The end of this program year was marked by a lot of fun and games: first the Tuesday groups held an all-campus, four team Capture-the-Flag game and then the Wednesday and Thursday groups took on the challenge of the 2017 OC Mudder. Yet there was more than just fun and games going on. The young people playing games were building character by conquering challenges, developing relationships through the shared experiences, and demonstrating to themselves and others the areas in which they excel. These character-building opportunities are what makes this more than just an enjoyable way to end the year.
One of my favorite parts of the Mudder is watching the change in demeanor of young people who have a nervous excitement before the start and at the finish are aglow with the pride of having completed the course. I hear, “I was afraid [of the zip line], but I did it!” or “That was my first time in the pond!” or “Did you see the size of that spear? I got it to stick into the hay bales on the first try!” I love to watch the groups work together as they tackle the course, young people working together to roll a tire as large as themselves across the basketball court or helping each other to climb over the wall. I also appreciate the support that young people offer each other when they ask to be in a group with a friend who is a little nervous about taking on the Mudder for the first time. One of my favorite teamwork examples is from the OP Facilitators who are willing to dive into dumpsters, crawl through a waterlogged sand pit, and tackle a tub of Oobleck. These adults are real team players, not just figureheads. It is obvious that we all have different levels of athletic prowess and the Mudder demonstrated that, as some young people were a picture of speed flying around the course area and others put on an amazing display of strength climbing to the top of the rope where the tire swing normally hangs.
For the youngest members of our community, in the Open Program, these games are a thrill because they are a chance to play with the “big kids.” The entire community makes connections when trying to steal that elusive flag, making a plan with new teammates to defend the flag, and sometimes by showing that it is not just long legs that equal speed, rather short legs can zig and zag for the same effect. I know these games are fun as I watch the joy in the faces of people running with the flag or sliding down a huge slip-n-slide, but I also know that these shared experiences are helping young people feel competent to take on new challenges because of the tests they have endured.