Monday, April 18, 2016

“Every Camp Has A Legend…”



Poyntelle, Pennsylvania.  How many of you have heard of it, much less have been there?  This is a tiny town in Wayne County, located in the northeast corner of the state.  To me, and many other youths, that was the home of Camp Echo Lark and, for me, 15 summers of memories.  In the years that followed, as we head into spring, I would dream of being in camp, whether as a camper, a counselor or engaged in some camp activity.  There were the familiar bunks, fields and faces.  Last year’s dream had me on the softball field, then having a conversation with Zelda, the last owner from my time at camp.

I know what you are thinking:  “What? 30 years later and this is what you dream about?”  “Wayne, you’ve lost it (again)!” “Who dreams of such things?”

You do realize that with the help of the internet and Facebook, I get my Echo Lark fix whenever I need it.  There are the pictures and the faces (which have gotten older looking).  I might sound like a stalker, but it is good to see what the people from my youth, their successes, and the families that have grown.

My trigger this year was a picture, sent via Facebook, from a camper of a letter he wrote home to his parents.  All campers had to have a “buddy” when they went around, and I went around that year with one of the campers.  We used to go to an amusement park each summer called Ghost Town, in Moosic, Pa (closed in 1987).  I remember going as a camper on the teacups a bunch of times with a bunk mate, spinning as hard as possible – that led to one nauseous ride bank to camp.  Another year, we were on the Spider and it jumped its track – this led to them manually stopping the ride.  When this camper found the letter that his mother saved, he forwarded a copy (see below).  I remember spending the day with him and hanging upside down.  It is a great feeling to be remembered, especially around a positive experience.
What we learned at camp:

  • Sports – You learned how to play softball, soccer, basketball, street hockey, swimming and tennis.  In the earlier years, they also had golf (taught by Smokin’ Joe).  This was not open playtime, but instructional, leagues, inter-camp competition, and countywide competitions.  The camp always had experts in the various fields that played or coached in their sports. 
  • Teamwork – Very important attribute taught as a byproduct of sports.  There were some standout individuals, but the team working together was most important.  Outside of sports, camp built camaraderie (i.e., team spirit) in the bunks at play, in the dining hall, or in the field.
  • Dealing with children – An extremely important lesson that I learned was from a guy named Murray.   As a counselor, you find yourself trying to corral your campers constantly.  When they are younger, they have boundless amounts of energy.  Murray taught me to have patience and not yell.  Since you cannot hit the campers, nor can you “legally” punish them, yelling is the only thing you can do.  That bit of advice made me a better counselor and ultimately a good parent.
  • Playing in the sandbox – This is a term used by my cousin Ben.  In camp, you had to learn to get along with other people.  For eight weeks, you lived in an intense environment where a lifetime past by in 56 days.  If you did not figure out how to get along, negotiate friendships and share, you were severely ostracized.  This skill has helped me in business and with volunteering where you learn to respect others, care about those around you and learn to work together.
  • Learning to Lead – As a counselor, you are responsible for the 8 to 10 campers in your bunk, from the moment they arrive at camp until the moment they leave.  While the measure of your success is being asked back the following year, an even greater measure of success is the return rate of your campers.  My first year as a counselor I did a mediocre job.  They next year, I was paired with a “strong” counselor, where he could act as a mentor to me.  I observed, learned, and ended up working as a counselor for 7 summers. 
  • Mentoring – There are certain people in our lives that have an impact on what we do, how we think and how we react.  We may not realize nor appreciate it until later in life.  The boys head counselor, Ed, was one of those people that had a profound impact on many people.  Any of us that have coached our children use some of his techniques (including wipeout).  My brother, Brian, commented on how he realized this coaching his son’s baseball team.  Ed provided a model for being a good person, doing the right thing, sportsmanship and the importance of zero tolerance for not doing what you were suppose to.

This was a land where people went by the name of BT, Smack, Bananas, Buffalo, Danger, Munchie, Mouse and Whoopie.  Each generation of camp goers has their stories and the impact to their lives, made special in a short 2-month period.

“But of all the other idols,
The one that stands the test,
Is the royal green and gold camp,
The symbol of the best.” ~ excerpt from the camp Alma Mater