As I sit and write my final blog post of the Camp Takajo 2018 season, I’m filled with mixed emotions. Throughout the day, I made a point of going up to a number of our boys who struggled at the beginning of the season for various reasons. The underlying theme was that these boys did not think they could make it to the end of the summer. They could not fathom the possibility of spending seven weeks apart from mom and dad.
During their time of struggle, they created a host of reasons why camp was not right for them. Some would say that boys in their bunks were keeping them up late at night. Others would claim they were teased or didn’t like something about our program. One of my most challenging tasks as a camp director is to try to understand what is really troubling a child when they visit me in my office.
I often use the analogy that it would be like going to a doctor and asking for treatment for your illness without describing any specific symptoms. I told the boys if they approach the doctor in this way with an earache, they will leave the doctor’s office with that earache. However, with the right course of action, such as a targeted antibiotic; within a few days, that child has forgotten all about his discomfort. The same holds true at camp. When a child allows camp to get into his bloodstream, he immerses himself in this community while participating in our structured program, thus allowing himself to connect socially with his peers innately. That boy will feel healthy, and his feelings of sadness will disappear.
The respectful silence our campers held while watching the ’18 burn over Long Lake was deafening.
I hugged many boys today and applauded their efforts. Learning how to work through those uncomfortable moments, developing self-reliance and perseverance are great skills to master at a young age. As you would imagine, today was a bit of a tedious day as we handled the critical task of packing, which is required before we end camp tomorrow morning. However, in the evening we came together for one final time in the Indian Council Fire Ring for what Warrior Group Leader Hank Fortin calls one final tribute to the Okees.
The entire camp enjoyed a campfire with songs that our oldest boys sang when they first entered Takajo many years ago. As one would imagine, it was an emotional night for those who finally came to the realization that their camping days were coming to an end. Our forty-eight Okees surrounded the campfire arm-in-arm and led us in our camp song. Many of our boys were overcome with emotion and could not get the words out, but the support of the entire camp community raised their spirits as they sang this meaningful song one last time.
A few things to consider as you welcome your child back home. Your son is exhausted. For seven consecutive weeks, he was awakened at 7:45 AM and played hard until 9:15 PM. We are coming off the most humid summer Maine has ever experienced in recorded history, and our boys are looking forward to some well-deserved rest. As parents, we crave information, especially when we have been disconnected from our children. While your tendency will be to ask your son questions about his favorite activity, happiest moments and best friends, you might be surprised to receive one-word answers or very little information at all.
I can assure you that this is not due to his lack of fun or enjoyment, but rather his state of mind at the end of a fun-filled summer. The stories and antidotes will come out over time. A song on the radio or something funny around the dinner table will remind your son of something that he enjoyed in camp. While my sons are at camp and I’ve had the luxury to see my daughters on a few brother-sister days, I too crave the moment that I can close the front door to my home and have that re-connection with the most important people in my life.
Spending time with my children at the end of the summer is my happiest time of the year. It is that one last window of time before we jump on the school merry-go-round. There is no homework, no team practices and no commitments other than family. I hope that you enjoy this precious time with your child. On behalf of Warren and my entire staff, it has been our sincere privilege to spend our summer with your son. Please know that we consider you part of our family, and we remain available to you throughout the year and forever.
Last night’s camp fire was the first indication that our summer at Camp Takajo is coming to an end. For those who have been here for many summers, this event represents the end of something special. It is a warning that there are only a few days left. There’s little time left to be with your friends and a reminder to soak up every remaining moment before we go our separate ways. Our little guys are eager to reconnect with family, but our oldest boys wish there was more time left in their camping careers. If you were here to witness the body language, you would see our oldest boys arm-in-arm and seemingly connected at the hip, as they sense time is slipping away.
This afternoon, I invited our 48 Okees down to my house for lunch. When these boys were Warriors, they would be identified by a particular bunk or small group with which they spent most of their time. But as the years have passed, this group has become one family. They respect each other for their strengths and embrace one another for their weaknesses. This develops over time, when trust and respect replace personal needs and impulsivity.
After lunch, swimming in the lake, and the annual picture in the hot tub, I brought the boys into my house, so we could sit together and reflect upon their years at camp. I welcomed the boys’ questions and provided full transparency in my answers. The questions were heartfelt and sincere. The boys wanted to know about what would happen when Hank and Jane Fortin no longer return to run Warrior Camp, what plans I have for capital improvements, and as the owner of Camp Takajo, what was the most difficult decision I’ve had to make.
