by Sloan Hamilton, Camp Manager at Loch Leven
While we wait on the official ValleyFire update, I wanted to share some thoughts on the rescue of the Thai soccer team (AMEN) and one of the ways that story hits “home.”
A fair topic of conversation around the rescue has been about how “reckless” it was that the boys went in the cave and that coach allowed it.
At Loch Leven, we have a small group of trained staff, but most of our groups (PSWR and others) rely on volunteers. One of the points we stress with campers and volunteers is that what may be safe for some, may not be safe for all. Also, an activity one volunteer may be comfortable monitoring and keeping safe, another may choose to stop altogether because they aren’t (a good pillow fight is my example here). I can easily imagine a couple of those soccer players being very comfortable going in and out of the caves, and maybe others weren’t sure. Maybe coach said, “here is ok, but not there” and then 8 of 11 boys went that way anyway. Have you ever tried to stop that kind of momentum?! I can easily imagine coach shrugging and following the boys deeper in the cave saying, “ok, but only for a minute.”
We need to celebrate his commitment to keeping those kids inspired and alive “once the damage was done.” You’re a hero, Coach, even with your mistakes.
Recently at Loch Leven, campers told me they went on a hike a found a rope swing. They were very excited. (We have a rope swing on camp – a regulated activity – but this was not that). As a kid, I would have been ALL OVER THAT! As Camp Manager, I made a face that clearly indicated I was about to rain on this parade. “Don’t worry” one of them said, “we checked it out; it was safe!” As much as I love that they knew safety was my concern for them, I couldn’t help myself. “Phew! So what criteria did you use? What the rope static or dynamic? What is it rated? How many hours has it been hanging there? How many participants have used it? How many hard falls has it experienced? Was the area in contact with the tree protected with a cambium saver? Who tied the knot? What type of knot did they use? What was the radius of clearance?” (And I’m not even trained to run our own ropes programs). The campers shook their heads, laughed at me, and left to tell their story to someone who could celebrate with them. I understand. I can take it.
At camp, we are responsible for ALL the children, some of whom I have never met. Parents are trusting us to care at the level they do and yet we don’t know all the parents either. Groups of campers are easily susceptible to “monkey see, monkey do”, peer pressure, etc. How many of those Thai kids’ parents would have been right there exploring the caves and how many parents would never have let their child within 20 feet? At camp, keeping kids safe sometimes comes at the expense of spontaneous play. We have many entities and organizations who help us figure out how to do this, how to balance it all. Our staff goes through continuing education and trainings throughout the year. We check and double check and try to make the right decision every time. Obviously, we have great groups of smart, dedicated, volunteers helping with programs – we couldn’t do it without them.
Today, though, with the rescue of the last Thai soccer player and the #ValleyFire a few miles away, I am feeling very fortunate for the dedicated, trained, safety-minded professional staff we have caring in a way we cannot expect of kids themselves or of volunteers, yet a way every camper and person who loves them needs us to.