January - February 2003
By Deborah Geigis Berry
For more than 20 years, Cub Scouts and families in western New York State have gat hered in a frosty winter wonderland for a day of competition, fellowship, and fun.
It's January 26thtwo weeks before top athletes will go for the gold at the XIX Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. More than 1,700 miles to the east, however, nearly a thousand Cub Scouts are arriving for their own annual tribute to snowy sports, Cub Scout Winter Fun Day.
Held at Letchworth State Park, a 14,350-acre natural wonderland 35 miles south of Rochester, N.Y., the event is co-hosted by the Letchworth and Genishaua districts of the Lockport, N.Y.-based Iroquois Trail Council.
Started more than 20 years ago as a winter outing for 60 or so Cub Scouts, the day has snowballed into a celebration of Olympic-style proportions, drawing about 1,000 Scouting families and friends for competition, fellowship, and fun in a frosty wonderland.
A day for Cub Scouts
At dawn, the site was the picture of midwinter solitude, quiet save for birdcalls and the soft crunch of deer footsteps. By 9 a.m., the tranquil landscape has morphed into a hot chocolate-scented city of portable windbreaks the size of one-car garages, bearing colorful flags.
On this 33-degree day (warm by local standards), red-cheeked babies gurgle in buntings, dads push their daughters on swings, leaders catch up over coffee, moms keep the hot chocolate brewing, and Scouts toss snowballs between events. Letchworth becomes its own Olympic-style village, where Fun Day veterans connect with old friends and first-timers can make new ones.
"I can remember coming to the event as a boy," says Shawn Tiede, senior district executive for the Genishaua District. "It's a day for Cub Scouts to enjoy winter activities outside, because so many other events this time of year are indoors.
"What's changed is the scope: Participants originally were from one district, but now it's two districts and three counties. It's huge."
The day begins with the pledge to Old Glorywhich a dozen Cub Scouts proudly unfurl atop a sledding hill. After leading everyone in "America the Beautiful," event chairman Bob Ciecierega raises his bullhorn and shouts the words the Cub Scouts have been waiting to hear: "Let the games begin!"
Tiger Cubs, Wolf and Bear Cub Scouts, and Webelos Scouts from 24 packs charge across the wooded landscape, ready to begin five patriotic-themed events. For the next four to five hours, dens will compete in four age classifications, followed by an awards presentation.
Pulling and tugging
"Go! Go! Go!" yell the partisan crowd members lining the course for the "America the Beautiful" Toboggan Race.
Inspired by the heroic team of Alaskan sled dogs that transported a lifesaving serum from Nenana to Nome in 1925 to prevent a diphtheria epidemic, the event challenges five Cub Scouts (four "dogs" and a musher) to race against the clock. The teams deliver "medicine" (two 25-pound blue weights) to "Nome" (a pallet at the opposite end of the course) and bring back "provisions" (two red 25-pound weights) to the finish line.
Five Cub Scouts from Pack 29 in Lima are off and runninguntil they hit a patch where dirt pokes through the snow. "Go around it!" a spectator urges. "Pull harder!" another pleads.
At the pallet, the Cub Scouts speedily swap the blue and red weights, then rush their toboggan back to the finish.
Temporarily in first place, the den collectively gets a hero's welcome. "Those bags felt like bricks," admits Cub Scout Austin Rivard as he collapses in the snow. "But the running was a cinch."
Next, a den from Pack 77 in Nunda gets off to a faster start and takes over first place. "Once we got around the dirt, we knew we'd win," explains Eric Page. "You need a lot of muscle, and you have to get mad to pull hard. And you need to work together as a team."
"I just dug my feet in and yanked really hard," adds Eric's teammate, Thomas Coates.
As the Cub Scouts pull the wooden sled up and down the course, event coordinator Steve Stoddard, a leader of Pack 44 in Perry, is reliving the winter magic of his boyhood.
"I built that toboggan out of oak when I was a Scout back in 1972," he explains. "I think the plans were in Boys' Life."
The Great American Eagle Tug-of-War is a test of strength.
"Whoever's heavier, stay in back and dig in," says Steven Beaudet of Pack 72 in Geneseo, as his den prepares to compete.
The boys arrange themselves along the rope and brace for a mighty struggle.
"Pull! Lean!...Nice work!" shouts Pack 77 den leader Jennifer Bloomer as the team grunts and groans its way to victory. "My hands are so red," Cooper Creagan observes afterward. "It was icy and I kept slippingtwo or three times the rope slid right through my hands!"
Here comes the sun
Even though icy patches are still visible, this is one of the warmest Fun Days in memory. "We Want Snow!" reads a sign erected by Pack 60 of Attica. In fact, with the sun beaming, hot dogs cooking, children frolicking at the playground, and folks sunning themselves on inner tubes, it feels like spring break.
"Anybody want a hot dog?" asks Wes Marean, a parent of two Cub Scouts in Avon's Pack 26, and comfortable in short pants as he grills frankfurters.
Unfortunately, the lack of snow caused by the warmer temperatures forces the cancellation of the U.S. Freedom Tube Race. Although a shortage of the white stuff is unusual in this traditionally snowy region, organizers always have a backup event: the Tube Roll, challenging Cub Scouts to rapidly roll an inner tube down a zigzag course.
"To do it well, you have to figure out a plan," explains event coordinator Jim Hayton, Cubmaster of Pack 29 in Lima. "Some kids get together to roll the tube while others relay it from one kid to the next. Then the course gets more slippery later in the day, making it that much harder."
"This is tougher than the tug-of-war," says Ethan Trim of Pack 77 in Nunda, after completing the course. "You have to look at the line and keep the tube on the line. It's hard."
"It takes teamwork," says Ethan's teammate, Tyler Westcott. "The tubes are really slippery, so you have to be good with your hands."
When competitors need to refuel, there's plenty of food available.
The catering grill, set up at the encampment by Pack 77 in Nunda, comes courtesy of John Schmitter, a restaurateur whose son Albert is a Cub Scout.
"We've fed our pack, plus most of the people on staff," says Cubmaster Kevin Trim, as he stirs up a big pot of chili. "We've got hamburgers, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and chicken noodle soup, too. Take your pick."
Months before baseball season, competitors at the Great American Snowball (Softball) Throw are warming up their pitching arms.
"I like this event the most," says Nate Webster-Curley of Pack 44 in Perry, who threw the ball 65 feet. All Cub Scouts get one throw for distance. "Earlier, we had a snowball fight, so my arm felt really warmed up."
Across the field at the All-New Century Nugget Run, each team completes an obstacle course through the woods to get a pile of nuggets (wood blocks), then sprints to the finish line. The challenges include jumping a hurdle, walking across a log, and sledding down a snowy strip.
"This is my favorite event because I like searching for stuff," says Chad Rivard, of Pack 29 in Lima. "This is my fifth Winter Fun Day," adds Sean Murray. "I started when I was a Tiger Cub, and it's more fun now because I understand more."
After each pack has completed the five events, the winners are determined and prize ribbons presented as the afternoon shadows begin to lengthen.
"It's a great event because the whole family comes out," sums up Jim Yencer, assistant Cubmaster of Avon's Pack 26. "Two years ago, it was 10 degrees, and people still came. And those who first came here as kids get to relive the whole experience as adults. That's why you see so many parents here, yelling: 'Pull! Pull! Pull!'"
Freelance writer Deborah Geigis Berry wrote November-December's cover story on the BSA Fitness Award. She lives in Windsor, Conn.
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