Leaving a Camp Legacy

During Camp War Eagle’s counselor orientation, the supervising top staff split into different areas of camp to teach class on how to teach classes. A few taught a Sports class –  which drills to include and how to progress through the session. There was a Fitness class – the varied classes War Eagle offers, from Weightlifting to Zumba. Outdoor Skills covered the safety rules for archery and riflery.

I was put in a class called Fun, and no one explained the curriculum.

After a rough first day where I tried to explain activities that were fun – this is minigolf, this is a shaving cream fight, those are armadillos don’t touch them – I asked around the office and learned that there were absolutely no expectations for my class. While classes like Sports and Outdoor Skills had specific objectives that had to be accomplished in order to prepare counselors, Fun was fluff. The next day I brought a large sound system and invented two new games – Freeze Dance and Story Dance. Instead of teaching anything, I used the counselors as test subjects.

Fun then became a class about invention. At camp, many kids are revisiting old activities, but probably more kids are forced into games that they hate. Minigolf can be as boring as golf on television; dodgeball is only fun if you play little league baseball. Every camp activity has its dissidents – its a testament to how fun something is that it only has one or two kids who say, “This is so stupid.” My Fun class began to discuss the theory of fun – maximum fun for the maximum number of campers. To grow the theory, we tried to invent our very own game.

I hate dodgeball – I cannot throw or catch. My greatest skill is as a survivor. At camp we play a variation called Chaos Ball where a camper is never really out – if you get hit, you sit down until you find a way to get back in. We started with Chaos Ball as a template and built from there. We played off-hand, two-hands, two-hand Siamese twin, off-hand Siamese twin, two person blindfolded. We let people crabwalk around the court when they were “out”; we added a goal of scoring a basket which didn’t really work because it had no reward. We played full-court, half-court, quarter-court, and once with twenty-five people in the lane of a basketball goal. The overall rule was to never shy from innovation – at camp, campers never realize that something is wrong. The more crazy the change to the game (you must throw the ball with your feet, you must walk like a zombie after you’re hit), the more interest it will generate in campers. And if it doesn’t work once, it’s an easy change in the next game.

There’s a charcoal lining to this story – after six summers at camp I still haven’t invented something that stuck. Phishball, a combination of volleyball and tennis, is played only by counselors. Lazy River Basketball, which is water basketball where only the benchsitters on the pool deck can propel teammates, happens only when I force it. Imagifighting, a contest about who can yell the longest about one mythical creature, has a strong following on the remnants of camp, but it will never be mainstream. At War Eagle, we schedule invented games like Turnerball, Venaball, and Ausecball, named after the men Turner, Venable, and Ausec. I still haven’t found my Trumball.


Brotherly Love

Now that the summer has come I have switched from maintenance to camp programs. Holly and I moved out to Camp War Eagle two weeks ago to teach an intensive, four day lifeguarding class. Each year the class starts with an endurance swim of 600 yards. I re-certified this year and swam it miserably and alone before the class officially started. Hours later, as the lifeguard hopefuls slipped into the water, I found out that it was only 300.

My brother Harlin is out at War Eagle this summer; he certified to be a lifeguard as well. Though he wasn’t in my teaching group, I could see him stride jump into the pool because his legs are the biggest pair of scissors on the planet. When the class moved towards the final skill, backboarding potential spinal injuries, I made it a point to watch Harlin perform. He dove nine feet in order to secure and resurface with his victim. When he came up treading water, he yelled, “I can’t see anymore!”

I never knew how bad my brother’s eyesight is. I assumed that we had similar prescriptions – not in the least. He could hit the broadside of the barn but he wouldn’t know it was a barn. And the rush of resurfacing washed his contacts out of his eyes and onto his cheeks.

Before he could make a further decision, his victim, another future lifeguard, recognized the problem. “Don’t worry,” she said as she took his contacts and put them in her mouth. Then Harlin finished the backboard procedure with a lot of helpful commands from the sidelines.

He wore the same contacts the next day.

Harlin won’t work the first half of the summer – he’s enrolled in summer school. Classes actually began four days before orientation ended. As a part of camp policy, Harlin had to leave camp early in the morning to attend his classes and return in the afternoon. The night before his first class, we talked about when he should leave camp and agreed on 6:30.

The next morning at 7:15, Holly and I stepped onto the office porch where Harlin was sitting in a porch swing. “Have you seen my keys?” he asked. No, and not usually, I said. “I think I may have given them to Katie,” he said, citing his girlfriend. “I’m waiting for her to wake up.” To speed up the process, Holly gave him the keys to her car, warning him that it was low on fuel. After he thanked her and turned to go, he said, “Oh yeah – my wallet’s in my car. Can I borrow money for gas?”

That night when he returned, showed me his spare car key and paid me back. He was a half hour late to class, but Harlin described his history professor as “an odd duck.” The first hour of the four hour block was the professor’s lifestory. Since Harlin  missed it, he summed it up during the first break. The man has been in three movies.

While we were talking, Holly arrived and asked about her car. “It’s fine,” he said. “And thanks for gas. Oh yeah – you got a parking ticket because you don’t have an NWACC pass. You need to be more careful next time. But your court date isn’t for another month.”

I assured Holly that he was joking. However, that night when we got back to our room there was a yellow parking slip on her pillow. It was only a first-offense warning.