While throwing food, diving on a slide of shaving cream and pulling your friend 40 feet in the air would more than likely not be encouraged at home, and definitely not at school, at camp this is the norm. Taking activities to the max, engaging in the ridiculous, and acting like a fool may seem very irresponsible to many, but at camp we view it differently.
We know that each camper enters the gates of camp each day to receive experiences that will last a life time. Outside consultants, studying camping as an industry, tell us that campers are not only gaining these positive memories, but in the midst of the craziness they are building self-worth. Great minds like Dr. Michael Thompson, New York Times Bestselling Author and International Speaker, says “camp keeps adolescents connected to the adult world by giving meaning and mission. While some see engaging in the ridiculous as silly, we see it as helping a camper supersede goals and expectations.
Our job does not end with having a good time, but in helping each camper achieve greatness. Charles William Eliot, the 21st President of Harvard, said it best, “I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well-organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.” So I’ll ask again, ”What value do you place on camp?”
February 14th is an intense day. It should be a happy day – a day for flowers, cards, and best of all, chocolate. Anyone who has ever worked in or attended a public school knows that if there is a day that has the potential for hurt feelings, it’s Valentine’s Day. If you are handing out cards, make sure you have enough for everyone in the class. Also make sure you have the correct card for the correct gender. I don’t know which is worse, forgetting to give someone a card or giving a Little Mermaid card to a boy. Either way, there is pressure on everyone. I don’t know what’s worse, knowing you have forgotten someone or knowing you were forgotten.
It’s tough to make everyone feel special. That’s why at Camp Doublecreek we try to make every day Valentine’s Day. No, we don’t give out candy and flowers everyday (I think a rose might not be appreciated by our younger boys, although I’m sure they could find some creative uses for the thorns). No, it doesn’t take tangible tokens to make someone feel special. Here at Doublecreek, we try to show each camper that we care for them.
It takes a special person to be a group counselor, activity counselor, bus driver, etc. to recognize when a camper needs extra attention. Some campers fit right in, they love every game, activity, and song we sing. They are easy to appreciate. Not all campers follow the song from the Lego Movie, “Everything is Awesome.” Some campers are more comfortable and enjoy Doublecreek in their own fashion. If that fashion means watching instead of playing, pressing the play button instead of dancing, that’s okay. Some campers will participate in time. Some campers are participating in ways we don’t realize.
Our focus is that every camper feels loved, appreciated and respected. That’s why at Doublecreek, every day is like Valentine’s Day.
– Joe Ray
“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”
“Change in all things is sweet.”
“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.”
The preceding quotes I believe give us guidelines for personal development, particularly if we are seeking to develop a child. You may not agree with these quotes. If you have issues with these quotes, take it up with Aristotle. He’s the man I’m quoting. As I read Aristotle, I was struck by how much has changed and how much has stayed the same when it comes to what influences youth. I have worked at Doublecreek for 43 summers. I’m often asked if children have changed over the years. Children haven’t changed, but their world has. They are bombarded by technology, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s tough for a child to be grounded in the world today. A factor I have always appreciated about Uncle Carter, Aunt Trudy, Scott Kirtley, and now Dan Neal, has been the realization that influences and habits acquired early can lead to beneficial habits later. I’m not sure if Aunt Trudy and Uncle Carter were reading up on Aristotle when they opened Doublecreek, but they incorporated many of his teachings.
Counselors have always been encouraged to be role models for campers. Of course, counselors are often works in progress themselves. We try to be positive influences for campers. We are not perfect, but as Aristotle says, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” We keep trying. Doublecreek is an education for counselors as well as campers.
At Doublecreek, we take the phrase “change in all things is sweet” to heart. Dan and the Leadership are constantly looking for ways to improve programming. If you don’t change, you stagnate. Good habits are best learned when you’re young. We hope campers learn productive habits while they are attending Doublecreek. Some habits campers pick up by osmosis. They are continually exposed to positive influences which over time become part of their fabric.
Finally, “excellence is not an act, but a habit. Campers and counselors don’t do something with the intent of being excellent. They achieve excellence because that’s their nature. I find comfort in the fact that despite the face we live in a fluid and dynamic world, the timeless words a man who lived in ancient Greece are being used to help mold campers and counselors who are luchky enough to be part of Camp Doublecreek.
