North Star Camp for Boys

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Some Friendly Competition

Today was our annual bi-camp competition with Camp Nebagamon and they played host to us on yet another beautiful day. About 75 of our boys joined in the fun for competitions in archery, riflery, canoeing, chess, swimming, sailing, cross-country and tennis. This day is an opportunity for our boys to demonstrate the skills that they have been working on this summer. While the camps are in direct competition on this day, this is no heated rivalry. There is a long, shared history between our two camps including that fact that Lou and Renee Rosenblum worked at Nebagamon before founding North Star in 1945. In keeping with the philosophies of both North Star and Nebagamon, we emphasize the values of sportsmanship, teamwork and character as far more important than the outcome of the games. 

As I walked around today and checked in on the events and checked in with our campers, the boys would say things like "It's going well," "I'm playing great," or "we're having a blast." They weren't focused on the result so much as the experience. At the end of the bi-camp meet, I am always proud of our boys because we get feedback about what great sports they were, how polite they were to the staff, how nice they were to the other campers, and what good kids they are. Thank you to our friends at Nebagamon for hosting a wonderful day, and for working together towards the goals and values we all believe in.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Blue Skies and Action Packed Days

It's been a fantastic week at camp and there has been a lot going on here. In addition, we are currently on pace for the all-time best weather for a single camp session. Every day has been in the 80s and sunny, with a nice breeze and a cool night. You can't do better than that! Here's a quick recap of some highlights:

Each summer our Senior Village Campers participate in a 3-day special event called College Days. One of the things that makes College Days so unique is that it is completely camper run. The teams organize themselves and compete in events ranging from football to debate, arm-wrestling to a cooking competition, soccer, speedball, softball, cheering, arts & crafts, trivia and more. 
The colleges this year were Drexel University, University of Tennesse-Martin, Stephen F Austin and San Diego State. The highlight this year was the new addition of the pie baking competition where all four teams had two bakers that worked together to try to replicate a Norske Nook pie, and they were delicious. Our guys really have many talents!

Tuesday was our second Cruiser Day of the summer, and it was a great one! Cruiser Day is a cabin day that typically falls on Tuesday at camp. It is a break from our normal routine, and the kids and counselors of each cabin get together to put together a plan for their whole day. The activities can range anywhere from our normal camp activities to the goofiest and most creative things our staff can dream up. Each Cruiser Day starts with breakfast in bed and we feast on some delicious doughnuts. From there, we do our biggest cabin cleanup of the week. Everyone changes the sheets, mops the floor, and we send out the laundry.
As if that wasn’t enough fun for one day, then we get into the activities. Kim McCormack helps to make sure that there’s an array of fun activities for the cabins to participate in, and they take on all kinds of things. Many cabins enjoy going tubing and waterskiing. This week they could go slip-and-sliding on the athletic field, go on a photo safari around camp, or even try their hand at cooking their own personal pizzas.
Every Cruiser Day ends with a cookout dinner, where each cabin prepares their meal over a campfire. There is a campsite for each cabin, and they build the fire, prepare the food, and feast in the luxuries of the great outdoors. This week we prepared everybody’s favorite – Tin Foil Surprise. It’s a combination of ground beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and topped with cheese. You wrap it up in Tin Foil, and the outcome is the delicious surprise! Dessert was the always popular S’mores.

For this summer, we have revamped our Sunday night programming. With a great deal of thought, we have broken our Sunday evening program into two parts - Unorganized Free and Cabin Campfires. The purpose of these evenings are two-fold:
1) To allow every camper the opportunity at self-directed free play, and
2) To help each camper process his camp experience and the growth that he is experiencing at camp
If you haven't read about it already, I encourage you to do so here: Go Outside and Play!