The boys listened intently to my responses, and I believe this open and frank conversation gave them a greater perspective for all the hard work and thought that goes into making the Takajo experience so special. We spoke about the love and devotion of the administrative staff, all of whom have played a critical role in the growth and development of these young men. For the past 29 years, I have said goodbye to a graduating group of campers. While each group is unique and special, these boys will forever hold a special place in my heart. This is the first summer that I experienced what it feels like to have a son graduate from camp.
For the past ten summers, I have had the comfort and security of knowing that my oldest boy would be under my watchful eye in camp, where he would experience a wide variety of activities while developing self-confidence and an inner strength that would help him persevere through life’s challenges and adversities. I will no longer have the luxury of knowing where my son will spend his summers. While intellectually I realize there is a great big world, filled with wonderful opportunities, there is something sad about realizing this phase of life for my son and me is over.
The Seniors left my house as one united group and went back to their quad, where they split back into their Olympic teams. For the next two hours, they competed fiercely against each other during the Whacked-Up Relay. The competition was fun, yet intense, as many of these boys competing in this relay knew this was their last in camp. Yet, when the final piece of pie was swallowed, and one team was declared the winner, the entire age group became one, embraced each other and celebrated. The fact that these boys recognized that this experience was more important than the result is a sign of maturity. I would like to believe that Takajo played a small part in teaching these boys this valuable lesson.
In the evening, we hosted our final banquet in the dining room. Campers and counselors were dressed in their nicest attire and celebrated this phenomenal summer. We heard speeches from some of our youngest Warriors and oldest Seniors, as well as perspectives from some first-year counselors and a Takajo legend, who is here for his final summer. There was a common theme that ran through these speeches.
No matter what you feel you will take away from the camp experience, you cannot possibly fathom the enormous growth that takes place when you spend your summer away from home. As Warren played Tattoo, the entire camp stood in silence, and I reflected on an earlier blog post describing Warrior Group Leader Hank Fortin honoring this bugle call, while a bunk of Juniors ignored it. It warmed my heart to see that through the continuity of this reflective bugle call, our campers have learned to appreciate what camp represents.
We packed a lot into today. We started our morning by welcoming a professional lice prevention company to Camp Takajo, who did head checks on every camper. I am happy to report that only your child has head lice. Just kidding! Not one camper has head lice.
The entire camp came together mid-morning for our Olympic Song Competition. What I love most about this event is that it is the only one involving all campers, regardless of age or athletic ability, participating together. Watching our green and grey teams file into our Indian Council Ring in camp uniform was a sight that made me very proud. Our youngest campers sat among our oldest leaders, which had to be a thrill that our little guys will remember for a long time. Each team sang four camp songs plus an original song that was written by a few of our oldest campers on each team. The competition was even. Both groups sang off-key, but together. However, what gave the grey team a slight edge was that they not only wrote the lyrics to their Olympic song but also created original music to go with the words and performed it live with guitar accompaniment.
Heading into this afternoon’s “whacked-up” relay, all three divisions were separated by less than thirty points. The whacked-up relay is a winner take all event. To understand the essence of this event, you have to picture a relay race that runs throughout the entire campus. There are over seventy events per team, ranging from shooting a bullseye in archery, hitting a home run over the Junior baseball field fence, building a fire and burning a rope that is positioned three feet above the ground, whipped cream smears, three-legged races, the lemon suck, the Coke chug, and the finale ending in a roped off area in front of the waterfront, where two contestants battle it out in a pie-eating contest.
The Warrior and Junior Olympics came to a close in an iconic fashion, with the entire camp cheering for their guy to finish the pie first. While everybody was fixated on the two campers eating the pie during the Junior Olympics, I caught a glimpse of the two Seniors scheduled to eat the pie tomorrow afternoon during the Senior Whacked-Up Relay. These two older campers had one eye on the pie but the other eye on each other. They know that tomorrow they will be sitting in the hot seat as the Senior Olympics come to a close.