I changed positions at my school this year. After 11 years as a life skills teacher, I moved back to physical education (P.E.). This was the fourth position change I’ve had while teaching at Hillcrest Elementary, Del Valle ISD. I’ve taught P.E. before, so the adjustment wasn’t that dramatic. A factor that makes this transition smoother is children. It doesn’t matter if I am teaching in public schools or working at Camp Doublecreek –children will be children! They can either make you want to laugh or pull out your hair (sometimes at the same time.)
The main events for P.E. students are field days. We had field days for 1st through 5th grades. Some children approached field days the same way Hannibal approached Rome. Some children had a very laid-back attitude to field.
During the 1st grade field day, we discovered a class was short one participant. We informed the teacher and she frantically searched for the child. She found him and when she told him he was needed for a race, he laconically replied, “But I’m eating a pickle!” How can you argue with that? A substitute runner was found.
We were getting ready for a relay race. Station One was ready. Station Two was ready. Station Three was ready. Station Four – no response. I shouted, “Station Four!” No response. I went over to Station Four and discovered what was more important than a relay race. All five boys and our 5th grade helper were tracking a pill bug as it crossed the track. When the pill bug was in the grass, down a hole, and out of sight, then and only then, could we start the race.
During the hurdle race (let me stress that our hurdles are all of six inches high), a runner knocked a hurdle over. She stopped and reset the hurdle, making sure that it was in exactly the place it was when she knocked it over. I quelled my impulse to tell her to hurry up. After all, she was cleaning up a mess she had made.
I’ve seen similar behavior at Camp Doublecreek. I’ve seen campers rounding third base heading for home stop to retrieve a hat that had blown off their head. I’ve watched campers track lizards, bugs, and other creatures, completely forgetting the activity they were doing when they were distracted by the Doublecreek critters.
One thing I’ve learned working with children is that sometimes it’s best to check competitive natures at the door and let children enjoy the moment. Then you can enjoy the moment with them.
This is a busy time of year for me. I’m closing things down at Hillcrest and saying “goodbye” to students for the summer, while getting ready for the summer at Doublecreek and saying “hello” to campers for the summer. It’s crazy, but if I get overwhelmed, I’ll just sit and watch a pill bug cross the track.
-- Joe Ray
Check out our Opening Week Video
This week’s theme at Camp Doublecreek is “Wild Adventures in Texas.” On Wednesday at Sing Song, I was treated to a lively rendition of the saga of A. W. Grimes and Sam Bass. In the usual style of Doublecreek story-telling, the saga of Sam Bass and A. W. Grimes is being told in a serial format. I missed Episode I on Tuesday, but Episode II was complete with scintillating narration, method acting (the style of method I won’t go into), and authentic costumes (of course Texas cowboys wore 50 gallon foam hats and oversized cowboy boots). Even the audience got into the act by reacting with brilliant sound effects when they heard particular cue words.
I have a serious logistical problem. I need to have this article written before I see the end of “The Saga of A. W. Grimes and Sam Bass.” So I don’t know if the writers of this incredible opus will get the story right. Will they show A. W. Grimes being shot by Sam Bass? Will the skit show Sam Bass being mortally wounded after he fired upon A.W. Grimes? While researching about Sam Bass and A. W. Grimes, I came across this statement: “The legend of Sam Bass has grown way out of proportion in relation to his actual deeds.” I beg to differ. Sam Bass was a notorious train and bank robber. For four months there was “Bass War” in Texas. The shootout in Round Rock and the events of the two days that followed are as intense and dramatic as anything you’ll see in the movies.
However, there is one incident that is relatively unknown. In the summer of 1876, Sam Bass and his gang robbed the Great Western Railroad as it travelled through Central Texas. On board were all the nickels for all the banks in Texas and Oklahoma territory. This robbery received little notice since it transpired only days after the Battle of Little Big Horn. Anyway, Sam Bass and his gang hid the nickels in a cave close to Round Rock. This cave was part of what was later to be called “Inner Space Caverns.”
One hundred years later in the summer of 1976, Uncle Carter was drilling a hole for a fence post when he discovered the cave. He only shared the secret with Aunt Trudy and a few other people. The number of nickels found by Uncle Carter has never been determined.