Our trips program is in full swing and over half of the cabins have already embarked on their journeys into the wilderness. We have had trips go out to the Superior Hiking Trail, St. Croix, Flambeau and Brule Rivers and have more to come. In addition to being able to experience all of the thrills of the wilderness, the cabin trips provide a wonderful group bonding experience. It is really a time where the campers must work together to accomplish the daily tasks of getting down the river, setting up camp and preparing the meals. It's a true test of teamwork that allows the campers and counselors of a cabin to really come together. We love hearing the stories they tell when they return to camp and seeing the pride they take in their accomplishments.

While our Senior Village Campers were participating in College Days, our Juniors and Intermediates had some opportunities for bonding themselves. The Junior Village had a campfire where they played Beach Flags, a game where the campers lie down and feathers are placed behind them.  One less feather is placed than campers present, and thus, after each round, one camper is eliminated.  The goal of the game is to be the final camper standing.  First, each cabin played their own game; next, these winners represented their cabin in the final Junior Village match.

Our second session Green-White competition is underway and Village Activities have been fantastic. There have been spirited games of softball, kickball, dodgeball, football, soccer, speedball, tennis baseball and more. Our Green-White Egg Marathon is coming up this Friday and the enthusiasm is very high.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Importance of Nature in Childhood

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder 
One of our parents had shared the below Facebook video and it really resonated. There are always a lot of different subtexts to each summer, and one of them over the last few years has been the role that technology plays in our camper's lives. There is no doubting that tablets, smartphones and computers are a part of their day to day life. There is also no denying that technology has opened lots of doors for the kids that we serve.

Unfortunately, all too often, we are seeing that the continued time that kids spend in front of screens closes the doors on other opportunities. One of them is time that kids spend outdoors, in nature. Obviously we believe this is one of the real benefits of the camp experience. We are able to help fill the gap that was kids playing in the neighborhood, exploring nearby woods, and having experiences in nature. This is a big part of why we don't allow our campers access to phones and other devices with video screens. It can be a tough adjustment for campers and their parents alike, but we think that this video illustrates a pretty significant change in our camper's lives versus the lives of their parents.
A week ago we said goodbye to approximately 120 campers for the summer. Part of my role is that I take about 30 of them to the airport, and due to the nature of kids traveling by airplane, the campers get their cell phones back for the trip home. These kids who were detached from their smartphones for the summer were instantaneously sucked back in. Many of them spent the few hours at the airport exclusively on their phones instead of spending time with friends who they weren't going to see until next summer.

There is no doubt that devices aren't going anywhere, but it is up to each of us to help our campers/children find a balance. We don't advocate totally cutting technology out of your kids lives, but finding that balance and setting boundaries is vitally important. Your kids have shown that they are capable of existing for a whole month (or two) without their favorite devices. Use that as a springboard for finding that balance back home.

Time in nature is an essential part of camp, and we truly hope that not only will our campers leave North Star with great memories of their time catching frogs, fishing on the lakes and paddling down rivers, but that when they are telling their own kids about their memories from childhood, these are the stories that they'll tell. We will continue to not only disconnect campers from their devices for the summer, but also create an environment where our campers can discover the role that nature and the outdoors can play in their lives.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Normal Day in the Northwoods

I don't know if there is such a thing as a normal day at North Star, but I wanted to catch everyone up to speed on the program thus far. It has been very busy since the boys arrived on Sunday afternoon. We've done swim tests, physicals, village activities and challenge games. We had All-Camp Capture the Flag, the Introductory Staff Show, and organized free periods. We've taught the boys our camp rules, they've made their cabin rules and they've learned the important procedures around camp. They've learned fun camp games like continuous dodgeball, tush ball and tetherball. And they've learned cabin games like mafia, spoons (or tongues), Egyptian Ratscrew and more card games galore. But as of today (Tuesday), it was time for our first typical day.

