The Cassidy Games

By Chris Aderhold

Way back, in the 11th year of the third millennium, a new competition was created at Camp Gray in Reedsburg, Wis. For those scoring at home, the year was … 2011. How to create intrigue, mystique, and a sense of tradition for an event that isn’t even 5 years old? We’re camp people—we just introduce it creatively.

As plans were being made for summer camp 2011, discussions centered on ways to improve evening programs. If the staff could somehow create an event that everyone could rally around, perhaps it could even transcend the one week kids spend at camp.

A Game With A Grand Finale
To ensure buy-in from staff members, an idea was brought to the administration team. In an effort to honor ties to the camp’s past, the decision was made to name the event after Kevin Cassidy—one of the camp’s early directors who was fond of competition. And so The Cassidy Games were born.

The details are fairly simple: 

  • All campers and staff members are divided into two teams—the red vs. the blue.
  • One staff member per team is chosen to be chief to lead the team and to be an exemplary specimen of sportsmanship.
  • Points are tallied throughout the week; it helped that mini competitions were already in place at the camp. These activities now serve as opportunities to earn points. For example, for as long as anyone can remember, the cabin group that cleans its cabin the best during “morning cleaning” is awarded the coveted Golden Dustpan. These days, the cleanest cabin is still awarded the Golden Dustpan, and whichever team the campers are on receives 5 points.
  • On the final night of each session, the competition culminates with a showdown—a relay race around camp’s Lake Jake. The points tallied throughout the week determine how many seconds the leading team gets as a head start on the relay. The final part of the event is a solo paddle by the chief across the lake. Each chief carries his or her own flag, and on the dock are two flagpoles; whoever raises the flag first wins for the team.

Since it can be difficult to create a new event or program, ideas for the Cassidy Games were shared with the 50 staff members during the latter part of staff training that summer. The crew was immediately divided into two teams, and given the opportunity to compete in the inaugural event.

The competition was fierce and sportsmanship was first-class. As the winning chief raised her team’s flag first, shouts of excitement and joy rang out from the Lake Jake valley. It was apparent that we had something great. Loads of suggestions came forth from staff members following the event on how to improve it.

Competing With Confidence
While some camps have scratched competition completely, our camp has gone the other way. In this world of participation trophies and certificates of achievement, there’s no better place to teach kids how to lose than at camp. Just as importantly, there’s no better place to teach kids how to win. Someday very soon, kids who were once campers will be applying for college and then jobs. With competition everywhere, the hope is to instill an attitude of winning with grace and losing with dignity. Campers experience teamwork, rally around a cause, and leave with slightly more grit than when they arrived. Young people can learn much from competition—most especially if they’re competing at a safe place like camp.

And although staff members are enormously competitive, they’re also enormously passionate about ensuring that campers have a phenomenal experience at camp. The chiefs each week want to lead their team to a win—they want to be the one who raises the flag first. They take seriously their role as team chief, and they take seriously their role in providing the proper perspective of competition. They don goofy outfits, they paint their faces, and they lead their team in wacky cheers. Win or lose, campers (and staffers) have a grand time.

There’s teamwork on a grander scale, too. It takes teamwork among staff members to pull off such a huge event. It takes teamwork to share ideas, and perhaps more important, it takes teamwork to listen to ideas! It takes teamwork to create competitions, and then to set them up each week. It’s 50 staffers, each summer, supporting the benefits and power of this event.   

Bring It All Together
Since the launch of The Cassidy Games back in the 11th year of the third millennium, we’ve had 45 episodes of the games—each full of pageantry, excitement, teamwork, hoopla, laughter, and good sportsmanship.

The 45th running was certainly better than the first because ideas continue to be shared. Between now and the 46th running, I look forward to hearing bad ideas that lead to good ideas, good ideas that lead to great ideas, and great ideas that create great programs. After all, great programs change lives.

Chris “Topher” Aderhold is the assistant director at Camp Gray. Reach him at To learn more about the Cassidy Games, visit