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.