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Our summer camp’s special event called Big Weekend has begun!

Friday, , just after Services and the showing of the weekly video wrap up, we brought everyone in the community to the tent. The kids weren’t quite sure what was going on, though many of the older campers suspected that something was up. And they were right, for it was time for the Big Weekend Breakout.

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All week a group of coaches, specialists, and our camp leadership team had been practicing in secret for this event, mastering their choreographed dance steps. When the last camper entered the tent the lights went down and the smoke machines turned on. Dressed up in elaborate costumes and monster makeup, those on the stage looked like mummies, zombies, and other ghouls. Suddenly the music turned on and they performed a dance routine to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

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The whole camp went crazy with excitement, especially when the coaches ripped their masks off to reveal who they were. Then Athletic Director Jacki Mitchell came out to announce the names of the teams and who the head coaches were. It was probably the most elaborate, most exciting Big Weekend Breakout I’ve seen in 30 years. Be sure to check out clips from the start of this amazing special event in Friday’s upcoming weekly video wrap up. 

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So what exactly IS Big Weekend? In some ways it’s like a miniature version of Color War, with some very important differences. During Big Weekend we divide the camp community up into 6 teams, all based on a theme. This year’s theme is Halloween, with teams like Ghosts, Vampires, Jackolanterns, Zombies, Clowns and Devils. And over the course of 2 days campers participate in some traditional, and some creative, sports activities. So at one point today there were boys and girls playing traditional sports like softball, basketball and volleyball, and then later in the day they were laughing it up during events called “Lineup Ball”, “Minefield”, and “Blindfolded Soccer” (don’t worry, we don’t have our kids running with blindfolds on!). The goal of Big Weekend is to bring our two brother-sister overnight camps together for some fun, low-key, age-appropriate play, and to help our boys and girls make quality friendships with the kids in the other camp. There’s a great deal of singing, cheering, and team spirit. And when they are playing our more creative games, it’s a chance for them to work yet again on the 21st Century Skills that we have been focusing on all summer long (skills like collaboration, effective communication, leadership, and creative problem solving). This entire special event is organized by Jacki and Bob Mitchell, our super-creative athletic directors. Many thanks to them for all of the fun and excitement that they bring to our camp community each summer! 

Learn why our camp focuses on teaching children 21st century skills

So after breakfast everyone went to the unit areas to learn what team they were on, and what color shirt they should wear today and tomorrow. For parents who wondered why the packing list required so many shirts of different colors here is one reason why! After a quick team meeting the campers and staff moved out to their first activities.

Throughout the day our teams began to work on learning the songs that they will be performing in front of the entire camp community tomorrow evening. Each team wrote a song about their many positive attributes, and jokingly poked fun of the others. Starting this afternoon each team also be worked on their formations. Tomorrow night, each team will silently move about the Hollow, forming letters and shapes, attempting to tell a story about their team. Both the song and the formation are incredible opportunities for learning creativity and somewhat less traditional forms of communication. 

As is always case here, our campers and staff made this amazing special event all about bringing our brother-sister summer camp community together. There was cheering to and from each event. Veteran campers helped our newest members understand the ins and outs of the Big Weekend schedule, and the strategies for some of the games that they hadn’t played before. And while competition was obviously a part of the weekend, the friendships of the players were always much more important than the wins and losses.

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In the afternoon all 6 teams participated in a massive relay race that wound all over the campus. It began with a three-legged run from the assembly area to the Evergreen waterfront, including boating and swimming events at both waterfronts, athlete feats at multiple ballfields and inside the gym, and culminated with a bucket brigade that stretched from the girls’ waterfront to the Evergreen office. It was an incredible afternoon of teamwork and spirit for our very happy campers and counselors.

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Another example of the fun and excitement of this amazing special event was tonight’s Rope Burning contest. Each summer Rope Burning is the most exciting part of Big Weekend. The six team’s oldest campers participate in a race to see who can be first to burn a rope suspended 10 feet in the air between a series of metal poles. The entire community gathers up on Senior Hill to watch, and even before the first match is lit campers on all teams are leaping into the air with excitement.

One of the best traditions at Big Weekend Rope Burning is how our campers get themselves psyched up each year. Rather than getting together with their teammates, our Hut 6 boys form a huddle and our Juniper girls do the same. They begin chanting the name of their cabin, and start leaping up and down in excitement. Eventually, both groups reach a fevered pitch, and then break to start the event. This ritual is all about them cherishing the many years that they have spent together, and savoring this moment. Watching it each year Deena and I become a bit wistful about when we and our camp friends had the honor of participating in this ritual so very long ago…

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Once they had finished their psych up, Bob brought the whole camp community together. He explained the rules of Rope Burning, and then we began the countdown. The whistle blew and the 6 teams sprang into action. Some teams got their fire lit quicky while others struggled to light their matches. Some fires leapt into the air in under a minute, only to burn out quickly and need more wood for fuel. The teams went back and forth and back again as the flames light up the night sky. It was great stuff.

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Campers from all six teams celebrated by jumping up and down and singing in support of their older teammates. What I love about our annual Big Weekend Rope Burning event is that after all of its team spirit and intensity, it immediately reverts back to what our camp community is all about. The participants on each team walked over to hug and congratulate each other on having completed this major rite of passage. Moments later the entire camp was holding hands, standing underneath a starry sky, singing Taps together. Watching our entire overnight camp community come together for a special event like this is one of my favorite moments of every summer.

From start to finish, today was fun and exciting. It’s wonderful to see how easily the members of our brother-sister summer camp community can come together for an amazing special event like Big Weekend.

We can’t wait for tomorrow!

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