MANATEE -- A total of 234 Cub Scouts from all over Manatee County arrived Monday at Camp Flying Eagle on Upper Manatee River Road for the start of the largest Cub Scout Day Camp in the Southwest Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
For some, such as Calvin Otz, 8, who joined Bradenton Pack 46 last August, it was his first camp experience. Even though camp runs 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, the potential for life-lasting memories are still there, said Stephen Palmieri, the camp director known as Capt. Steve.
"What makes Cub Scout Day Camp different from other camps is that it's not just swimming and playing games," said Palmieri, who said the number of campers has dropped from a high of 270 a few years ago. "We teach them about nature and science. They learn skills like knot-tying and woodwork. They learn citizenship, to respect others and team-building. We teach them how to raise and lower the American flag and what it means to have pride in America. They are getting all this stuff as they are having fun."
For Calvin, the memories began the first time he heard team leader, Cliff Manrodt begin to chant as they walked through the woods.
Manrodt, one of the adult vol
unteers who make camp possible, spent 25 years as a Publix Supermarket truck driver and dispatcher and takes vacation for this camp. His son, Conner, 8, is on his camp team this year. His older son, Colby, 11, is a Boy Scout who is his assistant at camp.
"The Ballistic Blastoff Bears is who we are," belted Manrodt. "They'll hear us coming from afar. We are loud, this is true. We do our best at everything we do. We do it all, put us to the test. Camp Flying Eagle is the best."
"My husband is a big kid," said Manrodt's wife, Tiffani, when asked how her husband can so easily make camp fun for boys.
The smiling Calvin said he was not expecting to learn team chants and songs nor to learn how to tie a figure-eight knot in skills class, make a wooden bird-house in crafts, perform in a skit, play Ultimate Frisbee and throw Nerf rockets through a plastic net in Asteroid Challenge.
"I had heard that camp was archery and BB guns," said Calvin, who also went swimming.
Calvin and his 10 mates are Bears, a Cub Scout designation for third-graders and a level above Tigers and Wolves but just below Webelos. Several Bear groups are at camp this year so Calvin's unit took the name, "Ballastic Blastoff Bears," and Manrodt made up the team chant.
Calvin also learned a classic camp song from Manrodt called "Tarzan," in which Tarzan was swinging on a rubber band, got hit by a frying pan and now has a tan.
Deep into the woods the Ballistic Blastoff Bears walked where they met "The Man as Old as Dirt."
That's what Red Dog Maynard tells Cub Scouts when they ask him how old he is. He is 82 and has taught generations of Cub Scouts how to safely use a firearm, in this case a BB rifle.
"For about seven minutes they have fun, then they get tired pumping the rifle," Maynard said. "That's why we give them seven minutes to shoot. We want them to want to come back and shoot the next day."
"There are 1 million, 800 thousand BBs that have been fired down range," Maynard and his helper, Jim Lyons, told Calvin and the other boys, inspiring their imaginations at how long it would take them to pick up those BBs.
The Cub Scout Day Camp theme this year is "Shoot for the Stars." It is centered on flight, including everything from birds to rockets.
Calvin will blast off a water rocket later in the week, after he learns some aerodynamics and principals of flight lessons, Palmieri said.
"My mom came up with the idea of me joining Cub Scouts," Calvin said, speaking of his mother, Jess, and now he's glad she did. "This is fun."
The Ballistic Blastoff Bears include Calvin, Nathan Barr, Justin Godek, Matthew DeFee, Jonathan Van Beuren, Michal Garrett, Ethan Hylwa, Conner Manrodt, David Martin, Jackson Wilson and Stephen Nafera. Stephen is from Pack No. 42 and Matthew and Johathan are from Pack No. 41 but all the rest, including Calvin, are from Pack No. 46, which meets at Kinnan Elementary School and is chartered out of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.