STEPHENVILLE (July 13, 2015) – Duck Camp is the experience of a lifetime for Tarleton’s incoming freshman. It’s a chance to meet their classmates, learn about the different traditions, meet TTMs (Texan transition mentors) who want to help them throughout college, and have dance parties during every meal.
Duck camper Markie Koch summed it up, “Duck Camp was seriously the greatest experience of my life. The spirit that the students and faculty have is amazing. I met friends that I will have for the rest of my life at camp.”
The following is a continuation of the timeline of my adventures at Duck Camp:
Wednesday, July 8
8:45 a.m. – My cabin heads down to breakfast early to beat the rush. I am tired from the night before along with everyone else. But it is next to impossible to remain tired when eating a delicious breakfast next to TTMs who are already full of energy and dancing on the chairs.
9:40 a.m. – With everyone gathered together in the gym for “All Camp,” we go through the series of chants, yells and songs at the same dizzying speed as yesterday. But, we freshmen are finally starting to get into the rhythm and spirit of the cheers, and, occasionally, we are louder than the TTMs.
Over the next three hours, the Silver Bugles and Purple Pancakes travel to different morning rotations that are designed to build us up as a team, help us learn our strengths and weaknesses, and be open and honest with one another.
After group time where we discuss our fears and thoughts about going to college, we head down to the obstacle course in the woods. Several different ropes and cords are strung between two trees, creating a spider web full of different sized holes. The objective? Get each and every one of our twenty-three team members through the spider web without using a hole more than once.
The leader of the activity tells us that we should just try to lift/ help as many people through as possible; it is okay if not everyone made it through the spider web. Personally, I think that is great news- I may not have to be lifted through a tiny hole that I am not allowed to stretch. The rest of my group takes that statement as a personal challenge however. Every single person crawls, jumps, or is passed through almost every hole in the web. I am lifted by two rather tall freshmen and try to make myself as small as possible as I am passed to two other boys. I squeeze my eyes shut and pray that I do not fall flat on my head and become Duck Camp’s first casualty.
Freshman Parker Smith said, “The most difficult part of the spider web challenge was thinking through every step of the game and putting people through the holes or “portals” based on their size.”
After my near death experience, we head over to the theater to talk about moving into the dorms. We hear the stories of residential leaders and others who experienced different trials moving away from home. The same lesson is often reiterated: school is why you are here so do not let your grades slip.
Next all of us walk back to the gym to learn about our strengths. (Before coming to camp, each freshman took a personality test that determined what his or her top five characteristics were. We wrote those five characteristics on our nametags the first day of camp. Further each characteristic falls under an overarching character “domain.”) Each corner of the gym is labeled: strategic thinkers, influencers, relationship builders, and executives.
I am a Strategic Thinker, which is the smallest group in the room. The largest group is easily the Relationship Builders; they almost take up half of the gym. We each have our own chant representing our strengths. “We strategic thinkers don’t want none unless you got brains hon!! SHHH!” we shout, trying to drown out the Influencers group next to us.
After everyone is sorted into their appropriate corners, the other Strategic Thinkers and I walk to the theater. Our leader tells us about Tarleton’s theory. So often students are told to concentrate on building up their weaknesses that they neglect their strengths. At Tarleton, students are encouraged to learn what their strengths are and focus upon those. Thus, instead of a student trying to improve from mediocre to average, he or she is working to move from good to great. We discuss our individual strengths with a partner who shares similar traits. I sit next to an RL named Brittney who is also labeled a “Learner.” From her, I learn that learning translates into more than simply excelling in the classroom. Learning can also be learning about others and how to relate to them.
12:45 p.m. – Today’s lunch is the camp’s favorite meal- chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese and fried okra. Even though I have not heard a lot of the music we are listening to, I catch on quickly to the dances and, like everyone else, if I do not know the moves, I make up my own.
1:45 p.m. – The next three hours consist of our afternoon rotations. Back with the Silver Bugles and Purple Pancakes, we go to the theater – again. I probably wore a path to and from that building. This activity quickly proves to be one of the most serious parts of the day. Sitting in a circle, we are instructed to raise our hands when the statement applies to us. The statements start off easily enough with statements such as “I am from Texas,” “I speak multiple languages” and “I am from another country.”
The statements quickly become more personal, addressing our religions, family divorces, and alcohol use. For the sake of others’ privacy, I will not go into detail. Many begin to speak of their own personal experiences with these issues in their own lives. We all leave feeling closer as a family than we did going in. Everyone’s story is different and unique, but we all share similar experiences with at least one other person.
Next, comes an application of one of Tarleton’s core values- service. Each freshman writes at least one letter to either a serviceman, a child in the hospital, or an elderly person at one of the nursing homes in Stephenville. Everyone is enthusiastic, and some even have time to write two letters. All of the TTMs are encouraging and tell us about their own volunteer experiences. I write to a serviceman. At first, it is difficult to get started. But soon the words flow naturally. Freshman Shelby Baker said, “The fact that those small letters would make an impact just by brightening the reader’s day was the best part of the service project!”
