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Director’s Annual Commentary

Autumn 2009: A Kingswood Quiz


Sunday mornings officially are quiet time at Kingswood. Breakfast is served continental style and boys have from 8-9:30 to make an appearance. Cabin cleanup ensues with time extended to allow for extra chores to include repacking of trunks, changing bed linens and special assignments about the property. By 11:00 am, the work should be finished, whereupon each cabin selects a private spot where they can meet without interruption. While bunk groups are encouraged to draw up their own agendas, they nevertheless get prompts from the directors concerning the main issues of the day. An hour later, we all assemble in the Council Fire area where a review of the "best ideas to come out of the cabin meetings" is the first topic of our all-camp meeting.

The following multiple choice quiz should be a bit of fun, especially to those Kingswood veterans with several summers' worth of Sunday morning meetings to their historical credit. While many of the questions have more than one correct answer, there is a standard Kingswood response known fairly well by those who have been paying attention at those Sunday gatherings.

My answers and explanations follow but it could be most rewarding if current campers recite their answers before reading mine. To those new to Kingswood, be assured that it will not take long for you to discover the so-called "company line," as most boys rapidly pick up on the wisdom of Kingswood's ways.

  1. A close loss to Pemi is treated as
    (a) no big deal
    (b) a big deal, but only for a few minutes
    (c) a big deal only if we should have won
    (d) a big deal until we get another chance.
  2. Whenever a boy goes home before the session ends,
    (a) he'll regret it
    (b) he is the lucky one
    (c) those staying on are luckier than he is
    (d) everyone pretends not to notice.
  3. If a camper does not like a particular activity, he should
    (a) stick it out like a pro
    (b) ask nicely for a change
    (c) pick a different activity he can do better
    (d) report his feelings but keep trying for now.
  4. If a camper has a disagreement with a bunk mate, he should
    (a) try to settle the matter locally
    (b) tell his counselor
    (c) ask his other friends to intervene
    (d) go directly to a camp director.
  5. A boy should try a new activity at camp
    (a) once he feels certain he can do it
    (b) once he has seen others succeed at it
    (c) without any fear of failure
    (d) whenever a counselor invites him to participate.
  6. Pranks at Kingswood
    (a) are terrific if they follow camp rules
    (b) must be approved by the administration
    (c) are OK so long as they do not get physical
    (d) are totally forbidden.
  7. "Freedom" at Kingswood is
    (a) a responsibility
    (b) a given privilege
    (c) an honor
    (d) earned by merit.
  8. If a boy is homesick, he should
    (a) bear it with dignity
    (b) make sure his parents know about it right away
    (c) share his feelings with others
    (d) go to the nurse.
  9. The very best way to make a friend is
    (a) let a boy know you wish to be his friend
    (b) ask him to do things with you
    (c) be as outgoing as you possibly can be
    (d) be a friend.
  10. This session at camp will have a successful outcome
    (a) if it is taken seriously
    (b) if everyone behaves
    (c) if everyone gets to participate
    (d) if we as a community desire it.


Answers by Mr. Wiff

1. A close loss to Pemi is treated as (a) no big deal (b) a big deal, but only for a few minutes (c) a big deal only if we should have won (d) a big deal until we get another chance.
      Of course an argument can be made for all four answers. One might be tempted to insist that any loss is no big deal, as it is only summer ball and not that important to the grand scheme of things. Honestly, by the end of the summer, I never can remember who won what or when. But, campers and coaches do remember specific games, as the outcomes at the time were of the highest significance. The best Kingswood answer therefore is (b). I remember a time when we suffered a crushing last-second loss in soccer to Pemi. You could have heard a pin drop in the van as we pulled out of the parking lot. Those few minutes of silence were suddenly punctuated with a funny remark and happiness instantly returned to the group. "OK, the game is over: what's next?" That's the Kingswood way.

2. Whenever a boy goes home before the session ends, (a) he'll regret it (b) he is the lucky one (c) those staying on are luckier than he is (d) everyone pretends not to notice.
      We try not to make a big deal out of any departures. "Just evaporate," is my line to staff who have to leave early to get back to school. But, it is not fair to pretend not to notice whenever a good guy shoves off. Nor is it right to attempt to make him feel upset about his circumstances or to tell him how great mom's cooking will seem. Our food is awesome, as everyone knows. Thus, our standard line is to treat departures with a grain of salt, then acknowledge to those remaining that "we are the lucky ones," for whom camp continues.

3. If a camper does not like a particular activity, he should (a) stick it out like a pro (b) ask nicely for a change (c) pick a different activity he can do better (d) report his feelings but keep trying for now.
      The strong Kingswood answer is (d). We do not ask for macho responses to any problem a boy is having at camp. But, neither do we advocate a quick change of venue until the facts indicate a different activity is truly in the boy's best interest. What a difference a day can make to a boy who is just starting to learn new skills. Of course, a few stumbles are inevitable, but with continued and repeated encouragement, most boys quickly start to feel comfortable at new activities. The problem comes when we know this but the camper does not. If no progress is made after a lengthy effort, then (b) becomes the order of the day.