I know people will roll their eyes and say, “This is just one of Joe Ray’s crazy stories.” But tell me this—where do you think we get all the nickels for the nickel dives?
See some of our wild adventures from this week: https://vimeo.com/98142405
This week is Super Hero Week at Camp Doublecreek. I find it interesting that we need super heroes. In fact, we’ve always had super heroes. The ancient Greeks had super heroes. They just called them gods. They had major gods and minor gods. They had gods who were half-human, half-god. Hercules is the prime example of this hybrid god. They have gods in charge of the heavens, sea, underworld, right down to flutes. The Greek, Roman and Norse gods of ancient times have been replaced by our comic book super heroes of today. Zeus, Poseidon, and Athena have been replaced by Superman, Aquaman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
All super heroes have special powers, but they also have an Achilles heel. No super hero is completely invincible; that would take away all possible drama. Super heroes have seemingly impossible tasks to perform. Usually an arch villain, who can be defeated but not totally destroyed, is trying to destroy a city, country (often the United States of America) and sometimes the universe. I’ve often wondered why arch villains want to destroy a city, country, or the universe since they also live there. Doesn’t that mean they’d be destroyed as well, or at least that they will have to move? Since arch villains have elaborate homes or fortresses, that would be losing a lot of stuff! But never fear – a super hero, either Superman, Batman, the Incredible Hulk, Storm, or Wonder Woman, etc., will save the day by using their own unique super powers they’ve acquired through an accident or a strange mutation. These powers I would love to have: super strength, ability to fly, super human agility, inexhaustible wealth, brilliant deductive skills, and most important, always looking good no matter what the circumstances.
This week, counselors have acted out various super heroes during Sing Song. Do they have the real powers of a super hero? Absolutely! Could a real super hero eat a donut while it dangles from a string without any hands, drop an Oreo cookie from impossible heights (at least two feet) from their forehead into the mouth of their partner, again without hands, or burp on cue? Sound easy? Well, I would like to see Wonder Woman do it.
The wonder of super heroes is the fact that they always win and usually make it look easy. I’m not a big fan of comic book super heroes, but I am a huge fan of some real everyday super heroes. I’m speaking of campers and counselors I see every day and every summer at Doublecreek. Like comic book super heroes, they have many talents spread out among many characters. Some counselors are gifted athletes. Some are not. It’s the non-gifted athletes I identify with and admire because they will step outside their comfort zone to play and enjoy games when it is really not their forte. Some counselors are natural entertainers and some are not. I really appreciate the counselors who can’t carry a tune and have two left feet, but will sing and dance in front of 300+ campers who cheer with delight because their counselor is on stage. All counselors at Doublecreek share one trait. They are here for the campers. While I am writing this, I’m watching a counselor show a camper how to play 4-Square. This may not be as glamorous as saving the world, but it means the world to a camper.
I see super hero traits in campers. I’ve seen campers who are shy about getting off the bus on Monday, going down a zip line by Thursday. There are campers who won’t tell you their name on Monday, raising their hands to go on stage before the week is out. There are campers who barely put their feet in the water on Monday, going down the big water slide by Friday. What super hero trait are these campers showing? A very special trait. The trait of not letting your fear hold you back. This is a trait that is often not fully appreciated.
It’s a delight to me to see campers develop into super heroes and later see these same campers become super hero counselors. Even later some children of super hero counselors come to Doublecreek, and it’s not surprising to see a second generation of super heroes develop.
See how much SUPER fun we had this week! https://vimeo.com/98741078
This week reminds me of old geography lessons from high school. You know, lessons which talk about three major rivers, streams, or tributaries of some type emptying into a large basin. This is one of those weeks at Camp Doublecreek. At Sing Song, we have “Doublecreek’s Got Talent” going on. This is also “Nickel Dive” and “Honor Camper” week. If those three events were rivers, they would be fast moving rivers because they are upon us whether we are ready or not.
The first river is “Doublecreek’s Got Talent” – and boy, do we have talent! The hardest part of Doublecreek’s Got Talent is deciding who gets to perform. We take the easy way out. We give each act a number, then draw from a hat. Can you imagine what would wind up on TV if certain reality shows used this method? But so far we’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had some spectacular dancing, singing, and even some twirling. The most inspiring thing to me is that the campers are willing to perform on stage and give it their all, without any coaxing or being self-conscious.