Just after breakfast this morning, the campers received their first schedules of the session. They submitted their Activity Picks on Sunday Night and Dan and Kim spent the last two days ensuring that every camper received his perfect schedule. This morning after cabin clean-up, as we hit another perfect 80 degree day in the Northwoods (with 50-degree overnight sleeping weather) it was time to hit the fields, lake and courts. We don't waste any time here, not just because every moment at camp is precious, but it's vital to get the campers in to a routine. Moreover, for campers that are still getting adjusted to life at camp, getting into the program finds them learning new skills, having success on the program and perhaps most importantly, having fun. You can read more about the schedule of a Typical Day.

Our day was actually started early as cabins S1 and S2 headed off on their hiking trip on the Superior Trail in Minnesota. Our S4 cabin also departed on the Brule River. We also had a great 4th period slate of challenge games. For fourth period challenges, we let one guy from each cabin come up to the microphone during announcements and challenge the other cabin to a sport or activity. It is a always a funny time at camp, and it helps ensure that no camper leaves here with a fear of public speaking. We ended the day with our staff introduction show, where Joe and Max conducted a Jimmy Fallon-esque talk show to show of our staff and their talents to the boys.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Fun Begins

The fun has begun here in our 2nd session. Check it out!

Our guys who just arrived had some business to take care of. They took their swim tests, health checks and played continuous dodgeball. They learned our traditional camp games like tush ball, tetherball, mafia and more. Our 8-weekers went on day trips today including hikes to Amnicon Falls, Morgan Falls and St. Peter's Dome, a mountain biking trip, a disc golf trip and even canoeing on the Namekagon River. It was a great day and we're heading right into our regular program tomorrow!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

2nd Session Kicks Off

We are off and running for the second session of the Summer of 2015! The buses pulled in to find a perfect 80 degree afternoon and the forecast says that nothing is going to change. The staff and 8-week campers were anxiously awaiting their arrival, and they went crazy upon their arrival. We gathered around the flagpole and announced the cabin assignments. The campers are now unpacking and all of the new campers are getting tours of camp. The staff are running games so that they can all of the campers can learn each other’s names.  At 6:00pm we will have a delicious dinner of hamburgers and fries, jello, salad and the ever present Sun Butter and jelly. There will be vegetarian burgers available for those that prefer, and Gluten free options for those that need it. And, of course, brownies for dessert. The food this summer has been fantastic, and we're looking forward to a great dinner and many more great meals.  After dinner, each camper will sign up for his first week of activities. He will get a list of about 100 activities, and, with the guidance of his counselors, he'll narrow it down to six.

At our parents weekend Friday Night Service, our theme was about being your best self, whoever that may be. As the boys sign up for their activities, that will be just the first step in that process in a summer where we will help them explore their interests and learn about themselves. We had a great sermonette by Oliver Rockman, who talked about his transformation from a homesick Junior Village camper to our Senior Village Director. He talked about the importance of the relationships he formed with lifelong friends at camp and with the staff that encouraged him and inspired him. We have all kinds of campers at camp, and tonight they have begun to come together as a part of the North Star community.

After each cabin plays in challenge games with another cabin, the boys will take part in our traditional opening Candlelight Ceremony. As is tradition, the counselors will lead a cabin meeting that includes further introductions, goal-setting and sharing everyone's expectations for the summer.  The candlelight ceremony is part of the team-building process at camp, which the counselors continue to develop all summer long.

Tomorrow we get right to it.  The kids will get checked out by our medical staff, take their swim test, and play several games of continuous dodgeball. The 8-weekers will he headed out on some great day trips. Evening program will be our first game of All-Camp Capture the Flag. And on Tuesday, we'll be right into regular activities. The boys will have their first three instructional periods that they chose tonight.
From here on out, you can follow along with the summer of 2015 on our website at We will also be posting updates on Facebook at and on Twitter at

We post pictures online on a regular basis, and you can access those directly from your CampInTouch page. To access your CampInTouch page, go to and click "login" in the upper right hand corner. From there you can click on "Photos" to see those smiling faces. If you'd like to set up guest accounts for friends or family you can do that from your landing page by clicking on "Guest Accounts."

