Great Times for First-Year Campers
By Suzanne Wilson
Special council programs ensure that younger Scouts have a summer camp experience that leaves them eager to return.
Down at the Quivira Scout Ranch waterfront, monkeys are turning into alligators. No magic here; the young Boy Scouts in Monkey Patrol are competing in the Alligator Race.
They're propelling themselves across the water on their backs in groups of three. The lead swimmer does a backstroke with his feet hooked under the middle Scout's armpits. The third boy, hooked to the middle one in the same way, kicks. The middle of the alligator just hangs on for the ride.
This watery fun is a team-building game. Monkey Patrol is brand-new this week, bringing together Scouts from Troop 55, Iola, Kan.; Troop 736, Wichita; and Troop 117, Oklahoma City. It's one of the patrols formed in this southeast Kansas camp's Baden-Powell program for first-year campers.
Creativity and enthusiasm
At a Boy Scout's first summer camp, he expects to have fun, hang out with his troop, and do everything he's heard older Scouts talk about.
His troop leaders and the camp staff want him to have a great time, too. Along with that, they want him to have experiences that help him advance in rank, stay in Scouting, and return to camp next year.
Councils are not leaving this to chance. Like Quivira Council (Wichita), they've brought creativity and enthusiasm to the challenge of presenting first-year camper programs. Each council or camp puts its own name and individualized stamp on such programs. But they all have this in common: They try to give new Scouts a memorable start, one that will help motivate them to stay in Scouting.
Alex Barclay, Baden-Powell program director, and his staff of six patrol guides work with half the new campers in the morning and half in the afternoon, Monday through Thursday. This week, about one-third of 320 youth are camping for the first time.
Barclay, a 21-year-old college student from Andover, Kan., has been on camp staff for six years in other areas. He says: "One of my conditions was, if I'm going to do Baden-Powell, I'm going to change some things. Last year, they pushed advancement and de-emphasized fun. We're expanding from advancement to fun, games, and team- building."
Mornings with the Monkey Patrol
On Monday morning, boys are placed in patrols that will work on either Tenderfoot or Second Class requirements. (No one is working on First Class requirements in the morning session.) They come up with patrol names, flags, and yells, and play games that get them acquainted.
Most Scouts in Monkey Patrol are 11 years old. Working on earning the Tenderfoot rank, they whip and fuse ropes, then move on to the Scout Oath and flag etiquette. "The more fun they have, the more fun the staff has," says their staff patrol guide, Tim Brown, 16, who has experience as a troop guide.
Ranks aren't handed out. "We won't pass off a requirement if they didn't earn it or weren't paying attention," says Barclay. At the end of the week, the staff reports each Scout's completed requirements to his Scoutmaster, who can test the Scout's knowledge and sign him off.
After each morning session, Monkey Patrol Scouts return to their troops and attend regular camp activities, including up to three merit badge classes.
In late afternoon, it's free time. John Fish of Wichita joins troop members in making a nature gadget, "a weather rock with a string and three sticks. If it's wet, it's raining; if it's shaking, there's an earthquake."
Andrew Nelson of Iola relaxes at his troop's campsite. "We talk, play card games." Tylor Tokar, from Oklahoma City, heads for free swim time. "Most of our troop goes for that." Some young campers canoe or sail a Sunfish with qualified troop members or leaders.
Monday evening at a campfire overlooking the lake, they watch the staff perform comedy skits that rival anything on TV.
Tuesday morning, Monkey Patrol pronounces the campfire "cool." This is the day that four patrols working on Tenderfoot are at the waterfront, reviewing the buddy system and playing water games, while two other patrols are on a five-mile hike for Second Class.
Later at the Baden-Powell area, Monkey Patrol ties knots. Tim Brown is patient with them. "Keep going," he encourages Patrick Cash, of Iola. "I think you've got it."
The hot afternoon finds Brian Cochran and Adam Jackson, both from Iola, in a shady shelter, making arrows in their Archery merit badge class. They've tried archery before, at Cub Scout day camp. "I do it every time I can," says Adam.
During free swim time, Kirk Sponsel, from Wichita, passes his blue swimmer test. He holds up his blue buddy tag and says, "That means I can go out to the diving dock."
That dreaded program-rearranger, drenching rain, strikes on Wednesday, so patrols meet in the dining hall for first-aid work and quiet games. Predictably, some goofiness breaks out but simmers down when checkerboards appear.
On Thursday, nature staffer Jeremy Palmer leads Monkey Patrol on a hike along the wooded edge of the lake and inland to a waterfall. When a Scout spies a slender green insect, Palmer says, "This is kind of cool; it hides from predators by looking like a stick."
Back at the Baden-Powell area, Monkey Patrol works on the Totin' Chip to finish their last session. They've done all the Tenderfoot requirements they can do at camp.
Moments to remember
It's anyone's guess what a Scout will remember from his first camp session. Maybe Monkey Patrol will remember the nature hike, the walking stick insect, and John Fish losing his shoe in the mud. Or that Wednesday evening's entertainment, Edible Outpost, with a taste of candied grasshoppers. "Very crunchy, with brown sugar," says Iola's Brian Cochran.
They'll surely remember Friday. All through a day of campwide games, they remain silent. At the campfire, they receive coup thongs and first-year beads, completing their initial step in the camp's Tribe of Quivira, a traditional program to keep them coming back year after year (see box on page 18). Silence is broken with a roar, and their first year of camp is almost over.
The week's experience could mean the difference between a boy staying in Scouting or drifting away. "If we lose a kid the first year of campif they don't like it or it's boringwe've lost them," says camp director Pat Becher. "So it's critical for us to really make a good impression on those kids, get them started right, make sure they have a lot of fun, and teach them some skills along the way."
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson reported on the Heart of America Council's "Venturing Odyssey" in the January-February issue.
March-April 2002 Table of Contents
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