Last year’s Saturday night Capture the Flag contest on Managaha was an exercise in character-building and growth. I learned a lot about humility and grace.
That’s another way of saying it wasn’t very much fun. Some good things came from that night—I detailed them in my blog last year—but it really wasn’t what the game was supposed to be about. Games are supposed to be fun. They can be fun for lots of reasons from the thrill of trying to reach a simple goal—put a ball through a hoop or over net, snag a flag and bring it back—to just the basic joy of running after and from your friends. Some people, like me get a kick out of strategizing, while others love the adrenaline rush of creeping over in to enemy territory. Some folks, like my friend Riki even seem to enjoy the waiting game—remaining, silent and hidden for hours until the moment of action arrives.
I’ve learned that a good game of Capture the Flag has something fun for everyone. This year, thanks to a few critical rule changes, was such a good game. If last year, I was captured by grace, this year I was captured by joy.
This year's team captains: Me and Pastor Glenn. Glenn played hard, he played fair, but he played with joy--the zestful, good-natured enthusiasm that were the hallmarks of this year's Capture the Flag contest. Glenn, thanks for some tough competition and a truly fun game!
This time around we employed a key change to the rules that one of our former teachers, Grant Graves suggested after last year’s somewhat contentious game. In the past, team members who were tagged by their opponents had to go “prison” where they would remain until the game ended or they were rescued. This could often mean literal hours of boredom in prison for unlucky captives. And it was usually the impatient players who were eager to dash across the line in a hurry who were also least equipped for a lengthy stay in the slammer. Grant suggested that we set a limit on prison time. After the set time had passed, we’d conduct a prisoner exchange and all the prisoners would be back in the action. We made a few other adjustments to facilitate this rule change—moved the prisons closer to the boundary line to make prisoner exchanges easy and added a little timer that could be set to ring every 20 minutes from the time the first player on either team was captured. At the end of those 20 minutes the prisoners would be free.
The result of this change was that everyone had more fun. There was a lot less lounging on the line and a lot more action—after all the players had a lot less to lose darting across the line—they knew if they were caught that their time out of the game would be short and soon they’d be back in the game again. Throughout the game there were constant shrieks of excitement along the border as the kids—generally the younger ones—chased each other back and forth across the line. And for the rest of us, there were other kinds of fun. The fantasy soldiers were still able to creep across enemy lines shrouded in darkness and hidden among the jungle foliage. The defensive players were still able to find shadows to melt into while awaiting their prey. And military-style strategists like me had new tactics to employ. Now we were running against the clock, and I quickly made a point of timing our runs at the opposing team’s flag according to the “prison clock.” I’d send my troops across the line at the 15 minute mark, ensuring that even if they were caught, it would only be a short wait before I’d have them back and we could try it again.
Another change in strategy is that I found I didn’t worry too much about capturing the other team’s players or even guarding the prisoners carefully. My old strategy of filling up the prison and thinning the ranks of the opposing team before going for the flag was no longer useful. Prison was good for halting an advance on our flag and keeping our line loungers busy, but beyond that I didn’t worry too much if I lost a prisoner here and there.
Amy Foote, our preschool director, was a key player on Glenn's team. She kept an eye on the prison clock and had lots of great suggestions for tweaking the game as we went along. She says that in year's past she's always focused on freeing prisoners, but found it less rewarding this time, since they'd go free on their own so soon. Amy is a true student of the game and I think she'd make an excellent captain next year.
These three fifth and sixth grade students were my key line soldiers and prison guards. They spent much of the evening chasing down and tagging members of Glenn's team who dared to cross the line.