The next major event of the week is the Nickel Dive. This has been a tri-annual event since, since. . .
I really don’t know when this started. I know Uncle Carter came up with this idea because the camp outgrew taking the winners of the Farmer/Rancher contest to the local Dairy Cream (that’s right – a Dairy Kreme) to get ice cream sundaes. The Nickel Dive works like this: we divide the camp into three groups and the 10,000 nickels by three (OK, one group gets an extra nickel). We throw the nickels into the pool and the winning team gets an extra 8 seconds to dive for nickels. It’s amazing to see the looks of satisfaction on the campers’ faces after the nickel dive. Some only have one, while others have a sock full. But they are richer than when they started.
The final tributary of the week is selecting the honor camper. Of the three, this runs the deepest. Applause from “Doublecreek’s Got Talent” will soon evaporate. Nickels from the Nickel Dive are spent sometimes before the buses leave the campus. Some don’t even make it home. I always find nickels on my bus after the Nickel Dive. But being an honor camper has a permanent reminder. Honor campers have their handprints and footprints placed in concrete along with the name and other mementoes to capture the moment. Uncle Carter started this tradition in 1972 – which means the first honor campers are now in their 50’s. When I walk to the pool, I always notice the honor camper “Walk of Fame.” On their blocks are the name of campers who have made significant achievements in their life.
I mentioned in the beginning that this week was like three tributaries converging into a basin. But it doesn’t stop at a basin. Water continue to flow into a large body of water. Doublecreek is similar to creeks, streams, rivers, and tributaries. Campers’ experiences, and lessons learned at Doublecreek will serve them later as they flow through life. What better place to begin a voyage than at Camp Doublecreek?
Check out just how talented our campers and counselors are!: https://vimeo.com/99363557
Fourth of July week is always one of my favorite weeks of the summer. The cynical will say it’s because we get a day off. A day off is nice but there are other reasons that make the 4th of July a special week.
Interestingly, we do not have a set tradition to celebrate the 4th at Doublecreek. Instead, we have incorporated numerous special and unique activities over the past four decades to honor this important holiday. We have celebrated the 4th at camp by having parades. These were splendid affairs. We decorated golf carts with red, white and blue streamers. Several years we had a miniature wagon which was pulled by a riding lawnmower. The mini-campers rode in the wagon vigorously waving miniature American flags, while the older groups paraded behind them. All groups were dressed up or pushing a homemade float, performing some kind of dance, or singing a song. Our parades were unique in another way. Aunt Trudy, Uncle Carter, and maybe the nurse were the only spectators. Perhaps it was an odd sight – a massive parade circling a grandstand with three people in it but it did not dampen the spirit!
Once I had the bright idea of re-enacting Washington crossing the Delaware in the pool. The only difference was that our reinactment included campers playfully sinking all the boats with water guns. That was the only year we tried that one.
On the 4th of July we’ve had horned toad races, served homemade ice cream, sang songs from all branches of the Armed Forces, had camp-wide kickball games, and even a costume contest which required some form of red, white, and blue ensemble. The list is endless!
The day before the July 4th break is always a carefree and happy day. There are millions of reasons we can enjoy the 4th. One is Uncle Carter. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. His selfless service and the service and sacrifice of millions of men and women make the 4th of July possible.
No matter what you do to celebrate, make sure each year to thank those who have served and are currently serving our great country. Along with Uncle Carter, my father and my aunt who served during World War II. Currently, my nephew (our Adventure Team Leader), Griffin Reeder, serves in the Army National Guard. I’m grateful and proud of all of them.
Uncle Carter always enjoyed leading campers in singing “The Army Air Corps.” Naturally, the song received the Doublecreek treatment, which means phrases were playfully added.
Yes, the 4th of July at Doublecreek will always be a fun day! Thanks to Uncle Carter and millions like him, it will always be a day we will enjoy. We will always be proud of a legacy that is passed on to us by those who served.
When you tell a story that goes back in time,
You use the phrase, “Once Upon a time. . .
To tell this story we turn back the clock,
To a barren patch of land east of Round Rock.
There wasn’t much when this story began,
Except horses, a red building, and children who came to this magical land.
