Oxford Scouts are working hard for their merit badges, as Camp Yocona is open for its 66th year of summer sessions.
Last week I drove about 30 minutes outside of town, past Shiloh and Lafayette High School to visit the Boy Scouts of America campground at Camp Yocona. Attending camp last week were 15 different troops. That’s roughly 190 Scouts total, all from the surrounding counties in north Mississippi and a few from Alabama, Tennessee and southern Mississippi. By the end of summer, the camp will have hosted around 500 participating Scouts.
Summer Camp Program Director Julie Chambers, of Oxford, is an energetic and fun-loving leader amongst the young men. She says the BSA is here to “develop the next generation of leaders”, adding that “you learn how to lead by getting out there and doing it yourself.”
As she implies, Chambers allows the 14- to 17-year-old staff members to basically run the whole show themselves. These young men (and a few ladies) must take control, getting to decide what to do, and how to do it, while Chambers and the other adults on location make sure everyone is being safe.
At the weeklong camp sessions, Scouts get the chance to work on all kinds of merit badges and activities, including wilderness survival, lifesaving, rifle shooting, swimming, canoeing and more. Chambers likes to keep a balance in activities for all the campers. At Camp Yocona, everyone can find something they’re interested in, even those who don’t like sports.
One of the most exciting activities is the C.O.P.E. climbing and ropes course. C.O.P.E. stands for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. Below the climbing tower, boys start out on the ground playing games, learning important teamwork and communication skills before they can get up in the trees. By the end of the week, many of the young men will have faced their instinctual fear of heights, swinging down the zip-line or walking across a trapeze high above the ground, emerging from the course with a heightened sense of self-esteem.
Contrary to the old green Army tents of typical BSA campsites, the campers stay in new cabins built during a renovation in 2005. Now they even have warm showers. Yocona Area Council officials take pride in their better-than-average camp food. In fact, the first person they hire each summer is Willie, head cook at Camp Yocona.
I had a chance to sit down at dinner with a couple of young men from Oxford’s own Troop 45, sponsored by First Presbyterian Church of Oxford. Future community leaders Jon Edge, Dontavious Webb and Russell Betterton, all headed into the sixth grade, could not have been more polite and respectful as my hosts for the evening. I got to talking with the boys, finding out that Webb’s “favorite thing about camp is the Polaris program, and my team leader is really nice.”
Polaris, named for the North Star, is an interesting program for first-year Scouts. It’s a jump-start program allowing young, dedicated Scouts to knock out the basics for advancement from Tenderfoot rank to First Class in just a week’s time. These committed young men will be well on their way to Eagle Scout once the week is over.
Jon’s father, Jeff Edge, is the D.A.R.E police officer at Oxford Middle School, and the new Scoutmaster for Troop 45. He says his job as Scoutmaster is to “encourage the boys to stick with scouts all the way through the ranks to Eagle Scout.”
Jon Edge and Betterton, who are also in the Polaris program, say their favorite activity is the afternoon free swim. Interestingly, the BSA teaches more Americans to swim than any other organization in the country. I shook the boys’ left hands (the Boy Scout way) and wished them on their way.
Also at dinner was 13-year-old Chase Freeman, Troop 45’s Assistant Senior Patrol Leader. Freeman said his favorite activity is lifesaving. He adds, “It gets my adrenaline pumping thinking you might save lives one day.” Modestly, he doesn’t mention the Heroic Actions medallion hanging from his well-decorated uniform. Freeman saved his own brother’s life by effectively preforming the Heimlich maneuver. When his mother asked him how he knew what to do, his reply was “Duhh– Scouts Mom”.
Earlier in the day, I made it over to the Ecology pavilion and met up with Oxford native Zach Snow, 16-year-old Assistant Senior Patrol Leader for Troop 146, which is chartered by North Oxford Baptist Church. Snow, who is on staff at Camp Yocona, is teaching a geology class for a few younger guys, something he is passionate about. Being in Scouts made him really interested in the natural sciences like nature studies, insects, geology and forestry.
Before Scouts, Snow “didn’t realize so many plants native to north Mississippi could be used for medicinal purposes.” He went on to describe the white ash tree, which he used earlier in the week to treat an itchy insect bite. Snow is currently in the ranks as a Life Scout, and has been jumbling a couple ideas for his future Eagle Scout service project.
Another Camp Yocona staff member, Robert Rayburn of Troop 146, is currently working on his Eagle Scout project. Family friend Billy Lamb came to Rayburn with the idea to help retire the 50-plus American flags around Oxford that have seen their day of use. The BSA is one of the few organizations that are actually allowed to retire U.S. flags, and properly honoring the flag is a major part of the ceremonies. Rayburn researched the many different flag retirement ceremonies and decided on a few that he liked best.
In one of the ceremonies, each stripe is stripped and individually placed into a fire, cremating the field of 50 stars lastly. Much different than “flag burning”, the ceremonies are performed with respect for the flag, and those who have lost their lives in defense of the stars and stripes.
Rayburn has retired six flags thus far, and plans to have completed his project by the end of the summer. Anyone with a worn or damaged American flag can contact Rayburn at email@example.com, and he will pick it up and give it a proper retirement. –– William Fowler, junior Integrated Marketing Communications Major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
Email William Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org
William Fowler is a junior Integrated Marketing Communications Major at the University of Mississippi. Originally from Hattiesburg, MS, William grew up in Destin, FL and has been visiting Oxford ever since he can remember. He has fourteen family members total who have attended school at Ole Miss over the years including his parents, grandparents, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He is involved in student government and Greek life on campus.