Fun With a Purpose
By Greg Tasker
For 55 years, the annual Bay Jammer weekend in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has offered activities for teens that build confidence, teamwork, and leadership.
It's a warm July evening in picturesque Menominee, located on the southern tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
As the fading sun reflects off storefront windows along First Street, girls in yellow raincoats mill around the Great Lakes Memorial Marina Park, while more girls in pastel-colored bathrobes and boys in makeshift tunics and sandals stroll by.
And under a canopy of tall shade trees lurks a ghoulish collection of creatures: Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, a mummy, a werewolf, and pea-green and pale-white creatures who look as though they've just stepped out of a costume shop.
It's not a premature Halloween party or movie casting call. The performers are part of the eye-popping opening of Bay Jammer 2003. An annual three-day Scouting event on the shores of Green Bay, Bay Jammer attracts youth from across the Midwest.
Since 1948, young people have come for competition, challenge, team-building, and lots of fun. Many return year after year to retest their skills in swimming, volleyball, a triathlon that includes running and cycling, and other land and water activitiesand enjoy dances, a pizza party, and events like log rolling and a lip-synch contest.
The waterfront park soon resembles a Hollywood film set. Boys and girls in homemade costumes are everywhere, carrying real and fake guitars, umbrellas, pom-poms, and a slew of other props, anxious for their moment onstage in the evening's show, "LipJam 2003."
The theme is "One Hit Wonders Over the Past 55 Years," and before the night is over, the audience will be treated to "The Monster Mash," "It's Raining Men," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "King Tut."
"The show is one of our premier events and a good way to start the weekend," says event chairman Steve Gromala. "It gets the kids excited about what's coming in the next two days."
Sponsored by the Venturing program of the BSA's Bay-Lakes Council, Appleton, Wis., Bay Jammer marked its 55th anniversary in 2003, attracting 290 older Boy Scouts, Venturers, Explorers, Sea Scouts, and Senior Girl Scouts from 29 different units.
"The weekend is about kids having fun in a positive atmosphere and being with other kids," Gromala said. "Even though there's a wide variety of challenging competitions that test their knowledge, skills, and athletic abilities, it's really all about fun."
However, the fun does nothing to dampen the spirit of competition. Over the weekend, young men and women ages 14 to 21 vie against one another in a mini-Olympics, in freestyle swimming, and in other contests.
Teamwork is the key to group competitions in sand sculpting, a compass relay, canoe race, bucket brigade, and pulling boat race.
Saturday's events culminate with drilling and maneuveringwhere marching, maneuvering, spacing, distance, file rank, and step are judged. Afterward, Scouts parade through downtown Menominee, with each unit pausing at the judging stand to give an "eyes right" and announce their competition number.
The triathlon and volleyball competitions are held on Sunday, followed by the tug-of-war competition. An awards ceremony caps the weekend.
By 9 on Saturday morning, Menominee's Marina Park is filled with Scouts participating in activities that include the compass relaya timed event in which four team members take turns identifying the points of a compass in a circle marked with pegsand log sawing.
In the latter, a two-member team must pull a crosscut saw back and forth to cut through a nine-inch-diameter log. Sound easy? Think again.
"It's kind of hard because you can't practice this anywhere," said Erin Dinser, a senior and a member of Girl Scout Troop 344 of Dexter, Mich., who competed with partner Asleigh Doup. "How many times in your life are you going to be log sawing? We did this at Bay Jammer last year, but we haven't practiced since."
"These are really team-building experiences," observed Ina Germain, a co-leader of Troop 344. "They learn to support each other, to count on each other."
Three blocks away, at Veterans Memorial Park, Kim Bradley and her teammates from Bartlett, Ill., cheer each other through a timed obstacle course relay. Each team member has to hurdle a climbing wall, crawl under bars, step through a series of tires, cross gymnastics beams, maneuver a soccer ball around a series of cones, and sprint back to the starting line.
"It was fun," said a flushed Kim Bradley, who was enjoying her first visit to Bay Jammer, "although the bars fell on my head as I dove under them and I kept slipping on the climbing wall. But everyone was cheering, and that makes it a lot of fun."
Water and sand
Down on the beach, two-person teams use buckets, shovels, and rakes to create 5-by-5-foot sand sculptures. Tricia Boyle, from Girl Scout Troop 819 of Middleton, Wis., poses for teammates Kristie Lutz and Ashley Harrop who are creating a sand mermaid from her likeness. As the mermaid takes shape, Kristie and Ashley scour the beach for rocks, shells, feathers, and seaweed to use in their design.
"This is really a big self-esteem booster," said Megan Blankenheim, a former Bay Jammer participant and now a volunteer from Madison, Wis., who is overseeing the girls' sand-sculpting effort. "These girls get to do all these things here, and they end up doing them well. It really encourages them to try new things."
As the girls drape seaweed atop the mermaid's head (for her hair) and line shells along the length of her tail, Kristie's mother, Carol Lutz, shows up to see how things are progressing. She's impressed.
"I think it's a great opportunity to have good clean fun," said Mrs. Lutz, a troop leader. "It's important to have boys and girls together at this age, [and] this is something that gives them lots of positive reinforcement and shows that, yes, Scouting can be cool."
In the afternoon, water events take center stage in the marina area, with a pulling boat race, canoe race, bucket brigade, and log rolling. The latter two events created the most buzz, attracting many onlookers.
"It's like trying to balance on a banana peel," said a shirtless Jason Downing of Ship 508, emerging from Lake Michigan after three attempts to stand on a floating log. "There's no balance, no traction, nothing to hold onto."
Each team member had three opportunities to stand on the log in the chilly water just off the marina pier, but Jason's teammates from Rockford, Ill., Justin Paul and Andrew Fay, didn't fare much better than he did.
"Last year the water was a lot nicer," said Andrew Fay. "We weren't cold like this year, but it is still fun, one of the best events here."
Why do these guys keep coming back year after year?
"Where else can you go and find so much to do in one weekend," said Justin, who was attending his sixth Bay Jammer. "You have all kinds of food, go to dances, do cool stuff like canoe and log roll, and make new friends you'll see again and again each year you return."
Gromala smiles when he hears that.
"I guess I would say we've held on to the same Scouting values the event started with in 1948," he said. "It's all centered on Scouting principles: competition, good sportsmanship, and, most importantly, fun.
"So many kids are involved with drugs and alcohol these days. This is one thing they can do where that stuff isn't present and where they can have fun with their peers in a competitive but friendly environment."
Freelance writer Greg Tasker lives near Detroit, Mich.
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