An overcast sky throughout the morning helped keep the rising temperature and dew point down and from interfering with our busy schedule. There was just enough breeze to keep the oppressive heat out of the bunks when it came time to packing our campers’ duffles. Our little guys enjoyed some less structured play on the quad while counselors did their best to fold clothing and check name tapes before packing each item. In the meantime, our Senior whacked-up relay took place throughout the camp. After last night’s campfire, this morning’s finale to the Olympics is another reminder to our oldest boys that their camping days are coming to an end.
There was only one point separating the two Senior teams heading into this morning’s relay. Campers sprinted from event to event, trying to give their team a slight edge. There was an even mixture of skilled events like archery, three-point basketball shooting, and home run derby sprinkled with more creative events like memorizing the Takajo Arch Ideals and reciting them forwards and backward. In the “Make Me Laugh” event, campers took on the task of getting our waterfront director, Bob Lewis, to laugh. This is something I haven’t been able to accomplish in thirty-two years. But, like most years, it all came down to the pie eating event. Ironically, this summer an Okee eating the pie for his first time in Olympic competition had a come from behind victory over our reigning champ. While the victory caught us all by surprise, it illustrates what we always preach in camp; always give 100% and never give up.
The Juniors followed the Seniors with their whacked-up relay after lunch. At this point during the day, the sun had peeked through the clouds, and the humidity levels had increased. Nevertheless, the excitement and enthusiasm for this finale created boundless energy for this iconic event. When it was all over, there were smiles and tears but along with an understanding that we had just competed in four glorious days of competition. After a well-needed shower, our boys made their way into the dining hall for our final banquet. The kitchen staff outdid themselves as they prepared chicken parmesan with a side of pasta. The final banquet is a time to celebrate all that our boys have accomplished during the summer. A few campers and staff are selected to give speeches and reflect on their experience while sharing poignant moments that took place during the summer. I took time today to reflect on my lead-up to the camp season.
As I started my preparation for the summer, I knew there were a few areas in camp that needed to be managed successfully in order to provide a safe and enriching experience for your children. We needed an excellent, highly trained medical staff, who would dedicate themselves to the health and wellness of our community. The health and safety of everyone in camp is my primary concern. Having a dedicated team of skilled nurses and doctors allowed our boys to experience a much-needed summer of play.
We needed an amazing food service team. Our dining hall is the only facility our entire camp frequents three times a day. As we prepared to operate with our staff for nine weeks in a bubble, we needed to provide food options to appeal to everyone’s palate while creating enough variety to win over four hundred campers and two hundred staff each day. We added a fourth meal for our staff every evening after Taps to create a place where our adults could congregate and unwind after a long day. There are few things worse for a child than feeling sick or hungry when they are away from home and these two areas of our camp operation were critical in our ability to have a successful summer.
We needed our leadership team to lead and inspire in a way they had never led before. We could not rely on our program alone to set the tone for a child’s happiness. There would be no trips to waterparks, no inter-camp games. We had to be prepared for many “wounded warriors” to show up on opening day. Our boys had lost a year of their social, emotional, and physical development, and we needed to create an environment in which children could regain their sense of play, the ability to be spontaneous, and to laugh and engage in face to face communication without a mask or a computer screen. Our administration understood that our role was less about recreation and more about helping our boys find their authentic selves.
Finally, we needed a staff who would provide unconditional love to our children and who would be willing to sacrifice their needs for those of our boys. While many of our staff were new to us this summer, the number one criterion in hiring staff is to attract morally and ethically sound individuals who have the work ethic and integrity needed to make a nine-week commitment to someone else’s well-being. Watching these critical components come together has provided me with unimaginable joy. It’s hard to imagine that this facility will be silent in just a few days. However, the energy created in camp this summer will carry me until we are back together next year.