Friday, July 23, 2004

A kid's-eye view of camp

Moments of life

By John Johnston / Enquirer staff writer

This is the eighth in an occasional series that documents moments that connect us. We welcome your suggestions. Contact John Johnston at 768-8516; E-mail

Katie Wilson, 12, of Troy, OH, and Hannah Griswald, 12, Chelsea Buechler, 12, and Devin Spencer, 12, all of Springboro OH, sing along arm-in-arm with camp councilors during a first night campfire gathering at Camp Kern.
(Steven M. Herppich /
The Enquirer)
Eleven-year-old Nick Dougherty and his good friend Ben Roth, 10, attended their first overnight summer camp this month. The boys signed up for a six-night stay at YMCA Camp Kern, near Oregonia in Warren County. The camp is about 25 minutes from their Montgomery homes. The boys shared the camp with 190 campers, boys and girls ages 5 to 16. Enquirer reporter John Johnston dropped in on Nick and Ben, who will be fifth-graders at Edwin H. Greene Middle School in Blue Ash this fall. Based on interviews with the boys, Johnston crafted this version of a letter Nick might have written to his parents, if he'd had time.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Camp Kern still has a few open spots for weeklong camps this summer. It also hosts Halloween and winter camps. Information: (513) 932-3756 or

Find information about other Greater Cincinnati camps at - Camps.

After we arrived at camp on Sunday, Ben and I picked some of our activities for the week ahead. We knew we wanted to do everything together. We chose Swimming, Radio Station, Drama and Lakefront. But before any of that, there was an opening-night campfire, and afterward, a big storm with thunder and lightning. We screamed along with the other 10 campers in our cabin. It was cool.

Monday we started our activities. I probably would have chosen Sports, but Ben, who is interested in acting, wanted to do Drama, so I said OK. We played some games, made puppets, did charades and acted in a skit. It turned out to be really fun. Maybe I'll be the next Adam Sandler!

Another activity I like is Radio Station. We get to choose 15 songs, and a counselor burns them onto a CD for us, then our songs are played over the radio, which is really the camp's public address system. A lot of popular songs get played over and over and over again. A counselor interviews us, and the interview is also played over the PA.

Monday night we camped under the stars. We went into the woods and gathered wood for the campfire, and later we made s'mores. Our marshmallows, which were on sticks, kept falling in the fire, so we only got two s'mores each. That night, we saw lots of lightning bugs and heard bird noises and frogs. The next morning, one kid woke up and there was a frog in his sleeping bag! He said it was between his toes. We tossed it back in the pond.

Every morning, each cabin makes up its own cheer. The cabin with the best cheer gets a special painted stick. And every day, somebody checks our cabin. The cleanest cabin gets a golden toilet seat, which the counselor hangs around his neck. The best we did was a second-place finish.

On Tuesday afternoon we went to the ropes course/climbing wall. Each person wears a harness with a rope that's attached to a counselor, so it's safe. The first three guys from our cabin managed to get only a few feet up the 55-foot wall. Meanwhile, girls were making it to the top of the ropes course. I told Ben I think girls are better climbers because they're more flexible. Matt, one of our counselors, heard me, and said: "But they're generally not quite as strong."

Whatever. Finally, Jacob Barker, who is 9, managed to get all the way to the top. By then, it was time to leave, and Ben and I didn't get to try.

One of the best things about camp is the food. Ben and I were a little worried, because we had seen some camp movies like It Takes Two in which the Sloppy Joe meat was really gross. Here, the food is really, really good, except for the tacos. I like the hot dogs a lot, and Nick and I both love the chicken patties. Ben was shocked that we get dessert at lunch AND dinner. We've had ice cream sandwiches, cake and cookies.

Camps by the numbers
6 million children attend camps in the U.S. each summer.

Almost 10,000 camps in the United States.

About 60 percent of camps are sleepaway camps.

70-plus percent of camps are privately owned businesses.

25 percent of camps are run by non-profit organizations.

5 percent of camps are run by private corporations.

Source: National Camp Association.

The lunchroom gets really noisy. We pound on the table and shout: "We love Camp Kern, yes we do! We love Camp Kern, how about you?" Then we point to somebody behind us. And it keeps going and going.

We build up a good appetite because Ben and I have spent a lot of time swimming and playing water polo, which is one of my favorite things to do. Our Lakefront activity was canoeing. We also got to paddle in Funyaks, which are like kayaks.

Other fun things included Olympics events such as a relay race and tug of war and a whipped cream contest in which the team that eats the whipped cream the fastest, wins. With hands behind our backs, we shoved our faces into plates of the stuff. I didn't think it tasted that good, so I cheated by just putting my head in there and rolling it around. My team didn't win.

Thursday was the most fun of all. It was Harry Potter Day. We divided into teams - mine was Hufflepuff - and played lots of games. We painted our faces, made flags and the counselors dressed up as Harry Potter characters. We played a basketball version of Quidditch.

It was too bad that Ben didn't get to stay for all of Harry Potter Day. He had to go home after being bitten by a bug. He's OK, though. Camp was different after he left. It was still fun, because I made friends with other kids in my cabin.

Early in the week, Mr. Johnston, the reporter, asked Ben and me if we missed anything or anybody while at camp. Ben told him, "Nope. They keep us so occupied, you can't think about it."

But when the reporter asked me again on the last full day of camp, I told him I sort of miss you guys.

I also miss my comfy bed at home. Still, I'm probably going to want to come back next year. It's a really fun camp.

Love, Nick.


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