COLOR WEEK: SUMMER CAMP TRADITIONS AND INNOVATION
For those of us lucky enough to have gone to camp, when asked about the most cherished memories of our summer camp experience, Color Week is sure to make an appearance very early in the conversation. As the camp season draws near its conclusion, camp is divided into two teams for a four day competition. The atmosphere is spirited and intense, yet friendly and cooperative, with a very wide, eclectic variety of contests. At the conclusion of the event, the camp family joins together with laughter and tears, as another legendary summer goes into the books. Each year, together, camp creates new memories to last a lifetime. While Color Week traditions are revered and the “traditional” events can be depended upon to be included each summer, we at Iroquois Springs never stop innovating and working to make our great event even better. The epic of Color Week and (at Iroquois Springs) the Gold and the Blue is a wonderful, complex tale. I hope that this essay is successful in conveying some of what Color Week is like and its place in the culture of camp.
Color Week and its traditions go back a long way….
Summer camping in the northeastern United States began in the late 19th century. One of the earliest references to a Color Week type event at camp was”Red and Gray Week” in 1916 at Schroon Lake Camp, a Jewish boys’ camp in the Adirondacks. (My source for this is “Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp” by Leslie Paris – NYU Press 2008 – highly recommended. It is just $9.99 for the Kindle version!) By the 1930s, “Color Wars” had evolved into a staple of the summer camp experience, consisting of a series of events that ranged from checkers competitions to swim meets. From there the competitions grew larger and larger, evolving into complex four to five day events with established and sacred traditions. Some of the events that are part of current Iroquois Springs Color Weeks were part of the event here in Rock Hill over 50 years ago. By the time the 1970s rolled around, many camps had changed the name of the event from “Color War” to “Color Week” as a way of changing the impression of no holds barred competitiveness to one of friendly competition. Generation upon generation of campers has added their songs and artwork and memories to the tradition.
Here at Iroquois Springs, we are very proud of our annual Color Week competition. Intense yet friendly, supportive and cooperative, Color Week at I.S. has something for every camper, with opportunities in athletics (Track Meets, Swim Meets, a wide variety of sports) creativity (our Rocketry and Sand Castles Competitions, creation of Plaques and Standards, and song writing for Sing: The Alma Mater and Marches), detective work (Scavenger Hunt and the Hidden Arrow), the academic (Color Bowl and creation of Essays and Poems for Sing), the zany (“Josh’s Juice Break Olympics” and “Marble Call”) and teamwork (the ultimate example being the legendary Iroquois Springs Apache Relay).
Color Week begins with… “The Break”. This is a surprise event that announces who is on which team and who the leaders are. The Break is intended to be fun for our campers. In past years we have had helicopter flybys, visits from the Rock Hill Fire Department, Fireworks, and a movie specially filmed for the break and starring Iroquois Springs staff. The exact timing and nature of each summer’s Break is top secret: Many people in the Leadership Staff have no idea of when until just before the Break. The days leading up to the Break are a time of heightened excitement and anticipation at camp. Old Color Week Alma Maters are sung. The Plaques from years past that are displayed in the Theatre are looked at and discussed more. One particular chant has been heard at camp at this time of the summer for over fifty years…
“One-Two-Three-Four we want Color War”
“Five-Six-Seven-Eight too bad you gotta wait”
Watching Color Week unfold at camp during the subsequent four days is a wonderful thing. We select staff members and campers who have shown excellence during the summer as team leaders. During the early stages of Color Week, team leaders are hard at work selecting their team name/theme, and organizing team members for the many tasks and events that lie ahead. We have found that in most instances, the team with the better organization is the one that prevails in the end.
“Preparation is the key to success”
Alexander Graham Bell and Brian “Bubba” Cohen (2001)
Following a first day filled with athletic events, swim meets and track meets, the first evening of Color Week is a special events. The Fieldhouse is filled to capacity and ROCKING for our Senior Boys All-Star Basketball Game: a tradition since the early days of Iroquois Springs. The atmosphere is electric and noisy. Over the years, we have had big comebacks and buzzer beating winning shots!
Following the second day of Color Week, consisting of athletic events, and the remaining Swim Meets and Track Meets, everybody gathers by the lake in the evening for the Rope Burn: an event that its participants, the Super Senior Boys, have eagerly awaited through all their years at camp. (In an equally special Iroquois Springs Tradition, the Senior Girls participate in a Rope Burn during Tribals). The Rope Burn is intense and emotional and to its participants, never forgotten. Three thoroughly soaked ropes (approximately two feet, five feet and ten feet high) are fastened to two posts. The objective is to be the first team to build a fire that can burn through all three ropes. Three team members build a fire with wood carried from the surrounding woods by their team mates. Given that three ropes must be burned through sequentially, a lot of strategy is necessary.
The third day of Color Week is a special one indeed! It is highlighted by the Apache Relays: one for Girls Side and one for Boys Side. How to describe this event? Several hours and well over one hundred relay events long! Every camper and much of the staff are assigned an event to participate in. The list of events is long and eclectic: Wrapping a camper in toilet paper from head to toe…. Dominos… solving a sports trivia question… making a bed with hospital corners…. A detailed explanation requires a whole Blog entry of its own! There are usually several lead changes during this lengthy event, where organization and teamwork is paramount. Special mention should be made regarding the final event of the Apache Relay. I had mentioned earlier that while we revere the traditions of Color Week, we are always striving to innovate to make it even better. Last summer, we introduced a “Kettle Boil” as a new closing event. It was a big success and provided a most thrilling conclusion to the Apaches.
“Marble Call, Marble Call, Marble Call!”
On the third evening, we present two events that camp old timers will surely remember from their eras: The Color Bowl, which is a test of knowledge with a quiz show format, and our unique take on a Scavenger Hunt, which is a lot of fun.
While all this has been going on, over the course of the four days a six inch long wooden arrow has been hidden somewhere in camp. Each day, a cryptic clue is announced and clue sheets distributed, and much of the camp searches to win significant points for their team. Here in Rock Hill, the Hidden Arrow is one of Color Week’s oldest traditions.
The fourth and final day of Color Week features some of our more interesting events: a superb new addition – “LeGrande Cook-off” at Kitchen Stadium, and the Tug-of-Wars, a Sand Castle building event, and waterskiing, climbing tower and rocketry competitions.
And in the evening… The Sing!
The Sing is the capstone event of Color Week. It is an emotional event that in the end brings us all closer as a camp family. During the previous days, campers had been at work on a variety of creative projects, and our oldest campers have been writing new Marches and Alma Maters that in turn they taught to their teams. The Sing consists of several events, including the artistic (Standards by our 11-12 year old groups and Plaques by the oldest campers and CITS), creative writing (Essays and Poems), a humorous look at the events of the past summer in verse (Comic Songs) and the Marches and Alma Maters. We are constantly amazed by the beautiful Alma Maters our campers compose year in, year out. The most memorable Alma Maters will be sung at the Order of the Blue and Gold for many years to come. The Plaques and Standards proudly adorn the walls of the Theatre for posterity.
Beginning in 2010, the Iroquois Springs Sing has been streamed live on the web. If you haven’t had a change to see it yet, for a little while longer the 2011 Sing will be available at the summer 2011 website!
I hope you have enjoyed our tour of an event that is at the heart of the Summer Camp experience, and one that we at Iroquois Springs are extremely proud of.
By Larry Wilensky