One of the things that I am most proud of as I get the opportunity to serve as one of the stewards of this wonderful 86 year old institution is the sense of tradition that exists here. I love that we sit on the same chairs and eat at the same tables that have been sat in and eaten at for generations. I love the fact that we sing the same songs that have been sung for generations…that fathers and sons can sing together. I love that we play many of the same games that have been played here for generations…that fathers and sons can play together. I love that we have the same special big event days that have been going on for years here about which fathers and sons can share exaggerations (and even prevarications) of their own athletic prowess and legendary heroism. I love that we all sit at the Council Fire Ring every Sunday night, just like many of these boys’ fathers and even grandfathers have before them. Our sense of history and tradition is really special.
Still, I am quick to remind anyone that says that this place is ALL about tradition, that this is not the case either. If Nebagamon didn’t attract new kids, new staff, and try new programs, it would have withered and vanished long ago. Newness and freshness are what keeps us relevant and moving forward. (More on this in an update dedicated to our brand new waterskiing program that will come later.)
Yesterday, we tried something totally new…
As you may be aware, across the pond in England, it is the second week of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. One of the four major tennis tournaments during the year, there can be little doubt that Wimbledon is the biggest deal of them all. Like us, Wimbledon is all about tradition. It is the only serious tournament that is still played on grass (all of the majors except for the Australian Open used to be played on grass). Wimbledon still enforces a strict dress code in which all competitors must wear white. The competitors and spectators still all partake in a snack of strawberries and cream at the tournament.
An ambitious athletic staff (headed by a British staff member) and our tennis staff got their heads together and decided that we should honor the 130 year old tennis tournament by creating our own Nebagamon version of Wimbledon.
For the past week, our caretakers and these staff members have been feverishly working to convert part of our Upper Diamond fields into amazing grass tennis courts. It has taken an incredible amount of creativity, engineering savvy, and plain old manual labor to make this happen. The results are awesome….totally playable and gorgeous temporary grass tennis courts.
Yesterday, those courts were brought to life in our own Wimbledon Tournament. All of the pomp and circumstance associated with Wimbledon was in place. All of the staff wore their pure whites, except for the tennis counselor from France that insisted on wearing a dress. (I think there were still some hard feelings from 1066 and the Battle of Hastings being played out there.) There were ball boys attending to each play during the championships. The referees sat on high and managed the matches. And, of course, strawberries and cream were available to all competitors and spectators throughout the day (I’m pretty sure we exhausted the supply of strawberries in the entire Wisconsin/Minnesota area….and good luck finding any whipped cream anywhere in the Upper Midwest! Yes, I know, whipped cream instead of clotted Cornish cream was a nod to our juvenile palates, but you gotta do what you gotta do!) It was a great day of tennis on the upper diamond. We got the chance to see some terrific talent and some truly exciting matches.
Of course, we carried out this event in Nebagamon style as well. The tournament was a doubles tournament that we offered as a sign up opportunity to all the boys in the morning. Those names were taken and teams were randomly generated from there. Consequently, we wound up with 5th graders playing with 9th graders, 8th graders playing with 3rd graders, and many totally unlikely pairings that would never have happened if the boys self selected. The result of this was beautiful. Connections between older and younger campers that might never have been made were forged. It was common to see two partners that had never before spent time together either practicing together, or sitting and just hanging out together. It was also great to watch the watchers. Now I am realistic enough to know that a significant number of the spectators came to the event because of the bottomless strawberries and whipped cream, but the result was a huge crowd of people all spending the afternoon together around Centre Court. Some of the fans were riveted to the action but others didn’t care about the action and just spent time together with friends, playing cards, chatting away, and eating lots of strawberries!
As I was leaving the event, I stopped at the edge of the Upper Diamond to soak it all in one more time. I have to say….it was truly moving to me. It was the sights and sounds of a camp at play, a camp at ease, and a camp family that was truly connecting. In just that quick visual and auditory microcosm, I could see everything that we are trying to do here at camp actually happening….plus whipped cream.
During staff week (our eight-day training week before the kids arrive), one of my standard talks with the staff is about how when you are a camper, camp seems like just plain magic. That all of the incredible and fun things that happen here, and inside of us when we are here, just sort of magically happen. I then go on to tell the staff that what they are going to learn is that this magic is actually the result of an absolutely incredible amount of work. And as staff, this incredible amount of work would be carried out by them all summer long, and it will be exhausting. But, here is the kicker, I tell them…..the magic is real. The product of their work is so much bigger, deeper, and better than just the work pieces that have gone into it. That when you work together, work hard, and work towards a common and altruistic goal….it actually becomes magic. Wimbledon was the result of counselors, caretakers, and kids all working together, working hard, and working towards a common and altruistic goal….Wimbledon was magic.
All is well in the North Woods…..