inner courage, and as friendships have blossomed throughout the summer, I believe that our boys have made the most out of each and every day.
I was thinking back to my camper days, and I remembered the month of August being somewhat cool in Maine. I have a vivid memory of stepping out of bed in the morning and feeling a bit of a shock when my feet hit the floor. We had a third blanket at the foot of the bed called a “jelly roll.” I’m not sure why. However, I used it most nights during the last part of the summer at camp. It’s still very warm, the sun shines bright, and as I reflect on the summer, we didn’t have one rainy day that interrupted our schedule, for the whole season. The rain on the Saturday visiting day, which began around 3:30 pm, was our greatest weather interruption of the summer.
Our boys woke up this morning ready to participate in their fourth day of Olympic competition. Waffles and maple syrup were on the menu for breakfast. As I walked from table to table during the Warrior meal, I noticed that many of the little ones were eating with their hands. I could not help but introduce these little guys to a fork and knife and suggested that they learn to use these utensils in order to have a successful first date some day. I told the boys that if they can successfully use a fork and knife, they might even venture on to a second date someday. Somehow, I think one of these boys will be on a date and smile thinking back to this exchange.
We had Olympic competition in water polo, flag football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and tennis today. As I had a chance to make my rounds and watch our boys at play, I made the observation that while our boys are as coordinated as the campers of past years, there are very few all-around athletes that can compare to those of a generation, or two, ago. I know it has been said that the older an athlete gets, the better they were “back in the day,” but back in the day, boys did not start specializing in sports at a very early age. Therefore, their ability to play multiple sports well was more evident. We have some terrific athletes today who can play a particular sport at a high level. However, when they are put on another field and asked to compete, their sense of timing, agility, instinct, and competitiveness virtually disappears. I honestly believe that if these boys were cross training and playing multiple sports, they would have even better performance in their choice sport. It saddens me when I see a young boy who doesn’t have a proper throwing motion in baseball, doesn’t know how to play a set of tennis or the rules of a basketball game. On many levels, I wish that all sports would be a required curriculum in camp. However, nowadays, some parents call and give their child a free pass to avoid particular sports. I believe we create an environment here where we can make all sports fun for boys, and it’s okay for a child to be outside of they comfort zone for a ninety-minute sports period. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm level remains high, many games came down to the wire; and, most importantly, the sportsmanship was terrific.
As the boys headed into the diner meal tonight, we surprised them with Olympic coverage to keep them in the loop with the excitement taking place outside of camp and ended the meal with a Takajo Raffle. While it saddens me to be in the final days of camp, I have immense joy knowing what we have achieved this summer.
I don’t want to sound redundant, but we had another picturesque day in Maine today. The temperatures at camp remained in the mid-eighties, the sun glistened on the water, and the warm breeze from the lake offered great relief to the boys playing hard during Olympics. Our campers enjoyed their last Lazy Man’s Morning of the summer. They took advantage of a later reveille and enjoyed coming down to breakfast for their favorite treats from Dunkin’ Donuts for the last time of the season, plus hot chocolate, fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal.
Later in the morning, our Junior and Senior campers rehearsed for their song competition, which will take place in a few days. Our Warrior campers took advantage of a free morning to water ski, sail, ride the banana boat, or play in impromptu pick-up games.
During the afternoon, the Warrior camp participated in a track meet, and every boy participated in multiple track events. There were field events, such as the long jump, baseball throw, football throw, and running events, such as sprints, shuttle relays, one-lap competitions, and the cross-country run. It is always fun to watch boys during a running race. You can look in his eyes and tell whether he will find that extra gear to get over the finish line, or give into the stitch that aches his side. Every Warrior camper and counselor was present to root on their fellow campers and to make the track meet a success.
The Junior competitions today involved land sports. There were many baseball and soccer games played. Once again, every camper was involved in the action. Our Senior campers met down at the waterfront for a swim meet. What makes this event so captivating is that the captains need to be very strategic with their line-ups, especially when it comes to the relays. While certain campers excel in the water, very few boys are proficient in the butterfly and backstroke. Finding boys willing to put forth the effort in the less popular stokes makes all the difference to the end result. While the day was filled with athletics, by far the highlight of the day was when the camp came together in the evening for the camp’s annual art show on Hobby Lane. This evening, we took a well-deserved time out and made our way to the Art Center to enjoy viewing the amazing projects created in camp this summer.
What makes Camp Takajo so unique is the emphasis we place on the arts. We hire talented counselors who teach creative skills to our boys, and the fruits of their labor were on display this evening. We all enjoyed viewing amazing projects in the fine arts and also projects created of clay and wood. We watched videos shot and edited in camp, and stared at beautiful photos shot on this magnificent landscape. As the night came to an end, our Senior boys made their way to the dining room for an ice cream sundae party followed by their annual dance-off; a tradition started just a few years ago. With just five days left in the summer and so much to do, no one wants it to end.
What a day! The hot, sunny weather was perfect for Olympic competitions. As I walked around the camp today, I saw nothing but boys with huge smiles, wearing green or grey Takajo bandanas on their heads. Olympics are in full-swing. We had a tennis tournament, a track meet, a swim meet, soccer games, an archery competition, a water polo match, and literally every boy in camp was involved in the festivities. Even those who were injured and could not participate athletically, coached and cheered, providing inspiration and great camp spirit.
