Bella Rosa may never compete in the Summer Olympics.
But on Thursday afternoon, the 11-year-old took part in a competition with all the pageantry that will be on display in Rio de Janeiro next month and a rivalry that runs even deeper. The Water Olympics at Boys’ and Girls’ Club came down to one simple question: Red team or Blue team?
“Blue is my favorite color and blue is amazing,” Rosa said. “The sky is blue and everything is blue. The whole world revolves around blue and most of the world is water and water is blue.”
Though her claims may have been factual, Rosa’s beloved Blue team would fall short on Thursday, as the Red team claimed victory in one of the most anticipated Club events of the year.
The Water Olympics were moved up in anticipation of the thunderstorms that rolled through Chautauqua over the weekend. Despite the schedule change, a large crowd of parents and competitors gathered at the Club docks on Thursday afternoon to watch children of all ages compete.
The Water Olympics include different competitions for each Club group. Younger campers took part in events such as the popular Tug-a-Melon, and the older competitors played water polo and swam the 50-yard freestyle.
Boys’ and Girls’ Club Director Greg Prechtl said he enjoys watching all the events, though the Tug-a-Melon has always been a personal favorite.
“It’s a greased watermelon and it’s always enjoyable to see which kids rally,” he said. “I have a granddaughter that’s on the Red team and a grandson that’s on the Blue team. I really have to split my loyalties.”
For the first time in Club history, the Water Olympics began with a special event called “So You Think You’re Louder Than an Opera Singer.” Campers tried to sing louder than members of the Chautauqua Opera Company and collected valuable points for their respective teams.
“That tied right in with our regular competition for Water Olympics. It was actually good that this morning, while [Chautauqua Opera Company Artistic and General Director] Steve Osgood had all the Boys’ and Girls’ Club kids up there, the waterfront staff was out here setting up and getting everything ready,” Prechtl said.
After lunch, the campers took to Chautauqua Lake, where the more traditional contests got underway.
Robin Hokenmaier paddled the anchor leg of the Kayak Relay for the Red team. Pulling away from the other competitors as he neared the finish line, Hokenmaier raised one finger in the air while his teammates cheered.
“You had to make it around the white buoy and back. Then your partner would come and help you out,” Hokenmaier said. “The person that was helping the person in [the kayak] has to hop back in.”
Thursday afternoon was a frenzy of activity, with multiple events taking place at once across Club’s sprawling campus. Emotions could turn on a dime, with the Blue team claiming victory in one event, only for the Red team to rally in another competition just minutes later.
Club Assistant Director John Chubb said one of his favorites events is the water polo game reserved for older campers.
“Most of these kids, it will be their only experience getting to play in an event like that,” Chubb said. “Even though it’s not like collegiate [water polo] where you’re in over your head, just being able to run and pass incorporates some of the skills they learn on land.”
Scores were announced through the PA system, with a pause between each team’s point total to allow for cheering. A nearby tent served watermelon to hungry campers or counselors who wanted to take a break from the festivities.
Counselor-in-Training Julia Koron said Club ordered 20 watermelons for competitors to eat throughout the Water Olympics.
“They go by group, so there’s like a rotation in the water and once they’re out of the water they all come by and grab one,” Koron said.
Although the team colors may seem insignificant at first, Chubb said he still can’t help but stick with the team he played for as a camper.
“I was always Red growing up and my father was always Red,” he said. “We take pride in Red winning and I’m OK if Blue wins, but I’m always rooting for the Red team.”
(Photos by Mike Clark.)