As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American Camp Association®, we recognize that through wars, recessions, triumphs, and feats of accomplishment, the camp experience has remained, at its core, essentially the same — a unique environment that promotes friendship, leadership, and community. When we compare camp experiences of the past with today's camp experience, we know that they served similar purposes. And, even as technology changes the world around us, we strive to develop positive camp experiences in the future that provide the same growth and development opportunities to tomorrow's children and youth.
True, the camp experience looks significantly different today than the camps of yesterday — bathing bloomers are gone, and rarely do we see woolly sweaters, tights, and high-heeled boots as part of the camp uniform. But there are parts and pieces of the past that carry on through camp traditions. There are traditions that still hold true today, and traditions that are held fondly in the minds and hearts of alumni. There are emerging traditions, and traditions that adapt and change — much like the camp experience itself. Each one is a thread woven through the fabric of time, creating an American tradition that has persevered for the past 150 years — Camp.
Traditions of the Past
Many early traditions are no longer practiced at camp, but they played an important role in our collective history. Sometimes these include extravagant events or festivals. "We used to have a huge water carnival day," said Sam Cote, director for Camp Lincoln/Camp Lake Hubert. "It was done as a team-building activity, a way to create a sense of community. The kids would spend days building elaborate floats that they would then parade along the lake shore on canoes."
And sometimes, activities and programs became traditions. "One of our activity offerings was boxing," said Cote. "It was incredibly popular for many, many years."
"Every morning we would begin the day with a bugler and a flag raising ceremony," said Jordan Dale, executive director of Surprise Lake Camp. "We would also end the day the same way — a bugler and the lowering of the flag. This isn't something that has been done in decades, but it was very much a part of our camp program."
In some cases, transportation became a tradition. "The girls used to arrive at camp by stagecoach or by boat," said Carol Sudduth, co-director at Wyonegonic. "For the longest time, there weren't any roads to the camp. So they really didn't have any other option."
Some tried-and-true traditions of the past still make an appearance, in a slightly altered form. For example, Color Wars, or competitive team activities, were very popular in camps. Billed as healthy competition, some lasted all summer; others were held on special days. While the emphasis may not be solely on competition, these events are still around in various forms.
"The camp Olympics are quite a big deal," said Dale. An adaptation of Color Wars, four teams comprised of all age groups compete in athletic, aquatic, and creative competitions throughout the day. "The favorite part of the day for most campers is the competitions at the theatre where teams present songs and other creative material. It's usually very funny. The whole day is designed for light-hearted competition and fun."
"We recently brought Color Wars back," said Cote. "It originated in the 1930s, but we restarted them five years ago. Campers are divided and assigned to either a red or blue team, and they compete in different activities around camp. The winning team's flag is raised and flown until the next event."
"We have a camp Play Day," said Don Cheley, owner/director of Cheley Colorado Camps. "Brother and sister units get together and play noncompetitive games like water balloon toss and kick-ball with big balls. There is no winner or loser, so it isn't really a true Color War. It is designed to be a social, fun event for the campers."
Some early traditions are still a part of the camp experience. These traditions are defining, not only for the camp, but for the campers as well. "It's interesting that our leadership trainees are very tied to tradition," said Cote. "For example, wearing whites at chapel has become a significant part of the camp experience — it is something the campers expect, and it continues because the campers have asked that it continue."
"When the whole camp is gathered at special events, we sing Nestling," said Dale. "It's become the official camp song."
"Much of what we do is tradition," said Tony Mayfield, director of Culver Summer Schools and Camps. "We still do the Sunday Parade with the entire camp."
Some of these traditions are extensions of programs, or camp rules. "When our campers arrive, they gather as a unit and outline Codes of Living," said Jeff Cheley, director of Cheley Colorado Camps. "Each unit makes a list of the values they want to adhere to during the camp experience."
"Our Woodcraft program was started early in the camp's history, and it's still popular," said Mayfield.
"We still do closing circle at the end of the day," said Sudduth. "The girls g