The children rode on buses which were red, green, teal, blue, pink, orange, and white,
Many years later Uncle Carter said this isn’t right; So all the buses were painted one color, which was white.
Dolphins, whales, and mermaids would swim in the pool.
Then one day a blonde mermaid decided the pool wasn’t so cool.
“My Hair! My Hair!” the blonde mermaid screamed.
To her surprise her hair had turned green.
The mermaid calmed down almost on cue,
When Aunt Trudy told her, “Green hair looks good on you.”
A tower was built on this magical land.
Brave knights and princesses scale the tower walls hand over hand.
When they reach the top of the tower, they are ready for flight,
As they fly down the zip line, they scream with delight.
This week’s theme is “Once Upon a time . . .”
When you see that phrase, you escape to a magical land.
Doublecreek is a magical land – magic throughout time.
What gives Doublecreek its magic is very clear.
It’s campers who come year after year!
-- Joe Ray
This week is Safari Week. When I think of a safari, I think of adventure. There are all kinds of adventures. As I’m writing this article, I’m watching, “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” I always enjoy this movie. It’s not a “fun” movie. Humphrey Bogart turns nasty in the end, but the characters are intriguing and I see something new in the characters every time I watch this movie. The core of this film is the same as the core of most adventure movies – they are looking for something.
You can find adventure anywhere. There is plenty of adventure at Camp Doublecreek. I remember taking mini-campers (at the time of this story, they were called “pee-wees”) on a Dinosaur Hunt. Uncle Carter hitched up the trailer to his tractor and off we went. He stopped next to the garden and the campers began looking along the fence line for dinosaurs. First we found tracks, then eggs (nevermind that they were plastic), and then … “Look!” I screamed. “It’s a T-Rex!” They looked where I was pointing and they all screamed in unison. We ran back to the trailer. Counselors helped the minis (I mean pee-wees) back into the trailer. They screamed at Uncle Carter to get going before the T-Rex got us. It was quite a sight with campers, counselors, and Uncle Carter screaming at the top of their lungs as an imaginary dinosaur stomped after us.
There are big adventures and small adventures. One small adventure at Doublecreek used to involve our soft drink vending machines. Uncle Carter got a device called a “cheater” that bypassed the coin mechanism. You pushed a button labeled “pot-luck.” Pot-luck could be any kind of drink. It became a very popular button to push. Once we had a camper who wanted a Dr. Pepper and he pushed pot-luck. He was very upset when a Coca-Cola , not a Dr. Pepper came out. I asked him, “If you wanted a Dr. Pepper, why didn’t you push the button for a Dr. Pepper?” “Because I wanted to get it out of pot-luck,” he replied. There’s a life lesson there, but I’m not sure he made the connection.
The closest activity we had to a safari –type adventure was a camp-wide game of “Hares and Hounds.” Here’s how you played this game: I took off with a sack of socks, t-shirts, towels, and whatever was in the lost and found bins. I got a 5 minute head start while the campers waited in the Red Building. The idea was for me to leave a trail and the campers and counselors to follow the trail that went all over Camp Doublecreek (In 1975, Doublecreek was close to 200 acres in size). I laid the trail with the clothing items; the campers were released; and then I waited back in front of the Red Building. About 10 minutes had passed when the first runner came into view. Naturally, he was excited, but there was one tiny issue. He was carrying all the socks, t-shirts, and towels. “Look, Joe Ray – you don’t have to go back and pick up all the stuff from the trail,” he told me proudly. I quickly pointed out to him that if he had picked up the trail, then how would the rest of the campers know where to go? You know the rest. We had campers all over Williamson County. It was tight, but we had everyone accounted for when it came time to load the buses. Oh, well, not all adventures go according to plan.
In the movie “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” they are looking for gold. They find the gold and then lose the gold, but one character finds himself. Except for the nickel dive, at Doublecreek we don’t search for tangible treasure. But it’s the intangibles that make Doublecreek memorable. You can find adventure everywhere: riding a horse, going down a zipline, hitting the target at archery or gun safety, scoring a goal at soccer, making some really cool things at Arts and Crafts, and making new friends. Yes, finding adventure isn’t about a cache of gold; it’s about making discoveries.
Doublecreek is a place to find yourself and you will have quite an adventure while you do it.