After a full day of activities and head-to-head competition, the entire camp came together this evening for our closing campfire. It speaks volumes about our message. We can compete fiercely during the day, yet embrace each other and the camp’s traditions at the end of the competition. During the final campfire, a camper in each age group was selected to read a passage from the heritage box, which represents what their age level offers to the camp. We were entertained by other campers, who participated in a traditional Indian squat dance and were amazed when two counselors ended the evening with our traditional flaming hoop dance, which is not covered by workman’s compensation.
Today was the culmination of an incredible summer, where we experienced the sense of community during our song competition, the thrill of the whacked-up relay, and the traditional closing campfire.
The heat and humidity that is affecting most of the country has made its way to Camp Takajo. While the sun is shining, temperatures reached the low 90’s, and the humidity was very noticeable for our boys during their Olympic competition today. It is amazing to witness the campers’ resilience as they continue to give 110% during the final days of competition. In a Warrior soccer game, a team fell behind by three goals and managed to tie it up with just minutes to play. After a thrilling comeback, the game came down to penalty kicks. The trailing team fell short of a miraculous rally. Exhausted and a bit bewildered after this defeat, the losing team was embraced by their opponents, who had great respect for their tenacity and competitive spirit.
Our Seniors had Olympic basketball in the morning, and it featured some of our best players in camp. The lead changed hands multiple times throughout the game, but neither team was able to break open a lead that exceeded three points. With the game still in reach but time ticking away, the trailing team needed to foul an opponent in order to send them to the free-throw line in hopes of a miss to regain possession of the ball. As both teams watched, one of our Okees stepped to the line. This camper calmly drained two foul shots, icing the game for his team.
Additionally, there was intracamp baseball, football, soccer, tennis and water polo. There were too many heroic moments to mention. However, these days will leave an unforgettable mark on your son’s experience in camp this summer. One of the most revealing moments that I captured today was witnessing our two senior Olympic captains sitting together during lunch. Their demeanor was relaxed, and the conversation appeared natural as the boys smiled at one another, as if it were just another day at camp. In reality, these two boys feel tremendous pressure and responsibility to lead their teams both on and off the fields. The fact that two captains could step off the field and enjoy a break from competition together is a great example for everyone to witness. We believe in keeping competition in its proper perspective. No matter the result, when a game is over, we shake hands with our opponent and move on.
There are other things taking place in the midst of our Olympic competition. Last night, our hobby counselors hosted the Annual Takajo Art Show. We have an amazing staff, who have worked diligently with our campers and have brought out their creative side. Last night, the entire camp took a break from competition on the fields to walk through the exhibits on Hobby Lane and admire some amazing works of art.
As the sun set over Long Lake, the temperature remained fairly high, which will make falling asleep challenging tonight. As I made my way through the Warrior bunks to say goodnight to our youngest campers, I offered them a “midnight” dip down at the waterfront. Exhausted from a long day of activities, our little guys found one last burst of energy to sprint down to the lake for a refreshing dip before bedtime. With just four days to go until the end of the season, enthusiasm remains high, and the best is still yet to come.
Our Olympics are in full swing. At all corners of Camp Takajo, you can hear cheers echoing across the campus. Your boys are giving 110% and are playing with heart and conviction. What is most important is that their teamwork and sportsmanship are never compromised. While our Olympics are taking place in Warrior, Junior, and Senior camps, the green and grey bandanas worn by the campers indicate who is on which team.
I witnessed some incredible acts of courage on the playing fields today. However, one event captured the essence of what we try to teach in camp. Our Warriors were competing in a track meet, and one of the last races was a 4 × 100 meter relay, which means four campers from each team were required to run one lap each around the track. After the first lap, the green team had a ten-yard lead. When the baton was handed to the second runner, the green camper in the lead opened up the margin by another ten yards. As the baton was handed to the third runner, the cheers became louder, and the grey racer tightened up the margin as he handed the baton to the anchor.
The entire Warrior population stood on their feet and cheered on these two runners. The runner on the green team took off in a sprint and seemed to be maintaining his lead. When the grey leader was handed the baton, he turned on the jets, harnessing every ounce of energy he had to catch the runner in the lead. When the runners came around the final turn and headed for home, only five yards separated them.
Gasping for air and with veins pulsing from their necks, these two boys crashed into each other crossing the finishing line. The race was so close, we couldn’t even tell who won. The runners gasped for air from sheer exhaustion. I noticed that their friends and bunkmates, who were wearing different color bandanas, ran to their aid, picked them up and embraced them for their heroic performance.
