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Director’s Annual Commentary

Autumn 2003: An Inclusive Camp Community


One evening near the end of the first session as I was making the rounds among cabin groups, I fell in with several fourteen year old Roadsiders. "Why aren't there more minorities at Kingswood?" one of them asked me amidst the restrained giggles of his buddies. My quick reply as I recall was rather lame, but a bit later the heartfelt answer hit me like a nighttime siren. "We at Kingswood are an entire camp of minorities," I told all the boys at the next camp meeting, "a minority of good kids." Oh, I suppose every institution at some level feels it has a good mix of people. But, at Kingswood we truly labor to attract wholesome boys to our midst, even if it means a few beds go wanting in any given year. "I fish ponds very carefully," I tell prospective families. One day this spring I found myself in the home of a very appealing candidate where I revved up the promotional chatter to the point where mom and dad laughed out loud. "I don't get this lathered up every time," I assured them. Their son came to Kingswood and enjoyed the fabulous success I had predicted.

To be truthful, we sent two campers home this summer for violations of camp rules and a couple more were placed on probation. These latter know their camp behavior has got to improve lest they become NFL at Kingswood – Not For Long. But, throughout the summer, everyone on staff pressed the boys on the subject of human decency - consistently and with good follow-up - and the campers overwhelmingly were agreeable to this approach. Family friends who visited in July remarked how pleasantly surprised they were during a several hour visit not to have heard a "single cross word" amongst the kids. What a wonderful compliment to our community and, while other educators throughout the land may be floundering these days with inconsiderate children, Kingswood will stay the course on civility.

While human values are the driving force and truly the grounding of our philosophy, there are additional tenets to our modus operandi which we've come to realize need constant validation. Nothing is more important to us than the notion of inclusiveness. At a council fire gathering late in one of the sessions, someone cracked a joke to which the laughter was both spontaneous, uproarious and balanced – that is, everyone from Guides on the hillside to little juniors nearest to the fire got the same rise from that insider's bit of humor. When we say that every camper is an equal member of the group, we really mean it. To the programming leaders, sending nine year olds on a senior hike into the rugged White Mountains constituted standard, every-day procedure. The youngsters had demonstrated both their ability and zest for more challenging trips, thus earning the "good to go" call. Several young campers performed splendidly on varsity hikes this past summer.

We name our sports teams by the oldest one can be to participate. At Kingswood, "thirteen and under" means just that! Some of our friends at neighboring camps take a dim view of our placing a gifted eleven year old on the U-13 team. What they don't understand is that the younger player has been there from the get-go and bumps no one else from the roster on game day. Inclusiveness at Kingswood works the other way as well. I loved it when clinic leader Rob Wipfler instructed a burly senior to take his wrestling clinic during the junior block in a justifying circumstance. The big guy ended up being a coach to the younger ones that day, and we believe both were somehow better off for the experience. Don't forget the Table Tsar, who absolutely insisted that boys of differing ages sit together in the dining room. All these little gestures added up to the point where everybody knew everybody else at Kingswood and mirth became evenly distributed! We'll stay the course on inclusiveness, too.

A summer of not so perfect weather saw us hardening our position as an "out of doors" camp. Second session in particular witnessed day after day of muggy and soggy conditions. I am thrilled to report that save an occasional tennis clinic (even those often operated on the ball field with boys blasting serves into the lacrosse nets,) every outdoor activity went as scheduled. By summer's end, the fields had become chewed up beyond repair and the beaches were eroded halfway into the lake. "So what? Let the games go on and we'll fix the destruction post-season," was our dictum. One gifted soccer player acknowledged to me that he had never played in the mud. "But, I loved it," he added with a huge grin. While lightning always stops us completely, we've come to the heady belief that accepting less than perfect conditions for trips, games and clinics builds character. I am reminded of a good golfing adage: "Play the course the way you find it and the ball as it lies." Thus – rain or shine, cold or hot – we'll stay the course on aggressive programming.

We all came to a common agreement this past summer that Kingswood ought to be more than described - as an out of doors camp-to being one where a large fraction of the boys learn to enjoy what we called simply "walking in the woods." We came up with the idea of a varsity hiking club, promoting it heavily in several full-camp assemblies, where everything from how to poop in the woods to dramatic hardships brought on by Mother Nature were discussed. The camper response was fabulous and I am sure many of you already have received debriefings from your son on his progress towards the 14 pre-requisites necessary for Varsity Club induction. We can acknowledge as many young campers are well on their way to Varsity Club status as are older boys. Much more on this subject will appear in web site reports over the winter. Yes, we'll stay the course as a camp of hikers.

Many of you are well aware that Kingswood's numbers of campers were down from 2002's banner year. The entire camping industry witnessed a low turnout of first-year, younger children. The economy, of course, was one factor as was a general malaise among parents, who, given the current dismal world situation, took a "who-needs-even-more-stress?" approach to their young ones' first forays from the nest. Many current parents expressed disbelief with this news. I heard over and over again, "Why would parents want their kids in New York or Washington when camp is about the safest place they could ever find for them?" Thank goodness for our fabulous return percentages among the older boys, which saved the day for us. Obviously this trend cannot continue as many teenagers eventually graduate from Kingswood and move on to new experiences. Perhaps we were a tad complacent, too, figuring Kingswood's good reputation would ultimately carry the day. It did not in 2003. Another parental angle surfaced when a Kingswood mother stunned me on pick up day with these words: "The past five summers of Kingswood have been the most maturing experience FOR ME." She now knows that camp works wonders for both child and parent but lots of other moms and dads haven't a clue. So, I submit we've got some educating to do and since Kingswood does not advertise at all, we need your help from the bully pulpit. The simple plea now is for you to ratchet up your efforts to get acquaintances (to folks with nice kids only – as always requested,) to call us any time between now and spring. You put in a good word or two and leave the balance of the talking to us. I'll be getting back to you soon on the subject but for now, please join us in staying the course on appropriate Kingswood promotion.

So now at last we reach the end of this year's State of Kingswood address. While I cannot possibly speak for everyone, I can tell you that all Wipflers feel very good about summer 2003 at Kingswood. Every year we purposefully raise the bar in what we expect from boys, staff, parents and even ourselves. In 2003, we kept on task without let up from start to finish and we can only hope you are nodding your heads in appreciation of our efforts as you read these words. Have a grand "off-season," and be on the lookout for our initial Monday Blues Buster report coming your way on September 15. Check it out at archives.kingswoodcamp.com. In the meantime, you, too, stay the course.


P.S. The 2004 Fall Enrollment Application is enclosed with this letter. You get the usual modest discount for getting this form and deposit back to us before the end of November. More importantly, without doubt, is your son's right to make two cabinmate requests for next summer. While the wishlist I generate from these forms complicates the web of cabin placements, it is my prime reference tool. Quite a few boys have been thrilled to arrive at camp and find themselves in the precise cabin situation of their hopes. Take this chore seriously by discussing it with your son now, while summer 2003 still is reasonably fresh in his mind. Of course, he gets to go to Mr. Puttz, too, and I'll be playing that trump card a bit down the road!