The Centennial Camp

“We find the things the boys really like and can afford to keep doing. Over the past five or six years we’ve introduced some wonderful things that we never thought of when we were kids, like lacrosse, which is a big sport and growing bigger,” Steve says. “Lacrosse may not seem like a big expense, but when you’re talking about all the equipment, finding good people to run it, and clearing some more land it does get expensive.”

But the demand in lacrosse has more than justified the addition of this program, as has the more recent addition of a climbing wall. Steve says his camp can’t be all things to all people, but Cobbossee is willing to add programming if it offers competition and a chance to learn.

This is where the staff mix comes into play. The boys are provided with solid instruction coming from professional teachers, who also impart their wisdom on the college-age counselors.

Lloyd Johnson, the head of the tennis department, coaches the Junior Davis Cup program for Jamaica. Johnson is both a good and unusual example of what Cobbossee strives for in its staff.

A good example, because he meets the criteria of teaching excellence, a love for children, patience and a good sense of humor. Unusual, because Camp Cobbossee’s staff is mostly “middle America,” says Lembeck, who adds that international staff, particularly summer-only help is not recruited as heavily as U.S. staff.

Mike Griffin, Cobbossee’s athletic director, has been affiliated with the Rubins for more than 30 years. Lembeck says that Griffin was a basketball coach when Lembeck was a boy at Tomahawk.

“That’s true for many great camps — they keep their senior staff,” says Lembeck. “The owners treat them right and give them the authority to run the programming the way they want to run it, but it is always guided by the underlying general philosophy of the camp.”

Steve also cites a number of factors that lead to creating excellence in summer counselors and a high counselor return rate, which can be hard to come by these days.

“You’ve got to pay them and pay them fairly, but also give them responsibility, make them feel important, give them good feedback, and help them earn credits toward internships and classes for the job they’ve done during the summer,” Steve says. “And, you need to make sure you stay in touch with them all winter long. That’s the key to our camp, because the campers come back for the friends and for the staff.”

Camp Cobbossee is very thorough in its recruiting and hiring, taking as much time as possible to go out to campuses and personally find and talk to people interested in working at summer camp. They also do thorough background checks, including criminal checks through state agencies.

“Every counselor we hire is a specialist; we don’t hire general counselors who travel from activity to activity with the boys,” says Lembeck.

Cobbossee hires specialists because it is primarily an athletic camp, with equal focus on instruction and competition. Competition at Cobbossee is huge. Cobbossee competes with other camps during the course of the summer in as many different sports as possible.

Then, during the final week of the season, Color War begins, representing the highlight of the summer for most of the campers. It’s one of the things that helps ensure the camp’s 90-95 percent return rate.

“We teach skills, sportsmanship, and an approach toward athletics that is quite traditional. We try to make the boys understand that the art of competing is what’s so beautiful,” says Lembeck. “The most important thing about sport is giving your all. Everybody likes to win, but you can’t win all the time. If you do your best, you are a winner every time you come off the field. For me as a boy growing up at Tomahawk, those are the lessons that I learned, and I wasn’t a great athlete. And here I am now, part owner of an athletic camp.”

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