Boys’ and Girls’ Club has fostered the youth of Chautauqua Institution for generations, priding itself as being regarded the oldest day camp in the United States. Aside from camp staples like swimming, sailing, soccer and tennis, games like Ga-ga, Prisoner, and Nuke Em are the buzz of the morning schedule when campers arrive at 9 a.m.
Campers, ages 7 to 15, are kept busy every weekday with recreational activities, but games stretch outside the norm during the regiment.
SAC Boys, who are made up of 14- and 15-year-olds, are considered the most brutal of the bunch, mixing the testosterone of adolescent boys with games that can, at times, stir aggression. Usually, there are between 25 and 30 kids in one group. On a Tuesday after Fourth of July weekend, there are 47 boys.
The campers start out playing Ga-ga, a game traditionally played in an octagonal pit. During the game, which takes place on the sand volleyball courts, the layout resembles more of a figure eight in a design created by a SAC counselor. Most kids are still groggy from an early-morning wake-up, and some come and go to get breakfast sandwiches at the Youth Activities Center.
In Ga-ga, players crouch down like barbarians with their arms dangling over their shins. The ball is supposed to be kept rolling on the ground at all times, though this rule is quite lenient. If a player is hit with a ball beneath the kneecap, they are eliminated until the person who hit them is eliminated.
There is a strict “no alliance” policy in games. Stays at Chautauqua used to be more extended, but places like Club have seen how families are coming for less time throughout the summer. Of those 47 campers, the overwhelming majority of kids visit Chautauqua for two weeks. Seasoned campers that have grown up together try to get “out” other players who they don’t know very well. The alliance policy helps to prevent this.
Exhaustion or lost of interest is often how the game ends — play could take up to half an hour. There is no realistic way that the game can end, which prompts several of the counselors to scream “elimination” — a term that means that everyone enters the ring. Once a player is hit, he has no opportunity to re-enter (this is not to be mistaken with the game, “Elimination,” a rendition of dodgeball that will be discussed later).
Benches are taken from behind Club after meetings have convened and used as barriers in Ga-ga. After boys are eliminated, they sit on the benches and risk having wild volleyballs and splashes of sand hit their faces. “Jailbreak” is said aloud by counselors, which permits all contestants to re-enter the game if they’ve been hit.
Once Ga-ga ends, kids move on to the next game, which on any given day could be one of the many games campers have kept going at Chautauqua throughout the summer months.
Steal the Bacon: Two sides, one oversized beach ball. Members of each team are assigned a number. Once a counselor announces a number, players meet in the middle and fight for the ball by any means necessary.
King of the Court: Competitors battle in doubles tennis. A player becomes “king” by holding the court the longest.
Anteater Tag: Foam water noodles are used as a means of tagging someone. Once hit, the player is frozen. Hula-hoops are placed around the playing area and are used as safe zones.
Bennis: It’s as simple as it sounds: baseball played with tennis rackets.
Capture the Flag: Campers often gather in the ravine or the fields near Club to capture the other team’s flag. Though not native to Chautauqua by any means, Capture the Flag is usually one of the more intense and anticipated games of the season.
Elimination: It’s dodgeball on a much more chaotic and faster scale. Best played in a room with many walls, the player with the ball is only allowed three steps before he has to throw it off the wall, most likely to himself or herself. At any point, the player can — and is often instigated to — throw the ball at other players.
Bigger or Better: Each team starts with a small object — such as a nickel or a golf ball — and goes house-to-house asking Chautauquans if they will trade for anything that is bigger and better than what they have. In years past, teams have come back with paintings, sofas, TVs and a broken golf cart.
Arrow Hunt: Along with Bigger or Better, an entire morning is dedicated to this game. One team is tasked with hiding and leaves arrows for the opposing team to find them at any location on the Chautauqua Institution grounds (no private residences).
Nuke Em: A spin-off of volleyball, players are split on two sides of a sand volleyball court. Players throw a ball over the net, and whomever the ball lands closest to is out. It’s the board game Battlefield meets dodgeball.
Prisoner: Like Nuke ‘Em, the game is played on the sand and split between two sides. Players call out the name of a competitor on the other side of the net and if that competitor catches the ball, the player who threw the ball is out.
Tuesday Morning Hockey: “No high-sticking, no poking and do not kill each other,” a counselor said while explaining the rules of hockey. Instead of a puck, a semi-soft rubber ball is used, often thrown overhand the full length of the court by the opposing goalie. Nets, permeable to light checking, often lean against the goalie’s back while he’s protecting from oncoming goals. The view from the bench is unprotected, so even teams that are sitting out are still involved in the action of the game. Tuesday Morning Hockey is seeking to become a staple in the rotation of games.
Go-Go Gadget Ball: Played on a field like handball or soccer, teams try and score in the opposition’s net. The catch: Counselors pick what kind of things the teams will play with. Either a soccer ball, a rubber ball usually used in handball, or a flying disc is used to score.
Option Ball: Handballs are allowed in this rendition of soccer. Players can dribble a ball with their feet and can score this way, but once the ball leaves the ground and goes through the air, players can use their hands. If watching groups play soccer or handball is exciting, imagine a game that’s a hybrid of the two.