While the competition was intense, our boys never lost sight of what was most important. Showing the love, respect and compassion for their friends exceeded the importance of the points won in the race. This embodies the true meaning of what we instill each and every day at camp.
The great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is attributed to have said, “It was déjà vu all over again.” As it was for our Camp Takajo Okees. But this time, the prank was on them. Taking a page out of their playbook, Senior Group Leader Paddy Mohan arranged to take eight canoes and place them up in the ceiling of our dining hall in the early hours of the morning while the campers were still asleep. When reveille sounded, Paddy went over to the senior quad and rustled our oldest campers out of bed, accusing them of once again pulling a prank on the camp. Our boys were startled and suggested to Paddy that they had nothing to do with the situation.
Nevertheless, they were considered guilty by association and asked to grab rakes to clean up the beach and waterfront area. The boys began looking at each other, wondering if it was one of the other bunks that had done the plotting. There were whispers and many disgruntled campers who were shocked to be accused of this inappropriate prank. As the entire Senior camp assembled by the steps of the dining hall to witness the canoes being removed from the ceiling, the sound of the Olympic bugle call echoed across the campus, and our oldest boys knew it was time to begin their Olympics.
There were intermittent showers throughout the morning, which allowed our teams to spend time on organizing for track meets, swim meets, and other group events. With bright sunshine and warm temperatures in the forecast, we want our boys to soak up every minute of our Olympic competition and wanted to take the day to let the showers pass before commencing with this end of the summer tradition. We spent the remainder of our day playing sports in the field houses, finishing bunk plaques, and settling in for a movie.
It’s difficult to believe that tomorrow is our last Lazy Man’s Morning, when our boys come together for a casual breakfast, eating their favorite Dunkin’ Donuts. Our boys are happy but chomping at the bit to lace up their sneakers and start their Olympic competition.
So much has happened since my last blog. The Warrior and Junior Olympics have broken at Camp Takajo, which means the Senior break isn’t far behind. While the temperature is warm and the humidity is back in the air, our campers are playing with great passion and intensity, knowing that these four days are the culmination of their competition in camp this summer.
Our Okees were a little bored last evening and thought it would be a great idea to wake up at 3:00 AM and move the canoes and soccer goals up to our tree houses, the furthest point in camp. Our night watchman was on the scene but was no match for this well-orchestrated prank. This morning, we woke the Okees at 7:00 AM and asked if they wouldn’t mind assisting us in moving all the canoes and goals back to their proper locations.
While the enthusiasm for the return trip of the equipment was not as high as it was at 3:00 AM, our oldest boys showed great teamwork in restoring camp back to its proper form. Keeping in line with one of my favorite quotes, Hate the sin, love the sinner, we put this minor blemish with our oldest boys behind us and went on with our day.
Shortly after dinner this evening, our Sub Seniors returned from their week-long trip to Canada. Our boys were all smiles, as many reported that this trip was the best experience of their lives. With just one week left in our camp season, the entire community will be ensconced in Olympic competition. Our boys will be challenged to try their hardest, perform at their best and never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal is participating with one’s friends for the love of the game.
Like a proud parent, I was beaming this afternoon when I first laid eyes on Takajo’s Okees, who returned from a fabulous trip out west. Even the two-hour delay in their return trip home, could not derail their enthusiasm for this once in a lifetime experience. We gave our oldest boys the opportunity to sleep in this morning and catch up on some well deserved rest, so it wasn’t until lunchtime that we saw our leaders in camp. After lunch, our oldest campers could not wait to hit the playing fields and break a sweat with their friends.
I happened to catch the tail end of a soccer game, which came down to penalty kicks after a hard-fought match. As one would expect, each team selected their top five players for the PKs. After all five players had shot, the score remained tied and each team had to go deeper down the bench. What was meaningful for me was witnessing the entire team rally around the unassuming player who was being called upon to lead their team to victory. The score remained tied until the eleventh player on each team was needed to take a penalty kick. Eventually, there was a winner, but the way both teams conducted themselves and made each player feel a sense of worth was the best take-away from the match.
The rest of the camp was delighted to see laser tag set up on the senior baseball field. The entire field had inflatable obstacles, which created the perfect venue for our boys to have a carefree day in the sun.
The Warrior Crows and Braves finished their tennis tournament. This all-day event featured some amazing matches and terrific sportsmanship. Every camper had the chance to participate, and we noticed a great improvement in our boys’ play from the beginning of the summer.