The last session takes place in the dining hall. Girls sit on one side and guys on the other. Even though we are discussing alcohol and the negative consequences of becoming incapacitated, the counselors make it fun with a trivia game of guys versus girls. (The girls win of course.) Then, the girls and guys are split into separate rooms to talk about sexual assault. Nationally, one in five students on campus are assaulted. Fortunately, Tarleton does not meet the national standard, and we want to keep it that way. We discussed ways to protect ourselves and our friends. Tarleton has a pledge called “My Five, Your Five, Our Responsibility.” At dinner, we make the promise to take care of ourselves and our fellow students and protect one another from assault.
4:30 p.m. – Free time!! A lot of ducks head for the lake or the pool, but I do not feel like trying to put on sunscreen. Most of the girls in my cabin are already snacking and talking when I arrive, and that is what we do for free time.
Sophomore and Silver Bugle TTM Ashlee Knapp said, “The best part of duck camp was the moments when we had free time and could do whatever we wanted to. But we spent the time together laying in the cabin and just sharing stories. I loved hearing about their lives and watching them bond and become a family. I can’t stop smiling when I think about it!”
6:15 p.m. – Dinner time comes with a lot of anticipation. Tonight is the infamous yell contest and, true to form, the Silver Bugles do not plan on losing.
7:00 p.m. – The next three hours are filled with excitement and anticipation as the Silver Bugles and Purple Pancakes learn and practice our chant, complete with motions and formation changes. The chant is a mash up of different popular songs with the words changed to reflect the spirit of Tarleton. We all work together to remember the words and spend a lot of time laughing at our own mistakes, such as always incorrectly saying “Take your baby to Heritage Park.”
When our practice time is up, the competition is divided up. Half of the super groups remain in the gym and the other half go to the dining hall. Then, the winners of each competition will face off in the gym.
We sit in the dining hall and nervously watch each group perform. Everyone has worked hard and it shows. But the nerves are getting to all of us in one way or another. Some groups become rather quiet; one boy yells, “Something something something!!” when he forgets his line. Our group falters once or twice too and we do not believe we could possibly place higher than third.
But, the Silver Bugles and the Purple Pancakes do not lose.
Shocked and ecstatic, we practice chanting as we go back to the gym to face our competition. In the gym, the crowds are going wild rooting for the winners of their side of the contest. At one point, the gym half chants, “Take a hike! Take a hike!” I am nervous until the room quiets down and I hear one of the most effusive campers from the dining hall yell, “Thank you! I love hikes!” For some reason, this display of confidence and bravado calms me.
The Silver Bugles and Purple Pancakes perform first and we yell louder than we ever have before. So does the competition. We each sit on our respective sides, biting our nails and wondering who was more impressive. Finally Dr. Dominic Dottavio, Tarleton president and one of the three yell contest judges, announces that they cannot decide on a winner. There will be a coin toss.
And we do not lose.
We erupt, racing to the middle of the court and chanting, “We don’t lose! We don’t lose!” Some people cry and we all hug and jump up and down. I see my TTM Brad Rutherford fall on the ground and hope he did not faint when I lose him from view.
Freshman Kimberlee McCullough said, “The best part of winning was the anxiety, like waiting to see who won between us and the other team. It made everything more exciting.”
10:40 p.m. – As the winners of the Yell Contest, we are the first to get to beat the drum. We race outside following the drum to the pavilion. The rest of the camp- including the Plowboys and the Purple Poos who came for a surprise visit- join hands and snake dance behind us to the pavilion. We beat that drum so hard that pieces of the wooden sticks we use come flying off and hit us in the face (Later, Jon and I come back to the pavilion and grab a few broken pieces as souvenirs.). The noise of twelve or so people beating the drum is deafening and intoxicating all at once. People snake dance to the beat around and around the pavilion.
11:00 p.m. – The real fun begins- the all-night party. There is dancing going on in the gym, hot dogs and watermelon in the dining hall and the zip line is open from 11-1 am. Many campers are planning on being on “Team No Sleep,” something that has never been a goal of mine. My cabin mostly sticks together, dancing in the gym and, when that becomes too crowded, hanging out in the dining hall. Several students in the dining hall are sitting around a ball pit, a place where students go to make a new friend. Outside, we hear students beat the drum until one am. We goof off and try to shoot bottle caps until Brad accidentally hits someone from another table in the face. At one point, I leave to try the zip line and overcome my fear of heights. But, for as long as I stood there, that line never moved.
2:10 a.m. – Most of the Silver Bugles head off to our respective cabins. As we pass the pavilion, I see people gearing up for the water balloon fight, but I am too tired to turn around and join in. We are all asleep by three.