The game is called CNOCCER…
Basically CNOCCER is a very short field version of 2 on 2 soccer played on a makeshift pitch (ain’t I impressive with the soccer lingo?) down at CNOC (wilderness skills program). We only offer CNOCCER twice each summer, so when it is offered TONS of people show up for the event. (Including our doctor since this is the event that would seem to create the most injuries of anything we do!! Though this year, yet again, the grand total was ZERO injuries.) The instructions from the microphone were simple that night. Campers were asked to create their teams of two for the grand event. That is it….nothing else. But what ensued is, in my mind, one of the better representations of camp’s values.
First let’s take a look at the teams. Some of the particularly skilled soccer players sought out other skilled players to form the most competitive team that they could field. There are certainly some terrific athletes here. Camp is a place to compete in a safe environment. Other teams were made up of camp Big Brothers and Little Brothers. It is really heartwarming to see the Big Brothers continue to reach out to their Little Brothers throughout the session. Camp is a place where mentoring relationships are fostered. Other teams were simply two really close friends that wanted to play together. One might be a wonderfully skilled soccer guy and the other might have no skill whatsoever, but they wanted to play together. Camp is a place where friendships grow strong. Then there were the seemingly random teams, two kids that aren’t usually seen interacting, oftentimes of varying ages. I saw several of these teams and asked the boys about it. They simply said that they asked who wanted to play and formed a team. Camp is a place where people connect.
Then there were the outfits. Without any request or prompting whatsoever, many of the teams came dressed to kill! There was the team wearing long underwear with boxers over them. There was the team dressed in cocktail garb taken from the costume room. There was the team that wore helmets and pads, not because they feared injury (they leave that fear to me!), but because….well….it looked funny. The outfits were kooky. Additionally each team gets to pick a nation to represent in the CNOCCER Cup. The names ranged from the old standbys like your standard USA, Canada, and Ethiopia, to more esoteric West Korea (admittedly less celebrated than it’s two longitudinal brothers….but far more competitive than the ill prepared East Koreans), Gryffindor, Yo-Yo Islands, and of course The Death Star. Camp is a place where we get to be outrageous and fun.
In addition to all of the competitors, huge throngs of people came down just to watch CNOCCER. (There were other offerings that night, but most had a tough time competing with CNOCCER!) The crowds made up silly chants, sang silly songs, and cheered with a verve that would make the most vociferous soccer hooligans look like wallflowers. Camp is a place where we play and have a blast all together.
When the competition began, the competitors REALLY got into the games. There can be little doubt that winning the CNOCCER Cup, and getting one’s name permanently enshrined on that trophy that sits in the Rec Hall, is a HUGE deal. There was not a kid out there that didn’t want to win the event. There can be little doubt that they competed with heart. Still, in such a small space, with such a silly crowd, silly things happen. There was the time when all play halted because a ball ricocheted off of a spectator’s head and wound up in the goal on the other side of the pitch….time out to laugh of course. It was also not uncommon to see games come to a screeching and hilarious halt after some particularly funny comment came from one of our announcers or a fan. Despite the desire these guys had to win their matches, they understood that this was meant to be fun, and fun was not going to be obstructed by ambition….not during CNOCCER. Camp is a place where fun comes before winning.
Then there was the drama that any athletic competition fosters. This can happen with our most skilled players, and the most unlikely. I am reminded of what was without a doubt the most exciting battle last night. It involved, believe it or not, four Swampers. Two fourth graders and two third graders. Their match was a close one all of the way through with the crowd cheering them on the whole time. With just seconds to play (the entire crowd counts down from ten at the end of a game) it seemed as though one of the team’s goose was cooked; they were going to lose. Three, two, one….and a desperation kick from a third grader shot towards the goal…and in! The crowd literally went wild. Everyone from the youngest campers to middle (to upper middle!) aged men started jumping up and down and yelling with delight. “I can’t believe that just happened! I will be able to tell my kids I saw it live!” The resulting tie meant the contest would be decided by….of course….a horse-n-goggle. A representative of each team headed to the middle of the pitch to play the single round of “odd or even” horse-n-goggle. After the boys threw out their numbers, a winner was declared and there was much celebration. But wait…..a discrepancy. One of the boys seemingly threw a two but upon closer inspection his thumb was indeed extended and it was actually a three. The outcome was in doubt; the integrity of the game was at risk. If a winner was declared and they had not deserved it, the future of CNOCCER was indeed cloudy. The extended thumbed boy immediately seemed to recognize that much of the sports legitimacy, nay Camp Nebagamon’s very legitimacy hung in the balance. He quickly verified to the officiant that, in fact, the extended thumb was intentional and he had, in fact, lost. The ruling was overturned and a new winner declared. And the crowd went wild again…..for all four of them. The winners were celebrated, and that honest boy with the indicting thumb was celebrated. Camp is a place where we recognize special moments and celebrate them.