Thank you for trusting us with your boys. We are going to work tirelessly over the next four weeks to make sure that your boys not only have a fun summer, but that they continue to grow into wonderful young people. I know they are going to love our staff, who are excellent role models for your boys. We are so excited for a great second session of the Summer of 2015!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Week In Review

It has been a fun-filled week at camp and tonight we're going to catch you up on some of the most recent events:

On Monday, we had our first full rainy day in three years. The rain might have kept us inside, but we didn't skip a beat. We had a rousing game of all camp bingo, one of the campers favorites. The energy of the staff and campers made it a great day. Since then, though we have had just perfect weather!

Tuesday was our second Cruiser Day. Cruiser Days are some of my favorites days at camp. In many ways, it is like our weekend at North Star. Cruiser Day is a cabin day, which typically falls each Tuesday at camp. It is a break from our normal routine where each cabin plans a full day of games and activities that they will do together. Each Cruiser Day starts with breakfast in bed. We follow that up by changing our sheets and sending out our laundry, and a community pickup, where each cabin takes responsibility for cleaning an area of camp.

From there it is up to each cabin what they will do that day. Some Cruiser Day favorites include tubing, visiting one of the resorts across the lake, scavenger hunts, slip and slides and more. Kim McCormack works hard to make sure each Cruiser Day is filled with special events for the campers. This week she set up a scavenger hunts, cookie baking, and a slip and slide.

The slip and slide is one of the seminal moments of the summer for me. It is living proof of how the energy of our staff fuels our summer. With two sheets of plastic, some shampoo and a hose, our staff can create one wild and crazy day of slipping and sliding.

Each village also has a village cruiser day. The first week was the Junior Village Cruiser Day and our youngest guys spent the day at the water park, mini-golfing, after having their own Hunger Games themed activity at camp. This week our Senior Village campers headed to Wild Mountain water park and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Each Cruiser Day, every cabin cooks out their dinner over a fire. For the first cookout we made Tinfoil Surprise, a camp favorite. It's a combination of ground beef, potatoes, carrots, onions and topped with cheese. You wrap it up in Tin Foil, and the outcome is the delicious surprise! Then we finished with my personal favorite dessert, banana boats. This week was hot dogs, and there is nothing as classic as roasting a hot dog over the fire. Dessert was the traditional yet scrumptious S'mores.

The best part of Cruiser Day is getting to see the relationships that have formed within the cabins. These groups really do become close because of the efforts of our staff. Each cabin has their own unique identity and the friendships born out of them are the glue that makes our community such a strong one.

Now we are in the buildup to United Nations Day this Sunday. It is a tradition since camps very first summer, where the whole camp is divided into four nations. This year's teams are Ireland, Spain, South Africa and Morocco. Tonight's Friday Night Service was about the importance of being a Global Citizen. We heard from our international staff members about their home countries, and we read, spoke and sang about the importance of embracing the differences between people from all over the world. We are lucky have campers and staff from over a dozen countries here this summer, and we are working to ensure that everyone leaves having learned from camp the importance of being a global citizen.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Very Happy 4th of July!

Breakfast on the 4th of July is one of my favorite times during the summer. The enthusiasm is off the charts. Songs like Born in the USA, Party in the USA, Proud to be an American, and the Star Spangled Banner echoed loudly through the Lodge this morning. Then we read the Declaration of Independence as our morning grace before enjoying the waffles that the kitchen staff brings out with sparklers. There is a tremendous amount of anticipation for the day ahead, with a ton of excitement for the morning's Green-White Marathon and the evening picnic with Birch Trail (more below).

I love that breakfast though because it's an opportunity to recognize the ideals on which our country was founded and to acknowledge how we can live up to those ideals at camp each day. Our Friday Night Service this week was on the topic of character. We talked about being yourself and standing up for what you believe in. We had a great sermonette and stories about why these actions are so important, and we had a great keylog ceremony where so many of the boys talked about camp being a place where they really could be themselves.