As the energy and enthusiasm has reached an all-time high, I cannot help but think back to the first week of the season when a few campers spent some emotional days in my office. These boys were convinced that they would never find happiness in camp. The growth and development that has taken place during the past six weeks is simply phenomenal. These boys are now competing in activities with their new best friends; and, in a short time, have shared experiences that will stay with them forever. For those who do not send their children to summer camp, they cannot comprehend the gift that you have given your sons this summer. You have given your kids the opportunity to thrive on their own, to make friendships, to problem-solve, to show compassion for others, and to succeed outside their comfort zone. This unique experience can only be achieved at camp.
As the sun set over Long Lake, we offered our final Saturday Night at the Movies for each age group. As an alternative to watching a movie, the campers could watch the Summer Olympics, live from Brazil. The forecast for the coming days is for clear skies and cooler temperatures. We plan on making the most out of each moment we have left during our time together here at Camp Takajo.
There has been nonstop cheering in camp throughout the day. The Olympics “broke,” and the energy level has reached a fever pitch. For those of you not familiar with the Camp Takajo Olympics, it is similar to a color war. However, rather than breaking the entire camper population into two teams, we divide each age group (Warrior, Junior, and Senior) into two teams. The Olympics take place in all three age groups simultaneously. However, we do not combine points throughout the three age groups for one overall winner. While we love the thrill of competition, many color wars become overly competitive, and older campers inadvertently put incredible pressure on younger campers to perform in order to win points for the overall team. The Olympics are divided by age division, which allows the boys to compete against other boys in the same grade level for points. While this is competitive, points are awarded for effort as well, so games are not scored on a winner take all basis.
The Junior Olympics began last night during an ice cream sundae party. While the boys were enjoying their sundaes and dancing to music, group leader Neil Minsky appeared holding a raffle bag. The boys erupted in cheers and got caught up in the raffle, when all of a sudden, the final item pulled from the raffle bag was a banner indicating that the Olympics had begun. The boys marched up to the Indian Council Fire Ring and under a starlit sky and a roaring bonfire, they were given green or grey bandanas to indicate their teams for the competition. Two boys were selected to be captains for the Junior Green Division and two for the Junior Grey Division.
This morning during breakfast, one of the Junior Captains came to me and made a suggestion that reinforced why he was selected as a leader for this competition. He mentioned that one of his teammates had an injured foot and was unable to compete in the competition. He wanted to share his responsibility as captain with his fellow camper. He was asking for permission to have this boy to be his co-captain. This act of kindness and selflessness made the Junior staff proud, for they had selected this boy to be a leader.
The Warrior Olympics broke this morning to the sound of Warren playing the Olympic theme. The boys came running out of their cabins and down to the lake where the Songo River Queen II (a double-decker river boat) that cruises the lake daily was docked. The Warriors boarded the boat for a breakfast cruise, and teams were revealed. The sounds of cheering echoed across the lake in the early morning hours.
Our Senior boys had their Olympics break during the dinner meal when the raffle theme came into play once again. When the raffle bag entered the dining room for the senior boys, they cheered because this was their first raffle since they returned from their big trips. As I pulled the first item from the bag, the boys noticed a green shirt that had lettering on its chest indicating it was to be worn by the Olympic captain of the green team. The dining room erupted as Warren called out the name of the designated captain. This was done three more times as the grey league captain, and green and grey league Sub Senior captains were revealed.
The enthusiasm level is at an all-time high. For the next few days, every boy will be fully ensconced in this iconic event in camp.
As a summer camp director, I have countless conversations with boys every day about making the most of this experience by being kind and considerate to others, learning how to develop self-reliance, and keeping things in proper perspective. Sometimes when boys leave my office, even when the advice is sound, there is no guarantee that the child will be able to implement the strategies that I suggest. What is most gratifying is having enough history with the campers to celebrate the successes as I watch these boys develop into fine young men.
Today, I had the opportunity to spend time with our thirty-six graduating seniors. These boys have completed ninth grade. Some of these campers have been here for nine years. I have had the pleasure of watching these boys flourish before my eyes. Over the years, they have had their fair share of success on the playing fields, but what is most notable to me is the respect they have for each other and the camp.
Having had the privilege of owning and directing Camp Takajo since 1989, I have had the unique opportunity to watch countless young boys become grown men. I have seen these relationships begin in the bunks on campus and continue in the dormitories of some of the finest learning institutions in the country, and even to the boardrooms of some Fortune 500 companies. These relationships are built on trust and love. And, while most families sign up for camp only thinking about the “7-week experience,” I have often viewed this as a lifetime experience.
While our graduating seniors are on top of the world after returning from their trip out west, I can notice that reality is setting in, and they know that their camping days are coming to an end. This is a special time in their lives as they transition from the carefree experience of summer camp into the pressures of high school. Each day of the reaming week of camp will take on a special meaning for these boys, and when the buses depart next Friday, we will celebrate what these fine, young men have accomplished on the shores of Long Lake.