Last night, we had Trojan-Spartan initiation. Three times this session, we will have our Trojan-Spartan games.  Every camper is assigned to one of two teams (the Spartans and the Trojans) and they compete against each other in a variety of events and outdoor kids games.  Some are physical (tug o’ war), others mental (trivia) and some just silly (how many campers can you get on a soap-covered glob). We stress that the campers will compete enthusiastically and with great sportsmanship for the duration of the games. We praise campers that congratulate their opponent even if they lose, and we respect the teammate that is always positive despite the outcomes.

Once the games end, “we are Trojans and Spartans no more, and become cabinmates and friends once again”.

So if every camper is on a team, you may ask how they learn their team identity.

I am so glad you asked.

We have initiation ceremonies. The picture I include with this article is from the boys’ initiation ceremony.

Let me describe it to you.

The campers and counselors who are already Trojans and Spartans go to separate fires to “paint up”.  The Spartans are red (with some black) and the Trojans are blue (with some white).  Some campers simply paint an “S” or a “T”, others paint stripes, while some go crazy and cover most of their body. 

Meanwhile, I meet with the new campers in a separate area.  Since this is one of the few times that I get a chance to talk with just the new campers (at least since the cookies and milk event in the house on Monday), I use it as a time to remind them that we are committed to making sure that are happy and safe. It is critical to me that they know we are here to help and support them.

After this moment, I explain the history of the Trojan-Spartan tradition.  It is one of our oldest, going back to the first summer in 1967. I tell them that if a parent came to Champions in the past, that he or she is a Trojan or a Spartan to this day.

I then add that each tribe is equally great and that they should not go into the initiation wanting to be one team versus the other. “You will be chosen into the team you are MEANT to be in.  Even if you are not sure at first why that is so, you will soon come to love your team.”

I share this thought because most campers end up developing a completely unsubstantiated opinion about which team is “better”. Maybe they like the name or the color or one of their friends is on a specific team.  Whatever the reason for the preference, there is a 50% chance that they will not get the team they are hoping for. This is a subtle but important teachable moment.  In the grand scheme of things, your tribe at Camp Champions is not a life-defining event. Also, the teams really are even. So when camper that thinks he wants to be a Trojan and ends up a Spartan, there is now an opportunity to teach resilience in a low-risk environment.  Our youngest daughter DESPERATELY wanted to be a Spartan rather than a Trojan, but she ended up being a Trojan.  She cried.

She cried for roughly 4 minutes.   She then saw another one of her friends who was a Trojan, learned the cheers and decided within 10 minutes that “Trojans Rule!”

That was a nice bounce back and good practice for when life might give her a true difficulty.

During the ceremony, a member of the leadership team wears a shroud with half his face Trojan blue and half Spartan red as the Painter. When we announce a new camper’s tribe, the Painter puts the appropriate color paint on the camper while his team greets him with a loud and resounding cheer.

After all campers are initiated, I read the “Trojan Spartan Legend”, which is the Greek tale of Paris, Helen, Menelaus and the Trojan Horse.  After that, I remind them again that we compete as sportsman and champions during the games, “they is no honor in conquering an unworthy foe, so always show respect.”

The ceremony concludes as all the Trojans and Spartans retreat to their separate fires and teach the their cheers to the new campers.

Let me start by saying that I completely understand that there is something almost absurd about this.  We are not Hellenic warriors.  To my knowledge, no one in the age of Troy wore paint nor were they initiated by a tall 21 year old wearing a black sheet.  The majestic music that plays as the tribes and new campers enter are from “Last of the Mohicans” and “Fellowship of the Ring” and is played on a sound system.

We are on Lake LBJ and not the Aegean Sea.

At some level, this is a bizarre game of dress-up.

But this is also what makes camp special. If we are intentional and serious, we can create an experience that will be memorable and majestic for an 8 year-old boy or a 15 year-old young man.    For a brief moment last night, your sons (and daughters on the girls side) were not just modern kids, they were part of something different.

I like to tell the counselors that camp is an elaborate magic show and they get to be the magicians. 

So I am not entirely sure if last night was silly or sublime.  I think it was a little of both.  It was certainly special.


Steve Sir


Want more like this? See: http://blog.campchampions.com/canoes-and-role-modeling