Life Before Marathon

Life Before Marathon

By Pati Egan

Campers since 1975 have looked forward to Fridays and Friday means Marathon. Marathon is a huge relay race that encompasses the whole Camp starting at the Archery Range and ending at the Canoeing beach. What did campers do before Marathon? Friday afternoons were dedicated to Field Day and Water Carnival.

Life Before Marathon Camp Ondessonk
Find your shoe!

Field Day had unit events and individual events. In the beginning, all events for Field Day were held in the pastures. All units assembled in this area. The above early to mid-1960s photo shows an event where boys put one of their shoes in a pile and then had to find their shoe and put it on. The unit that was the quickest won. I don’t think this had a long life as I don’t recall ever doing this or seeing this.

Life Before Marathon Camp Ondessonk   Campers saddling horses 1960s
This early to mid-1960s photo shows campers actually having to saddle and bridle their horse before starting the race.

A hugely popular event of Field Day was the “Plug Race.” Every horse-loving camper wanted to be the person who participated in this event. Unit Leaders usually narrowed it down to the two or three campers who were asked to try out for their Horsemanship Arrowhead.

Life Before Marathon Camp Ondessonk  .  Camp Ondessonk horse plug race.
These girls are encouraging their horse on as they competed in the Plug Race.

There were also events like the three-legged race and other relay races. Units could earn either first, second, or third-place points in each activity. The unit with the most cumulative points was declared the winner of Field Day and earned quite a few points towards the Golden Arrowhead. Second and third-place points were also awarded.

It is believed that this photo was actually taken at St. Philip’s Parish athletic fields. St. Philip was the parish in East St. Louis where Monsignor John Fournie was pastor for many years. It was taken to simulate the field day races at Camp Ondessonk.
These boys are demonstrating their sure handedness is the infamous egg toss. When activities moved to the beach, water balloons were used instead of eggs.

Field day evolved to include competitions in Archery, Riflery, and Fire Building. Other than the Plug Race, three-legged race, and relay races; activities moved to the beach. 

Water Carnival became the second big event of the day. It included competitions like littlest splash when diving, biggest splash, holding your breath underwater, swimming races, fancy diving off the diving platform, and “war” where one camper would get on the shoulders of another camper and try to knock their opponent into the water. Points were given in each event. At the end, the points were all tallied up, and a winner of the Water Carnival earned points toward the Golden Arrowhead. The second and third-place winners also received points. It was a cumulative reward. 

Campers race to the finish line during Water Carnival.
This is the diving platform campers used for Water Carnival. This is not a picture of the actual competition. These campers are Frontier Campers practicing jumping from a high distance in masks and flippers.

Pyramid building was a big part of the original Field Day, but moved to the beach. It was a separate activity, and points were given for that event. This event was carefully practiced on the beach before your unit was called to compete. Whatever unit could build their pyramid the fastest won the competition. This activity lived on after Marathon was started. It was stopped in the mid-1980s. 

These boys must still be building their pyramid.
Life Before Marathon Camp Ondessonk .  Paramid building
This unit of girls has it complete!

The sole survivor of Field Day and Water Carnival is Tug of War! They were tugging in the beginning and still tugging today! 

Tugging in the pasture.
Life Before Marathon Camp Ondessonk  tug-of-war
If looks could win…this group of boys have it!
Eventually, Tug of War took place on the dam between Lake Echon and Lake St. Isaac. In time, this path became the road where new Daniel is located. (This picture is pre-Lake Echon.)
Tug of War was held on this road between the lakes for many years.

Grandparents of today’s campers most likely participated as campers in Field Day and Water Carnival. One of the best things about Ondessonk is we honor traditions but are open to try something new. Dan Hechenberger saw that Field Day and Water Carnival needed to change. He worked with other staff members to create Marathon in 1975. This innovation lives on 48 years later! Change at Camp seems to always be a collaboration of minds getting together to help Camp grow. Field Day and Water Carnival are now memories for those who participated in it. Most likely, the early Marathon participants’ experience is very different than today’s campers. That is what keeps Camp evolving and growing. Kids still tug on that rope as hard as they did when Camp opened. It’s still all about working together as a team. 

Click here to learn more about Camp Ondessonk’s history.


Translate »