Finally, at the end of each match there were winners and losers. Now, I am sure we have all been to our kids’ sporting events in which the winning and losing teams huddle up and let fly a half hearted cheer for the other team, congratulating them for winning and losing. As much as I support this practice, I admit, these often come off a bit hollow. The end of our CNOCCER matches were different. At the end of a CNOCCER match there is a code. This is not a code that we imposed, or is ever even talked about, but, nevertheless, it happened EVERY TIME. The teams hugged each other and congratulated each other and invariably broke into smiles or laughs as someone reminded them about a particularly funny or notable moment from the match. The teams then walked off the pitch TOGETHER. Camp is a place where we stick together.
Sadly, darkness fell before a winner could be determined. But it was clear that the driver’s seat was being occupied by two brothers from Italy. Now to be clear, neither of these boys are the loudest kids in camp, nor the most attention grabbing….just two quiet(ish) nice kids….but CNOCCER was different. They had MAD soccer skills and asserted them with force on our little makeshift pitch. The crowds were entranced by their skills and cheered for these two guys with gusto. And while no actual winner was declared, these two were clearly among the winners of last night, firmly placing themselves on the map as CNOCCER forces to be dealt with for years to come. Camp is a place where you get noticed for things that make you special.
I love CNOCCER! (No matter what our Doctor says!!!)
Unrelated story from last night but too cute not to share:
CNOCCER was not the only thing offered last night to the boys. During announcements, our Orienteering head got up and offered an activity called Chasing Shimpkins. (Shimpkins is a truly goofy but excellent counselor that has been here for many years. He is quite a vision too….the omnipresent tie dye shirt and long flowing shoulder length hair make him one of our most identifiable staff members. He is also known for a maddening sort of catch phrase-y yell that he lets loose when he is excited. It is something akin to what I would imagine the sound a toucan makes in his death throes.) The idea here was that Shimpkins would take off and hide from the kids….their job was to find him. After our orienteering head had explained the activity to the kids, I grabbed the microphone and made a joke that Chasing Shimpkins was a lame idea, and that Shimpkins and the orienteering guy were just trying to get an evening off by offering something that nobody would be interested in. Flash forward to me standing at CNOCCER. There is a break in the action and I hear a commotion over on the Lower Diamond. I glance over my right shoulder just in time to see a flash of tie dyed color race by with long flowing locks trailing behind. Within seconds, a hoard of at least 15 children raced after the flash, screaming, hooting hollering and hurling tennis balls at him with extraordinary passion. (So much for the night off for Shimpkins!) He circled the area we were in, and then took off again towards the sports field with the Swamper hunters in dogged pursuit. A minute or two later one of two things happened….I cannot be sure which. Either the hunters were successful and they caught the evasive Shimpkins, or somewhere nearby a toucan died a truly horrible death.
On a completely different note, yesterday morning our 9th grade Quetico Big Trippers returned from their Rendezvous (a two night gathering of just the 9th graders prior to their return to camp). The moment of their return has become one of the truly signature and powerful moments every summer. When the vans arrive at camp, they enter through the far Range gate and honk their horns as they drive through camp. It doesn’t matter what campers are doing at that moment, everyone drops what they are doing and sprints down to the waterfront to watch IT happen (many have already been waiting). The vans pull up along our lakefront, and then the doors fly open. In an instant, 20 smelly, dirty, and exultant young men come flying out of them and make a mad dash for the lake. With the entire camp assembled and cheering wildly, they all pound into the water screaming at the tops of their lungs. The next five minutes are spent hugging one another and congratulating each other (and in this case singing Happy Birthday to the one amongst them whose birthday happened to fall on this special day). In so many ways, this final entry into Lake Nebagamon for these boys signifies the culmination of their camper experiences. For many of them, their camper careers began seven years ago as frightened Swampers, jumping into the cold waters of an alien lake to take their first swim tests, terrified about what lurked below. I believe, in that moment, the Swampers feel like they are alone. Seven years later, their camper careers end with the very same boys, once again jumping into that same lake. But this time, that alien lake is nothing of the kind. It is home. Its water feels as warm and comfortable as the most welcoming bath. And not a single one of them feels alone. They are surrounded by, exhorted by, and embraced by, their brothers.
And, while I, admittedly, am a sentimental type, it is perhaps the most moving moment of each summer. It is a moment that signals individual success, incredible camaraderie, a true camp family and, yes, a lurking sadness borne of a realization that it is all coming to an end very soon. We express this through shouts, hugs, and a coming together like no other during the summer.
All is well in the North Woods….