Adults can't forget their summer camp-capades

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2010 - 5:11 PM

Critter tales and fish-out-of-water accounts abound as camp counselors relay and replay their experiences.

Every adult who ever attended a camp that included sleeping in the wild has a story or three to tell around future campfires. Sometimes harrowing and almost always amusing, these sagas are ever-living proof that kids and their counselors say and do the darnedest things. And with more than 200 summer camps in this region, there's plenty of time and places for these scenarios to play out. Nationwide, about 10 million kids attend more than 12,000 camps, according to the American Camp Association. Their campmates include a gazillion bugs and other animals, found objects and an infinite supply of human foibles and follies. We asked area camp counselors to observe and report. Giant cockroach mayhem

Kevin Redmon, a sixth-year staffer at the YMCA's Camp Widjiwagan:

"To be fair, if I had been in the tent I probably would have screamed, too. Squealed maybe. JayMar chose to scream, like a 6-year-old trapped in the creepy Fun House at the State Fair (you know the one). This got Christian and Jay screaming, too. I swear to you that I saw the tent physically lift up off the ground because of how violently they all piled into one corner. The boys went from lying in a neat little row, almost asleep, to clawing against the screen door in the space of about three seconds.

"It was a big cockroach, maybe the size of my middle finger. It was ugly. It had antennae that were as long as its scaly body, and it made a blind sweeping motion with them like it was searching for prey. This thing was carnivorous; it was out for blood. It crawled out of someone's shoe and across JayMar's chest. Maybe "scuttled" is a better verb. It was moving fast and, worse, you could never tell when it was going to scuttle next.

"The accepted self-defense technique in this situation seems to be, 'Push someone else closer to it while simultaneously curling into fetal position,' combined with an element of 'If I jerk spastically it won't have time to bite me.' (If you have never seen a biting cockroach, then I invite you to Angleworm Lake sometime. Bring a Bowie knife.)

"The tent had more or less turned completely on its side by this time. Tim, my level-headed co-counselor on this introductory canoe trip, was awake enough to figure out what was going on. That it was pitched against a tree is the only thing that kept it from rolling over entirely.

"It took an hour to find a headlamp, an hour to get the guys' heart rates under 210, and an hour to kill the thing. There are soccer riots that unfold with more decorum. The cockroach was clearly trained in guerrilla-style warfare. And the howling continued, with little intermission, for the better part of those three hours. Then there was the recrimination-filled debrief between the boys: who had screamed first, who had screamed loudest, who had displayed the greatest cowardice, ad nauseam."

The carjacking that wasn't

In this yin-yang world, there has to be a chronicle that turns the "city kids' scary adventure in the wilderness" bit on its head, right? Ours comes from Shanan Custer, co-director of Actors Theater of Minnesota's Drama Camp for Young Actors:

"A lot of our students come from outer-ring suburbs and rural areas, and our camp is in the heart of downtown St. Paul. We talk about that as enriching, but it also can be the big-eyes, 'Oh, God, I'm in the city' kind of deal. And downtown St. Paul is hard for people who have no experience driving in the city.

"So last year on the first day, one of our kids is an hour late. I think she was from Ham Lake. She finally came in and was a wreck. She said, 'Something just happened,' and our stomachs fell to the ground. She said she had driven all over downtown and then 'I pulled over to park my car, and these four big guys came and screamed at me to get out of the car and took my keys. And then they took my car.'

"She was just beyond panicked, and we were ready to call the police. Then she said 'they gave me this,' and showed us her ticket. We finally figured out that it was rush hour and she had found a valet ramp, and pulled into the garage thinking she was in a parking place. We told her, 'Your car's safe. It's probably gonna cost you $20, but your car's OK.'"

Thought process, kid version

Of course there's no shortage of malaprop fodder, especially among those who still are learning to read and speak. MacPhail Center for Music's Judy Boeckel passed along this example from a camp for ages 3-5:

"One of the Early Childhood Music camps is titled 'Pop! Sizzle! Bang!' One of the little campers thought they were coming to 'Popsicle! Bang!' camp and was wondering when they were going to get their Popsicles."

Camp Invention's Alison Knoph added an anecdote from a slightly older age group:

"One of the kids was taking part in a curriculum model called Planet Zak, where the kids pretend they've crash-landed on a planet and have to take care of themselves. This one 8-year-old boy was making goggles and got very frustrated because he was trying to make wipers for his goggles. We asked him why, and he said he needed to 'wipe away the milk from the Milky Way.'"

CSI: Dorm crimes

As kids get older, especially on the male side, trouble doesn't find them so much as vice versa. John Tauer, who has been running a basketball camp at the University of St. Thomas for 15 years, recalls a particular bit of mischief-making:

"One summer, some kids decided to play football with a small plastic wastebasket. It ended up sailing right out the window of their dorm room, just as a Safety and Security Officer was walking by the dorm. When questioned about it, the campers claimed that they were cleaning the room, had placed the wastebasket on the window sill to clean the floor, and one of them had accidentally nudged it out of the window.

"When we went to their dorm room to re-enact, 'Law & Order' style, how the wastebasket 'fell' out of the window, they were horrified to see that it was physically impossible for them to have nudged the wastebasket because of the height of the windowsill. Parents were called, kids ran laps and hopefully they learned a valuable lesson."

Thought process, parent version

Occasionally, even an older group is guilty of going a bit too far. Camp Invention's Susan Clark mentioned an ongoing scenario:

"We're always using parts from broken appliances, and we'll get parents who send a broken VCR to camp and think teachers will show the kids how to repair it. But no, we're not an appliance repair camp."

OK, so now it can be said: Parents do the darnedest things.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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