SLIDESHOW: ‘Controlled Chaos’

Photos by Eve Edelheit
Campers Johnathan Rosen, Charlie Strohl and Noah Lieber, members of the red team, try and get a hoola hoop around each group member faster than the other team.

Competitive Water Olympics really all about cooperation and fun

Patrick Hosken | Staff Writer

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, rows of Boys’ and Girls’ Club campers lined the shore behind Beeson Youth Center. Dressed in swimwear and wrapped in beach towels, the kids eagerly awaited instructions from Chuck Bauer, Club’s aquatic director, who stood on the dock in front of them, megaphone in hand.

Camper chants of “Red, red!” and “Let’s go blue!” clashed against each other, eventually blending into one loud roar. The kids were split up into those two colorful teams, with the painted bodies to indicate which side they were on.

Megaphone to his mouth, Bauer called the kids into the water by group, beginning the 2011 Water Olympics, a Club tradition.

John Chubb, Club’s assistant director, said the Water Olympics has been an annual activity since before his time here as a camper. Since then, Water Olympics has grown into a two-hour marathon of physical activities both in and out of the water.

“It’s two hours of controlled chaos,” Chubb said.

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Beginning at 2 p.m., the younger campers vied to score points for their respective teams in swimming races, inner tube pulls and the “sponge relay” — a competition that required them to collect more floating sponges than the other team and deposit them into a bucket held by a counselor on the dock.

At 3 p.m., the younger crowd came back onto land for volleyball and other field games led by Club’s counselors-in-training. This freed up spots in the water for the older kids to compete in kayak races, water polo and general swimming.

Close to Beeson’s back entrance, Club staff members stood behind a table littered with red and blue paint and brushes, ready to redecorate any camper whose colors washed off in the water.

After the staff touched up a young girl, she ran away and shouted, “Spread the red!” Soon, four nearby girls joined in the chant, showing their team pride.

Bauer, sporting a blue shirt and red pants to show bipartisanship, kept watch all the while on the dock, moving the events along via his megaphone. In addition to maintaining the pace of the activities, he also informed the young Water Olympians when it was their turn for a watermelon break.

A voice suddenly buzzed through the speakers hanging from Beeson’s back porch.

“Attention! After seven events, the blue team has 20 points, and the red team has 15.”

Though the Airband event may be more popular, Chubb said, Water Olympics and Track and Field Day are the two oldest Club activities still continued today. The dates of the two are switched around each year to accommodate the changing schedule of today’s Chautauqua visitors.

Just as Club has grown, Chubb said, Water Olympics has grown with it.

When he was a camper here, Club groups consisted of about 18 or 19 kids, Chubb said. Now, that number has doubled. With about 560 Water Olympics participants this year, the staff had to ensure there were enough activities to keep all the kids active.

Another announcement blared over the Beeson speakers after about an hour of activities.

“Attention! After 37 events, the blue team has 90 points, and the red team has 99.”

Water Olympics is quite the event to prepare for, according to Jack Voelker, the director of Recreation and Youth Services. Club could only handle — and appreciate — an event like Water Olympics once a season. That’s what makes it so special.

“You can’t have an event like Water Olympics every week,” Voelker said.

More than a decade ago, Club was a little more competitive, Chubb said. Campers would arrive and immediately be placed on either the red or blue team, an association that lasted their entire stay at Club. The two teams competed weekly, keeping a running score all season long.

Now, Water Olympics is the only event that splits the campers up, but it’s a throwback to a Club tradition that some former campers, like Chubb, remember to this day.

“It’s a little more cooperative today, but people like the tradition,” Chubb said, pointing to his red shirt. “I was on the red team (as a camper).”

At the end of the event, the scores were announced over the loudspeaker. This was the moment of truth for the campers who had competed all day to find out which team would reign victorious.

“Attention! The final score is: blue team, 158.5 points; red team, 256.5 points!”

Amid celebratory cheers, hugs and smiles, Bauer revealed the true goal of the Water Olympics.

“Nobody will remember who won tomorrow, but today, they had a wonderful time,” he said.