Reports from the Bug-Juice Brigade Campers Who Want to Wear Flip-Flops on Hikes and Other War Stories from Counselors

Article excerpt

By the end of the summer, half a million college students will have bushwhacked up mountains, pitched more tents than the US Army, comforted the homesick, warded off raccoons, perfected the square corner, and persuaded a few more kids to try carrots.

They are camp counselors.

For those who have never worn the badge, the job conjures up romantic images of roasting marshmallows by a campfire and singing "Kumbaya." But for those who have spent eight weeks guarding and guiding America's youths (myself included), it's anything but relaxing. "You do get to roast marshmallows, but before you can, you have to build a fire, find {roasting sticks}, and make sure no one is poking each other with them," jokes Michael Rocha, who worked as a counselor and trip leader for four summers at Camp Wyman in Eureka, Mo. "You're with the kids 24 hours a day," says the sixth-grade social studies teacher, who met his wife at the camp. "On our days off, we would go into town and go to a park and just sleep." This summer 6.5 million campers will descend on the 8,500 camps in the US. The number of campers has been rising between 7 and 10 percent a year since 1993, according to the American Camping Association (AMA), as more working parents search for supervised summer activities for their children. Indeed, being a camp counselor leaves indelible memories of midnight hikes, pajama breakfasts, council fires on the beach, and endless games of mud soccer. But for most, the war stories are the real rights of passage, like:trying to extract a skunk from a cabin; convincing a camper that wearing flip-flops on a five-mile hike isn't a good idea; and playing tooth fairy. One counselor got a recent phone call from an anxious first-time camper who quizzed him on everything from meal time to how many soccer balls the camp owned. "I think the Peace Corps stole our thunder when they said, 'It's the hardest job you'll ever love,' " says Don Cheley, AMA's president and a third-generation director of Cheley Colorado Camp in Estes Park. Yet, "I like the satisfaction you get from doing a good job as a counselor," says John Morton, who was cabin counselor and swimming instructor at Camp Nawaka in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. "My cabin won inspection the three summers I was there, and I take great pride in that," he says. …

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