School is out, and all the good suburban moms and dads know what that means, right? Summer camp! After typing that exclamation point, I had to take a moment, breathe in deeply, then sigh. Back in my day, summer camp meant what it was supposed to mean...smelly cabins, giant rectangular trunks with broken corner hinges, bug juice, tube socks, beaten-up metal canoes, horseback riding, mud, swim lessons, dirt trails, and wearing the same filthy t-shirt for ten days straight. Some of my greatest childhood memories were from Outdoor Adventure Camp at Camp Jewell in Colbrook, CT, spending 5 days sleeping under lean-to's in the Adirondack mountains and waking up to find our backpacks stolen by bears during the night. Now THAT was summer camp.
The term "Summer Camp" has been completely watered down this day and age. Write a check for some sort of activity that involves getting your child out of the house for more than eight minutes, and it's called summer camp. For some reason, summer camps have been refined and diluted so much that only one activity can happen at any one camp. Of course we've got the sports camps. Soccer. Football. Checkers. There's the arts and crafts categories. Art camp. Weaving camp. Wicker basket making camp. And let's not forget about the performing arts. Acting camp. Violin camp. Yodeling camp. Now how the hell am I going to be able to pack an entire trunk to get my kid through a week of yodeling camp, I ask you??
But today I'm going to talk about cheer leading camp.
Upon arriving at the local middle school where the camp was to be held, I noticed that the parking lot was busier than the kiss-and-run lot at LaGuardia. Every color, shape and model of minivan was there jockeying for a parking space. Once we found ours we headed toward the front door to be greeted by half a dozen incredibly chipper and bouncy teenagers wearing matching pink t-shirts and short shorts with paws on the butt cheeks. Their arms waving in the air, they yelled to us, "HI THERE! ARE YOU GUYS READY FOR...
C H E E R L E A D I N G C A M P ????!!!!"
They led us into the lobby, where we were engulfed by a swarm of these teenage jumping beans, poised and ready to guide our children to their respective cheer teams. As we followed them into the gym, our jaws hit the floor.
The gym was filled with perhaps 400 kids, all wearing the same matching pink shirts and short shorts with the paws on the butt cheeks. They were yelling and screaming like only young girls can do. They were doing cartwheels. Leaping in the air. Clapping hands. The decibel level was so high, as was the relative pitch, that my eardrums immediately burst apart and collapsed into a sopping mess onto each of my shoulders. I'm not even sure how to describe it, other than to say it made me think that the Disney Channel had exploded in the gym.
Actually, it reminded me of what it must be like to attend a terrorist training camp. New recruits to the gathering of zealots, being brainwashed to believe in the cause. Someone call Homeland...it's time to raise the threat level to pink.
Friday was the big show. All the parents were herded to their respective positions on the bleachers and, one by one, each group got up to perform what they'd learned and practiced all week. I felt lucky that I'd lost all ability to hear that first day of drop-off, because the volume level was turned up way past eleven.
While I will fully admit it was very cute seeing my 5- and 8-year olds ra-ra'ing to the "Go Team Go!" mantra, I also saw right through the school district's evil plot. This was no summer camp. This was a recruiting session. Scouts were on hand taking copious notes and names for future placement on the high school cheer team. Start feeding your kids soy protein now, folks, cuz they're going to need to build some muscle mass if they're going to support the human pyramid during the big Thanksgiving Day game in a few years.
I did, however, notice one hole in the armor of this cheer army. If in fact the secret evil plan was to assimilate children into the Borg that is school spirit, they let slip two incidents that definitely gave parents pause, making them think twice about what their kids were getting into. First, there was one of the team leaders, recovering from what was obviously a recent cheering injury. On her arm she wore a brace that looked like it came straight from the set of Terminator. Second was the finale of the big show, when the Varsity high school cheering team got up to show off their prowess, tossed one of the young ladies high in the air, only to miss her on the way down and allow her to land flat on her back. While she avoided traction that day, it was a close call, and enough to make many of the parents wonder how soon yodeling camp would start.