The smell of Olympics is in the air, and all three age groups are on pins and needles, as they await the start of this four-day competition. Campers from all age groups eagerly anticipate finding out which team they will be on and when the olympic break will take place.
Tomorrow, our Sub-seniors return from their trip to Canada, and we will once again all be back in camp as one family. While I love the opportunity for our boys to travel and explore, nothing makes me happier than seeing them when they return home.
All age groups at Camp Takajo are feeling the love this week as we have shifted to a creative program that takes us out of our normal routine. Our Warrior Indian campers (finished fourth grade) woke up early and headed to Water Country USA, where they spent the day in the largest water park in New England.
The Junior Grey campers returned home from their overnight white water rafting trip from the Kennebec River and shared plenty of stories about the thrilling ride they experienced in their ten-man rafts. The Okees left Las Vegas, landed in Boston and will return from what was referred to as some by “the trip when we became brothers.” Our Intermediates are loving their last minutes as big men on campus and enjoyed a high-spirited all-star football game this morning and shuttle rides by boat into Naples for ice cream in the afternoon. The Warrior Crows and Braves participated in an all-day Warrior tennis tournament, and our Braves retired to our movie house this evening for their massive sleepover extravaganza.
If you were here to witness camp, you would notice that the energy level and spirit is high with no indication that the end of the season is near. I often reflect that the key to any organization is not the expected, but the unexpected. I have often used water ski instructor Don Matthews and staff member for over forty years as the example of the unexpected. Don takes pictures of our youngest boys getting up on skis for the first time and mails the pictures to parents with a personal note so that they can share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The fact of the matter is that these moments are happening every day in camp, but many go unnoticed:
My head chef, who makes a grilled cheese sandwich for a little boy who might not like the meal selection
The nursing staff, who track down the distracted camper who forgets to come in for his evening medication
The counselor, who is awakened in the middle of the night by a camper who wets his bed and needs assistance
The bunk mom, who clips the nails and makes sure that your little boys are showering and using shampoo and soap every evening
The success of our summer relies heavily on our attention to detail, and it is only with a caring, devoted, and loving staff that we can provide a happy experience for your child.
The weather continues to be magnificent here at Camp Takajo. The sun was shining all day, and the temperature reached the low eighties– perfect for our Warrior Braves (finished third grade), who spent the day at Funtown/Splashtown USA, enjoying the water rides and the perfect weather.
Our Junior Grey campers (finished sixth grade) traveled north to the Kennebec River, where they will have an evening around a campfire before venturing out on a ten-mile journey down thrilling whitewater rapids tomorrow. Midway down the river, the boys will pull over and enjoy a campfire lunch that features steak and chicken cooked over an open grill.
Our Okeechobees (finished ninth grade) enjoyed the last day of their Western trip in Las Vegas at The Big Apple Coaster at the New York-New York Hotel and the Wet’n’Wild Water Park. Our Intermediates (finished seventh grade) were once again kings for a day, spending the time being the big shots in Senior camp. With our SubSeniors in Canada and Okees out West, the Inters competed in a series of all-star games and retired to the Senior Rec. Hall, enjoying the privileges that their older counterparts normally have. Our Warrior Crows had their sleepover party in our movie house, staying up late and munching on some pizza in between scenes.
At the end of the day and before I was about to retire for the evening, I found a thirteen-year-old boy uncharacteristically upset. He mentioned that he had been talking with a bunkmate, and they began discussing who the best basketball players were in the age group. What was meant to be a private conversation was shared by this other individual, which created some controversy for a number of the boys in this age group. The young man who came to see me appreciated that his words were taken out of context and meant no harm, yet felt that the damage would be irreversible.
I advised him that the most difficult conversations are the ones that must take place and suggested that he go directly to the boy whose feelings were hurt in order to apologize for any misunderstanding, rather than allowing a misconception to fester. I advised him that it is always best to be honest and transparent and to apologize for any miscommunications.
As adults, we understand that this is the best course of action, but for an adolescent trying to establish his own credibility among his peers, this could be a rather challenging moment. The camper took my advice and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the issue dissipated. While this and many other moments in a camp day seem to be unnecessarily magnified, the reality is there is so much going on that it is easy for us to put aside our grievances and take the high road.