At Camp Gray, ‘awesome’ is normal Print
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Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
Kids at Camp Gray, standing arm and arm.
Kids at Camp Gray get together, arm and arm, to pray and sing songs at the end of the week’s Cassidy Games. (Catholic Herald photos/Kevin Wondrash) For more photos of Camp Gray, visit madisoncatholicherald.smugmug.com

REEDSBURG -- By Thursday afternoon, things were in full swing at Camp Gray. Campers, ranging in age from second-graders to young adults who just finished high school, spent the last few days growing closer to God together and having fun together.

"We've done a lot of activities, we've done prayers, and we've sung songs," said fourth-grader Emma form Oregon.

"I really like the counselors and hanging out with my cabin. It's fun. . . . It's really nice meeting new people that I haven't known before," said fourth-grader Elizabeth from Sun Prairie.

Camp Gray, located just outside Baraboo, is the Catholic summer camp and year-round retreat center of the Diocese of Madison. The camp hosts nine one-week sessions of summer camp on 225 acres of "God’s beauty."

'Kindness' at the camp

When you meet the campers, one thing they all agree is the kindness of everyone: from the staff, to the counselors, to the campers themselves.

"People can be really kind. If you don't know them, you just have to introduce yourself, and don't be afraid of being yourself and asking other people questions," said eighth-grader Maggie. "It's fun and everyone is so kind to you. It doesn’t matter if you're shy, you will find friends here."

Thursday afternoon was busy with the different ages of campers taking turns with the various available activities. Some of the campers got to go swimming, which was a favorite of many. Others tried their hand at dodgeball, basketball, and a Camp Gray favorite -- "panda ball."

Afternoon activities

"Panda ball" is one of those games you have to see to understand. A group of players get together in a circle in a hexagonal playing area. A ball is bounced in the middle and players take turns (respectfully) hitting the ball toward the other players. If they are hit below the knees, the player hit is eliminated. If the ball goes out of the playing area, the person who hit the ball is out. The game continues until there is only one player left.

In addition to games, campers also had an opportunity to go to Eucharistic Adoration in the indoor camp chapel, pray, and even make arts and crafts.

"I love it. It's really fantastic. You get to do a lot of singing and I love singing and I think it’s a really great way to get all of the kids in camp involved in prayer, and it makes it really fun and enjoyable," said eighth-grader Tess from Madison.

"It's great, I love it. I like doing fun things and doing spiritual things," said fourth-grader Lucy from Madison.

The main event: The 'Cassidy Games'

By Thursday, the anticipation was building for one of the biggest events of the week -- the finale of the Cassidy Games.

The Cassidy Games are a weeklong event where the campers are divided up into two teams, red and blue. During the week, there are mini-competitions to earn points leading up to Thursday's big events. In this particular week, Team Blue had a 21 to 17 advantage going into the final rounds.

As evening came, the teams gathered in the Camp Gray amphitheater. They shouted playful taunts at each other before the team captains were announced. For this week; it was two brothers, seminarian John Schiedermayer, for the blue team, and recent St. Ambrose Academy graduate Daniel Schiedermayer, for the red team.

Red and blue kept the score at a four-point difference after the first two events. Captain Daniel got a little muddy twice when red lost both tug-of-war battles with the "Trailblazers," or the middle school-aged campers.

Red's younger campers, the "Settlers," got some revenge by winning the "panda ball" round.

Red then took a late lead when the older campers, the "Pathfinders," "Ranchers," and Leaders in Training, won the game of "Extinguish" where teams fired squirt guns at lit tiki torches with the captains trying to block the water with umbrellas.

With red having a one-point advantage, it was on to the final event. All ages participated in the grand finale near the camp's Lake Jake.

The final competition was a relay, including, tossing footballs into the lake, finding lockbox keys in tennis balls, and other zany events, before culminating in a canoe race between the two captains.

As the Cassidy Games came to an end, blue was the winner, when John Schiedermayer arrived at the dock first and raised his team’s flag.

Both teams were dismissed to the cabin leaders for the evening for some devotion time and time to hang out. By 11 p.m., it was lights out and getting ready for another day.

'Rain, rain, go away'

By the time Friday morning arrived, there was a new guest at Camp Gray -- rain. Severe weather was passing through the area, and some of the morning's activities had to be altered.

To make sure the campers stayed safe and indoors, breakfast was delayed about a half hour, and kids in the smaller cabins gathered in the large hall to talk to each other, or play games like "carpet ball" and "spike ball".

After the thunder and lightning eased up a little bit, the campers took a walk in the drizzle to the dining hall for breakfast. French toast and bacon were on the menu Friday morning.

As breakfast came to an end, and with the storm still in the area, the staff needed to come up with a way to keep the kids busy before Mass at 11 a.m. The solution? A variety show, of course.

Staff members took turns doing little skits and silly songs to keep everyone busy, entertained, and laughing. The rarely-seen "Explorers" also made an appearance. The "Explorers" are high-school aged campers who camp communally in an area separate from the other campers. They occasionally sneak into the main camp area, but for the most part, they have their own separate program throughout the summer.

With enough time passed, it was time to go to Mass. It was an overflow crowd in the chapel. Staffers, with guitar and drums, led the songs, which were very uplifting and energetic in nature. Campers said the readings and participated in the Mass.

As the week came to a close, and the rain stopped, campers had once more chance to use the pool, or play other games on the grounds.

The camp encourages the kids to all come back next summer and many summers after. Some of the older campers have been going for several years.

"It really helps you think about how to do better in life, and how you can glorify God," said 10-grader Alex Wirtz. "I’m kind of sad we have to go home, but it’s a lot of fun being with everybody."

The 'big kids' at camp

With time winding down on the week, the counselors reflected on how much they'll miss the campers, but also look ahead to the coming weeks.

"I feel like I’ve learned just as much about my faith, and more of a community-based sense of faith as well, so that’s really cool," said first-year counselor Nicholas Utter.

"(I'm) looking forward to seeing growth in the kids I am working with and seeing how their interaction with each other and myself helps bring the closer to Jesus," said first-year counselor Sara Zeman.

By late afternoon, parents arrived to see their children again and attend a gathering where everyone can hang out one last time and get a final taste of Camp Gray food.

For the staff, it was time to say goodbye and get ready for another group of kids to arrive by the end of the weekend, and another chance to feel like campers themselves.

"We get caught up on being old and having all these worries, anxieties, anticipations, and pressures, and just being around the young spirits of these kids and how open and just loving they are and how they just want to learn and they just soak up everything you say, it’s so refreshing," said Zeman.

Registration is full for the 2013 summer season, but to get the mailing list for information on next year’s session, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it For more information on Camp Gray, including how to donate to the camp, visit campgray.com

 
 

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