Although the calendar says our summer is winding down, it feels more like we’re amping up – with lots of special programs, events, and competitions.
This week we’re hosting the 50th Annual Kawaga Ski Tournament. We’ll have participants from five boys camps and two girls camps.
Parents, we’re particularly proud of our ski program for so many reasons. Yes, we have barefooters, wakeboarders, and record-setting slalom skiers. But, what we’re most proud of is how we’re helping to develop confident young men.
I started skiing when I was 4-years-old. Skiing has always been a part of my life and my family’s. When I was a counselor, I spent a good amount of time in the ski program. As Director, I love skiing not only as a sport, but also as a platform. There’s a linear progression to skiing: campers start out on two skis; they learn to drop a ski; then start on one ski; and work on refining their skills and increasing their speed. There’s always something to work on and accomplish. Skiing gives kids a clear picture of something that’s very hard, but something that – if they work hard at it – they’ll continue to gain skills and confidence. And if that confidence can then be transferred elsewhere in their life, then we’ve really done something extraordinarily special.
Skiing has been important to Kawaga for a long time – and we keep finding ways to make the program even more meaningful. In fact, many of our boys have written about what they’ve learned from Kawaga skiing in their Bar Mitzvah speeches. Certainly a key part of our success with skiing is that we have some really talented boys and dedicated counselors.
We have more and more boys barefooting and trying to barefoot. We’ve enhanced on a new instruction piece called Breakfast Club: instructors and campers hit the dock at 6:30am to get the good water. Talk about dedication by our staff and enthusiasm and spirit from our campers! By the way, Breakfast Club didn’t just begin a week ago to prep for this week’s tourney; we’ve been doing it for years.
Our goal is that every camper gets up on two skis and makes it around the bay, just like how we want every boy to swim the bay. It’s rare for somebody to make it up and ski around the bay the first time. You have to work really hard. So, when a camper accomplishes this, we call it a Miracle. A Miracle is dropping a ski for the first time, starting on one ski, barefooting. There’s always a next Miracle. And, when boys accomplish a Miracle, their name gets announced in the Mess Hall, and everybody cheers for them.
Much of the excitement around our ski program is that it’s something few boys have access to at home. Of course, it’s also about the thrill of the sport and the natural beauty in which you grow your skills. What I love about skiing is that it’s about progression: you have to continue working – figuring out how to get to the next step, and feeling confident that you can do it.
So when it comes time for boys to try to achieve a Miracle, we really turn up the energy and encouragement. Counselors bring down music to the dock, making the accomplishment that much more fun and special.
I believe our skiing program is something that differentiates us as a camp. It’s not just the level of success our kids have achieved, but that camp is where almost everybody learns to ski. And, more do it at Kawaga. The beauty of it all is we’ve developed a whole culture around everyone wanting to ski. That’s the magic of the Miracle.
Earlier this week, as you might have heard, we had our annual competition with Camp Menominee, which is something we’ve been doing for more than 60 years. After two days of playing (extended due to some rain), I just had a feeling that everything would come down to a single event. But, to get us to that point, we needed all three of our Junior Basketball Teams to win. Those guys stepped up and performed! So, after 70 events over two and a half days (because of a bit of rain), the score was Kawaga 35 – Menominee 35.
It all came down to Senior A Softball, traditionally the big event. Going into the sixth inning, Menominee was leading 13-11. Our guys came through and tied the game in the bottom of the 7th; we needed to hold them. And we did: 1-2-3 to get us to extra innings! Menominee was able to force a run to win the game and the overall competition. What a storybook finish.
Parents, it’s one thing when you’re playing for a team, but when you’re playing for your entire camp, everything’s elevated. It feels more like the Olympics or the Ryder Cup with each point meaning so much. Nowhere else would these boys get this opportunity to compete on behalf of something they love so much – camp is way more personal than school or travel teams. We’re a family.
Here’s what might surprise you. Yes, losing the overall competition definitely hurt. But we were back to normal so quickly. We talked about all this for days before the competition. As you know, Sportsmanship is one of our core values, stemming from a key phrase in the Kawaga Ideal:
“… proud and unbending in defeat, yet humble and gentle in victory.”
As a camp, we discussed that being “proud and unbending” isn’t just when you’re playing. It’s also when you’re looking back. If you know that you put everything out there and you got beat, then so be it. But, if you didn’t, then you’re going to live with that.
The deciding Senior ball game was at Menominee. We made the decison the night before to bring the whole camp over. It wasn’t part of the plan. But, we heard from all age groups that they wanted to be there to support our seniors. During the last inning, in deep right field where our guys were watching the game, they spontaneously stood up, formed a line, and put their arms around each other. What a special moment.
Midway through the game, I went up to Jason, Menominee’s director, and suggested that we bring both camps together at the end of the game, so that he and I could speak to the entire group. Without hesitation, he agreed. And, this helped bring closure to the competition in a meaningful, calm way. After the talk, Menominee deservedly celebrated. We stuck around, so I could speak just to our guys – to let them know how proud we are and how proud they should be. They gave it their all.
And, just like that, we got back to normal so quickly! Even later on that same day, you wouldn’t have even known that we lost a heartbreaker – it quickly felt like a distant memory, though the lessons remain. As soon as we got back to camp, we did the most normal programming thing possible – Open Areas! Boys were sailing, skiing, playing ball, and just hanging out with their buddies.
The lessons learned from both our skiing program and our competitoin with Menominee will help to continue to build character through resonant experiences and lessons– and that’s at the forefront of everything we do.
We’ve got lots more planned! Stay tuned…