in Ephermera

When I ran the Masters

I’m sort of bummed that I won’t be going to camp this summer. The Masters made me think about it and so, I came up with this post. I’m reposting it because it’s from the old blog.

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Three years ago, I had my first summer back at camp after five years away. You see, I wasn’t a kid that went to camp. Hearing me talk, you’d never realize that since I talk about camp like someone who attended for years and years.

But the truth is, my first summer at camp came after high school, when I was hired to work at a camp in Wisconsin as the journalism counselor. I spent four years in the Air Force and when it was over, I went back to camp, this time in Connecticut. I did the tennis director thing in Connecticut over parts of three summers. Then the real world showed up in earnest, I got a job and there were no more camp summers.

So when I had the summer off three years ago, I had no doubt that I’d look for a camp job. But having worked my way from the youngest kids in camp to the oldest kids in camp & heading my own department, I wanted to do something else. When a tennis camp in Vermont wanted a head counselor, I made my pitch and was hired.

Private residential summer camp is weird if you’ve never done it. Every camp is like a separate culture with its own mores, quirks and habits. Some places remind me of cults. Others are more like something you’d probably see at Scout camp. But when you have places with history; where parents pass down tribes through the generations, stuff becomes personal.

With that being said, starting at a new camp in a leadership position can be harrowing. I showed up in Vermont in charge of over 20 guys (almost all college aged) and eventually, over hundred boys ages 7-16. I told my staff from the start that I recognized the power that staff have. You see, when there are more of them than there are of you, you’re not going to throw your weight around. Especially when all of the kids know them, have history with them and you’re the new guy.

For whatever reason, I managed to ingratiate myself with the staff by just being me. So we got off to a good start early. During pre-camp, I talked to the guy in charge of golf and suggested that we do our own version of the Masters. I’d love to claim credit for this idea, but the reality is, my first camp had their own Masters complete with green jacket and I always liked the idea.

Head counselors are basically the “directors of residence life” at camp. So we don’t have specific activities we do, though you always get in where you fit at different times of the year. So sometimes, I’d go down to the courts and give a lesson if I was free and I’d often drive the golfers to the course. Since I have a background in the game, the golf dude would humor me. But the Masters was easy to put together, because I would “run” the tournament and this would free up the coach to coach each one of the players during the event.

After the first Masters, we managed to find an old blue jacket that we used to award the winner. I printed certificates and we had ourselves a little event.

Every two weeks constitutes a session and with it, comes new campers while some will stay behind. As time went on, the tournament got bigger. But the problem is, having 6-10 teens (and one or two pre-teens) on a golf course, even a small, private one is problematic.

So we’d start going early. I’m talking 6am. Some thought “are you sure they’ll get up to do that?” I wasn’t entirely sure myself. I just knew that I couldn’t sleep in myself if the kids were going to be up. Sure enough, both times we did the 6:45 start times, we had the entire crew in tow, even the younger ones.

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The only thing I could do to make getting up early worth it was to offer a Dunkin Donuts trip after the round. This was always a hit after a long day. We’d award the Green Jacket at the all-camp awards ceremony at the end of the session banquet. I found the jacket at a thrift store and purchased it for $3. I was pretty happy with myself, especially since it was big enough to fit pretty much anyone who put it on.

All we needed was a trophy. The director we could. One day, when I was cleaning out an old room full of old stuff, I ran across a box with trophies. Inside of it were two giant trophies for cheerleading. Apparently, they’d been sent to camp years earlier by accident and we still had them.

I went to the director and asked him what they were for. He had no idea they were even in there. I asked him if it were possible to use them for the Masters. He thought it was an excellent idea. So he ordered new toppers for both (one for guys and one for girls) and new nameplates and there we had a massive trophy for our newly christened event.

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When I look back on the Masters, I think back to how much went into making it work. It wasn’t one person doing everything. It took a willing golf staff to let me help out and really innovate something that wasn’t even in my area. It took a willing group of kids who wanted to participate and embraced the tournament. The director being willing to embrace the whole exercise and really just everyone for participating. It was just an enjoyable exercise.

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While it wasn’t Augusta National, each one of those events, for those moments in time they were for us. When I was running tennis programs at camp, I liked to joke that I cared more about the results from our intramural leagues than I did the real life tennis scores because the drama was more interesting to me at the local level.

Competition at its core isn’t really about wins and losses. It’s the work that you take to get there, the will to fight and participate and seeing kids worth through the challenges to overcome and prevail.

When it’s Masters time, I think not to Amen Corner,but to the tricky hole next to the railroad tracks at Northfield Country Club in Vermont. For me, it’ll always be about a $3 green jacket and celebratory donuts.