And when you put last night and today together, it gave us a great opportunity to talk about what is maybe the simplest value that we are continually working to teach at North Star - To do the right thing for the right reasons.

For a little more detail on the day's events:
The morning was our Green-White Marathon. This is a relay race that includes nearly every event in camp. It starts with a running race and includes fun-bugging, swimming, canoeing, climbing, archery, riflery, biking, skipping, tent building, tennis volleying, bed making, basketball shooting, bucket filling, singing, and more, before leading to Boil Water Boil. In this final event, the whole camp gathers around as the two teams compete to build a fire that can boil a tin can full of water over the top first. It was a very close race with the Green team squeezing out Boil Water Boil to take the lead and win the Marathon.

After lunch, we gave the boys some time to pretty themselves up for our Fourth of July picnic with camp Birch Trail. The girls arrived and much to their surprise we had turned our social into the "wedding" of our counselor Keith and his fiancé who is on staff there. There was a ceremony followed by speeches and a wedding dance, with dinner and many other fun activities sprinkled throughout the night.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Reflecting on the Canadian

We talk quite a bit about the Canadian as a hallmark moment in a NSC camper's career. Talk to NSC alumni who took the Quetico trip and they will tell you about the impact that the trip had on them. Years later, we see many of our former campers writing their college essays on the Canadian and the profound impact that it had on them. 

In my years at North Star, I have been fortunate enough to go on five Canadians, once as a camper many moons ago and four additional times as a staff member. It is not an overstatement when I say that those Canadian trips rank amongst the highlights of my camp experiences. As a camper, the Canadian pushed me in ways that I did not realize was possible. To a 15-year old from Deerfield, IL, the trip posed physical and mental challenges that were never on my radar. It also brought me together with a group of four cabin mates and two counselors (yes, we had seven on our Quetico trip) and really helped me understand the true meaning of teamwork and friendship. Over 20 years later I can still remember late nights in the tent, talking about nothing important as we shared in this common experience. I still have a copy of my cabin Canadian journal as well as a framed poster of myself and Micah Rosenbloom paddling on Cirrus Lake with the sun setting behind us.

It was 12 years between Quetico trips for me, but being able to be a counselor on the trip helped me really understand the impact of the trip. As a camper, your blinders are on and you see the tasks at hand, not the bigger picture. The counselor/trip leader perspective allowed me to take a step back and see the growth that each kid was experiencing on the trip. The Canadian isn't easy and each person hits their wall. It is in those moments, when fellow cabinmates are their to pick each other up and be a support that the true lifting happens. Each camper can carry a canoe or a pack (whether they realize it or not), but the real work is in lifting up your cabinmates when the wind isn't at their back. 

I wanted to share a picture that I took on the Canadian in 2004.

This campsite is on Russell Lake at the base of Chatterton Falls (for those who have been on the Canadian, this is the same lake with the infamous billygoat portage). Adjacent to the campsite was a massive rock outcrop overlooking the lake below. During our time at the campsite on Russell Lake we spent quite a bit of time as a group on this rock. We watched the sunset, played cards and just hung out. I look at this picture as the essence of the Canadian. At the end of a long day before another long day ahead there is time for reflection and fellowship. There are no distractions, just a group of guys hanging out, literally in the middle of nowhere. In a world seemingly overloaded with cellphones and video screens, there are still placed that we can go and experiences that our campers can have that brings them back to what is truly important. 

As the Pine Manor campers go to bed tonight, the last night of their trip, they are undoubtedly filled with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I vividly remember the last night of each Canadian that I took, sitting around the campfire, passing out all the excess food (lots of cookies), and relishing the sense of euphoria and accomplishment. Even though there may be a few more miles to paddle and one or two final portages, with the end in sight, that last day was a true victory lap. Seeing each group come back always brings back Canadian memories for myself and the other NSC staff who went to Canada themselves. For our Canadian alums, tomorrow another 24 campers will follow in your footsteps as they return from Atikokan to NSC.