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Jun 3, 2012
05:00 PM

Cranbrook Day Camp Summer Memories

Recalling new friends, tennis matches, swimming, archery, capture the flag – and pure young boy childhood summer energy – at a metro Detroit gem

Cranbrook Day Camp Summer Memories

My most vivid summer memory involves attending Cranbrook Day Camp. I attended a multitude of day camps from age 6 to age 12 – metro Detroit seems to have so many fantastic options (other summers were spent at Beverly Hills Club, Franklin Racquet Club and Roeper's summer camp). Cranbrook was undoubtedly the most vivid, though, as it seemed to stimulate a boy's imagination, desire for friendly competition and sense of wonder.

As I recall, we were broken up into groups that bore the names of American Indian tribes. Every day was started in what seemed a massive, Romanesque coliseum, with terraced steps to sit on. Beginning early in the morning, the stone was always slightly cold and the grass of the playing field that the coliseum ringed was always wet with morning dew. Each day began with a singing of the national anthem, after which we'd yell, at the top of our lungs, "Play ball!" There were boys in other tribes that I knew from school (and I'd see them with their tribes on the steps each morning), but I made countless new friends each summer.

From there, it was a day of endless activity. Tennis and playing "king of the court," learning to swim in the manmade lake (little Jonah, as I recall) – that is literally where I learned elementary backstroke, sidestroke and breast stroke. The lake's bottom was painted black, stoking a young boy's imagination that in some parts it possessed endless depths, with possible hidden caves down below. From there, it was usually a trek down winding paths to the archery range – an exciting activity for a young boy reading books about Robin Hood.

As with many of the activities at the camp, a friendly element of competition was encouraged, and small medals were awarded as you progressed each week (Yeoman, Double Yeoman, etc). Soccer or other sports were a daily occurrence, but what I remember most were the massive games of capture the flag (often with some variation involving different characters – wizards, knights and trolls).

A path (the camp seemed riven with crisscrossing paths) opened upon a large grass clearing, which to a 10 year old seemed like a massive valley. The clearing was bounded on each side by a hill, sloping higher as one moved away from the clearing, and covered with huge trees wide enough to hide behind to catch roving flag-capturers from the opposing team. I can't even capture the sense of wonder that accompanied these games. Conspiring with teammates on how best to approach the other side, drawing up elaborate plans about diverting the opposing team's attention by loudly running across the clearing (the neutral zone) while a smaller, quieter group crept along a small line of trees above the clearing that thinly connected the opposing camps. Code words and stratagems were whispered between the trees.

It was an activity eagerly anticipated each morning, when sitting on those cool stone steps. Our parents must've relished that camp as much as we did – we undoubtedly came home depleted of all our wild, summer energy.

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