4. A boy should try a new activity at camp (a) once he feels certain he can do it (b) once he has seen others succeed at it (c) without any fear of failure (d) whenever a counselor invites him to participate.
      This is one of those questions to which all four answers can be the correct ones, given the circumstances. However, we preach (c) at every opportunity. That we are an all-boys camp removes the "strutting for the ladies" factor and that we do not give out banners, prizes, pins, badges, ribbons or patches surely makes any failure pretty easy to take. " The fun is in the doing," we say, and we really mean it. One time recently, I walked all the way across a full room to shake the hand of a boy who had made a nice accomplishment. "That is all the recognition you are getting," I remarked with a grin, which was returned in kind by a Kingswood boy who understands the ropes at this place.

5. If a camper has a disagreement with a bunk mate, he should (a) try to settle the matter locally (b) ask his other friends to intervene (c) tell his counselor (d) go directly to a camp director.
      Anyone who sees the word "local" knows that this is probably the correct Kingswood way to go. "Settle issues at the local level," is a main tenant of the Staff Manual. Thus, we expect every cabin counselor at the initial cabin meeting to urge his charges to endeavor to make a small thing out of most clashes of interest. A simple earnest but pleasant conversation between two boys might in nine of ten encounters produce the desired ends, or at least a compromise. In the close confines of Kingswood cabins, small arguments over space are commonplace. "Work out a plan among yourselves," is what we tell boys and most of the time this is sufficient advice. It goes without saying that (b), (c) and (d) are the proper levels of appeal upon a failure to come to terms.

6. Pranks at Kingswood (a) are terrific if they follow camp rules (b) must be approved by the administration (c) are OK so long as they do not get physical (d) are totally forbidden.
      You are wrong if you voted for (d). Pranks are a part of camp so long as they conform to three precise rules: 1. Pranks must be clever, creative and original. A boat blocking the entrance to the Dining Room simply does not take much inspiration. 2. No one can get hurt by the deed, either physically or emotionally. As a community, we have banned raids on the grounds that any kinetic moment of one group towards another is potentially dangerous and evokes an angry outburst every time. 3. Pranks must be easily undone by their instigators. Great historical Kingswood pranks are part of camp lore and subject to marvelous approval. This past summer, some counselors recreated, with precision but for one added word, the Kingswood mealtime prayer. It was days before even I, who reads the prayer every day, noticed the forgery. At summer's end, after numerous innocent misreadings, the fake was removed in ten seconds. However, it now hangs proudly in the ping pong room as a reminder of a good camp prank.

7. "Freedom" at Kingswood is (a) a responsibility (b) a given privilege (c) an honor (d) earned by merit.
      Every camper is taught that the many freedoms granted at Kingswood really constitute a responsibility to take them seriously. Very few buildings are locked; cabins have open visitation rights; during free periods, boys may go anywhere they please on the supervised grounds; oftentimes boys may go from one activity to another, to yet another, and even back to the original selection. Boys understand that these low regimentation approaches represent community values which are to be kept wholesome without exception. The answer is not (d) in that we choose to trust from the outset that freedoms will be respected and not removed unless preponderant evidence of the need is cited.

8. If a boy is homesick, he should (a) bear it with dignity, (b) make sure his parents know about it right away (c) share his feelings with others (d) go to the nurse.
      The Kingswood answer is (c). We see separation anxiety as something akin to a headache. When one is sore, not much of anything is that much fun. But homesickness, like headaches, can be handled with "medicines" such as an open dialogue, empathy and the passing of a bit of time. To maintain the analogy, perhaps we see chronic homesickness (several days of sustained unhappiness) as one might identify a migraine headache: we double the prescription of the above just as a stronger medicine is administered to migraine headache sufferers. Parents must be contacted at this point and additional strategies discussed between us. And, just as most headaches eventually go away, so does homesickness dissipate with time. Funny though, when I ask boys if they think their parents want them to be homesick, most answer "yes" at first. One of the great lessons of Kingswood – and most camps – is that children come to understand why the answer to that question is a resounding "no."

9. The very best way to make a friend is (a) let a boy know you wish to be his friend (b) ask him to do things with you (c) be as outgoing as you possibly can be (d) be a friend.
      "D" is the stock Kingswood reply, though (a) and (b) are strategies to that end. We do talk about a guarded approach to (c), which can be a misguided effort. We think the quickest way to friendships is a quiet, watchful, but nonetheless proactive countenance. "Listen" more than speak; go to the other fellow's favorite activity instead of yours; offer to share some of your things before asking to borrow his. Kingswood regulars are experts at this friendship business. One of the most productive Sunday meetings of them all is the "how to make a friend" discussion. I can count on numerous fabulous responses from boys of all ages. Best yet, when the idea comes from a peer (and not stodgy Mr. Wiff,) it can stick!

10. This session at camp will have a successful outcome (a) if it is taken seriously (b) if everyone behaves (c) if everyone gets to participate (d) if we as a community desire it.
      Just like number nine, above, I can count on campers and counselors alike to acknowledge with full confidence the power of community will. I have seen high-strung boys on the basketball court getting ready to make a scene, only to drop the matter within seconds. Must be they remembered the camp-wide decision not to complain about a referee's call. I've gotten reports of trips that ran into difficulty with everything from mismarked trails, bad weather, unreliable water and near heat exhaustion. Kingswood has determined that – so long as we follow our time-tested protocol – we will not complain on a trip. Trust me when I say that the lousy luck cited in my above examples are reasons TO go and not reasons NOT TO go out into the wilderness. Overcoming adversity – those wonderful hardships – is the strongest value of our camp and we make a big deal out of insisting that the outcome will be a positive one, no matter what!