In almost every summer camp TV show or movie I have seen, there is some sort of athletic event where the whole camp is split up. When I first signed up for camp I thought this was a myth, boy oh boy is it far from it! This is a real-life thing!
When I first went to a Canadian overnight camp, they had their own version of camp Olympics which took place in the last week of camp. The whole camp was split into one of four teams, with a country and a colour representing each team. Campers and staff spoke about this camp program all summer long, and as someone who’s first time there, I thought “what could make it so special” - it sounds like a glorified sports day to me.
My camp’s Olympics is called Walden Games, it has an opening ceremony under the night sky, followed by two full days of competition. Track & Field, Waterfront, Landsports and finishing with a full camp relay of mini-games called Marathon. Each team has two captains who guide their team through this two-day slog.
In the lead-up to the final week at camp, the chatter about who would be captain gets heightened. Captains are usually the more senior staff members in camp (by senior I mean 21-year-olds) and typically there is one male and one female for each team. These captains lead their team in slotting campers onto events, creating cheers to popular songs and guiding artists into creating beautiful artwork, all representing their team’s country, all after lights out in the final week of camp. This is where tiredness is at its peak and while upholding their roles at camp as who is captain is a secret to the campers until they are revealed at the opening ceremonies.
Graduating campers and long-time staff members look to being Walden Games captains as their “I’ve made it” moment. As a first-time staff member at 20 years old, I saw this as a gimmick and thought what on earth is all this chatter and buzz around a sports day. Little did I know this atmosphere would encompass me and spit me out singing, cheering and dressing in yellow from head to toe!
The night of the opening ceremonies arrived, and the whole camp knew it was happening. It wasn’t a surprise, it was anticipated. Campers were respectful and at around 10 pm campers were silent as staff members greased up in baby oil, and dressed in white clothing arrived at the cabins. This meant only one thing, they have come to take us to the opening ceremonies.
Tradition prevailed as campers and staff walked through a pitch-black camp in silence following two greased-up staff members and their lit torch. (Torch means a stick with fire not a flashlight, battery-operated torch) We continued to walk through the tiki torch-lit pathway with even more greased-up staff members posing like statues in freeze frames that depict the summer. This is all created by fellow staff members. They decide on a theme and the poses that the staff mimic, again whilst upholding their own roles in the day. The running theme at camp is if you are good at your job, you get honoured by being given more responsibility.
As we finished walking through in silence before us was the camp director and people stood hidden behind four flags. This is where the camp sees the captains for the first time! Anticipation is at an all-time high and you can cut the atmosphere with a knife. Cheers erupt as a team by team their captains are announced and the games have begun.
The next two days suck you in. You get caught up in the electric atmosphere and passion for your team. This passion comes from campers and staff alike who have been randomly placed on this team their first year and then that’s it. It is your team for life. Staff and campers recall previous years of how they personally felt at certain points and you think “woah, this story is intense!” But as I have returned year after year I have started to do this pastime too.
People pour their hearts and souls into these two days of “glorified sports days.” The people you have never seen run before are now sprinters, and people you have never seen build a fire are now expert fire builders. You cheer as loud as you can, wear your team’s colour face paint and dress in only that colour. You follow campers around the camp and cheer them on like they are athletes or paid sportspeople from your favourite team. In hindsight, some of my favourite camp memories are made during these two days of controlled chaos.
On paper, this is just a two-day camp-wide program, meant to involve all campers and staff alike. Yet, when you experience it year after year, you can understand why people think about it all year round. It’s what campers inspire to be, a captain. It’s what people will keep coming back to, just to be a part of that mini-game or that event the whole camp watches. Or even to hold that torch in front of the camp, or better yet, to wave that flag when your name is announced as captain.
Now as a disclaimer, I have been on all ends of this thought process regarding the program. I have been from the; I have no idea what is happening, to the wearing head to toe in my team colour, cheering my heart out. I have stood behind that flag waiting for my name to be called so I can wave it. Many amazing memories come out of these two days, and many brilliant photos that I cherish, and that’s what camp is all about, creating memories and stories that you can tell far and wide. So after everything, it’s okay to call it whatever you want, whether that be a glorified sports day, a great program or simply camp fun.