I had two simple goals. Keep our flag safe and, of course, capture the other team’s flag. I failed at both in the first game—as in the first two years, the game was over almost as soon as it started. There was a fatal flaw in our defense; I knew it, but our flag was stripped away before I had a chance to fix it. Our territory in the first game was hard to manage—much of it was in dark jungle and with only a sliver of moon, it was pitch black—darker than I can ever remember it being in a game of CTF. It was so dark, that much of the time my key defensive players, Mai and Riki, hiding the requisite 20 paces from the flag couldn’t even see the it. For me, using a flashlight back in those woods was no longer a luxury but a necessity. Mai and Riki made two corners of a triangle with the flag between them. The third corner of the triangle was unguarded and that proved our undoing. One of my former students EJ Bautista, now a high school junior, who joined us for the weekend, boldly used his flashlight to snatch the flag. In seconds he was past my guards and from there he was able to run unchallenged all the way to the boundary line. We gave chase, but we didn’t have a chance against his long legs and the thick darkness. The game was over.
And you know what? I felt good. I really felt fine. I’d lost fair and square. I didn’t feel cheated, I didn’t feel humiliated. I knew the gap was there—I just didn’t fill it in time. Losing that way hardly hurt at all. In fact, I couldn’t wait to try it again.
So a second game began. We switched sides and this time I made sure all of my exits were covered—Riki on the beach, Mai on the back path (the same one EJ had used earlier to win the game for his team), and Jessica hidden the trees off the main path. The triangle was sealed this time.
I've always said women are the better players in CTF. From left to right, Riki, Mai, and Jessica were my key defensive players (except of course when Mai switched to offense and won the game). With these three women anchoring our team, I never worried much about our flag in the second game. I remember one of the students telling me, after we'd captured him that we really needed to watch our beach. "There's no one down there," he told me. "I'm not worried," I said. "No really," he inisted. "I didn't see anyone. I was able to go all the way down the beach and no one tagged me." "I'm not worried," I repeated. And I wasn't. I knew Riki was there watching coolly from the shadows. And she was. She later told me she'd seen the student but figured she'd go after him once he was past her, if she needed to. "We're more than willing to let you come into our territory," I told the student. "We just don't plan to let you back out."
This game was much longer—several times they came within a few yards of our flag, but our defense was strong, and our flag stayed put. Meanwhile, I was probing Glenn’s forces in time to the prison clock—looking for a way in. Eventually we hit upon a plan to send in three players—two of my stalwart offensive players and Mai. Mai would be the decoy—we expected she would be captured while the one of the other two nipped the flag in the confusion. After plotting out our strategy in the starlit sand, the three disappeared into the night. And we waited. It wasn’t long before word came across the line that both students had been caught. But Mai was still out there. It was up to her now. Some minutes later I heard urgent shouts in the jungle, and a high yell that sounded for sure like Amy. I knew either they had Mai or Mai had their flag. It turned out it was the latter. Mai came racing up the path, jubilant and clutching the other team’s flag. She’d won us the game! (You can read Mai’s exciting account of her foray for the flag in her blog. Just click on her link.) Did I mention its fun to win too?
Hardcore offense. These two were vital offensive players for my team. They worked with Mai to bring back the flag in the second game. The boy on the left is a sixth grader, a member of our church and a former student at our school. He and his family joined us for the weekend even though he is no longer enrolled at SDA, and we were glad to have him. Hey, once a part of the SDA School family always a part of the SDA family. The boy on the right is "M", one of our 8th grade students. In about a month I'll be taking him and his classmates on an adventure of a lifetime in Australia!
These two stalwarts were also on my team. "T" on the left, disappeared into Glenn's jungle for what seemed like hours before he reappeared--in their prison! The guy on the left, who I'll call "Center" (the position he plays on our basketball team) relieved Mai on defense so that she could run for the flag. Without him, it might have been our flag instead of theirs.
It was just after 1 A.M. and the kids were eager for a tie-breaker, but we decided one win each was a nice way to end the evening and we returned to the camp where we all sat around in the pavilion reliving the exciting plays and thrilling moments of another great night of Capture the Flag. No one seemed to mind losing, and the winners didn’t seem to be obsessed with the victory. It was the moments of excitement and fun during the game that we told and retold to each other—not the wins and losses.
And this is what games are supposed to be. Sure they can build character, sure they can grow you and teach you about life and about grace, but they’re best when they are simply joyful fun.
Glenn poses with his lieutenants, Judith--keepin' it gangsta--Amy, and Vero.