Mar 7, 2009

Anticlimax: On Winning and Losing "Capture the Flag"

Ames n' Me: Co-Captains of our ill-fated team.

Co-Captains of the Rival Team, Nicole French and Angie Perez.

Every year, the highlight of the Managaha camping trip is the Saturday night “Capture the Flag” game. This year’s games promised to be a clash of epic proportions, with the course carefully planned out and not one but two captains for each team. In the end, though, you never really know what kind of game you’re going to get until it plays out. This year Game 1 was a quick and frustrating (but fairly played) loss for us, and Game 2 was a rather hollow victory, where there was more fun in losing than in the victory we were finally given. Expectations were at fever pitch, but the game itself was a little. . .anticlimactic.

Amy and I co-lead one team, and Nicole and Angie led the other. We gave up our “siesta time” Sabbath afternoon to hash out the rules and course boundaries (though some of us weren’t totally pleased with negotiation results. Amy never liked the positioning of the flags vertically parallel to the prisons—it made it too easy to defend both, she felt. It would remain a sore point for her.) We came up with a plan for play that promised an action-packed, fun-filled game for both teams.

And indeed there was action and lots of fun; just not in the ways and at the times I expected.

The first game ended quickly. One of their players had been tagged earlier but rather than submitting to imprisonment they’d melted into the jungle to keep playing illegally. Eventually he was caught a second time and sent packing off to prison, but the issue was in the air and when there were shouts of “I got another one” over another of their players, we all clustered over to the prison trying to figure out if this player had also been captured but refused to stop playing (it turned out he had not been tagged). While we were distracted, “Ko” sauntered down the
path, correctly guessing that a walking rather than running player wouldn’t be immediately suspect. When he was only a few feet from the flag, Jaimie, one my key defensive players realized what was up, lit him up with her flashlight and sounded the alarm. But it was too late. By the time I saw “Ko's” fleet form flashing by me on the way to the boundary line, he was home free. We’d lost the game—and I’d later find out, that we lost only moments away from a possible victory ourselves. Six of my players were even then converging on French-Perez’s flag when “Ko” ended the game.

We began the second game determined to learn from our mistakes. However, it was quickly becoming apparent that we were simply overmatched. What my team had in overall enthusiasm and excitement simply couldn’t compete with their superior skill. Some of our older, quicker players quit after the first game drawn to the equally compelling social back-and-forth going on back at the pavilion. Many of my younger players, though, stayed on and as hard as they tried, they were never able to get much beyond the center line without getting tagged, and they weren’t quite ready for the spooky,--and even worse, boring--job of playing defense deep in the dark corners of our own territory.

I was left with my two Dentists in Deep, Dr. Rankin and Dr. Pierson, who disappeared far behind enemy lines waiting for an opportunity to nab the flag that never came. “M” and Girlie made various forays across the line but they needed more help too, and we simply had no help to give. Rhonda, Jaimie, “J”, “Bella”, and I ended up being forced to play a very defensive game, a game that was actually quite fun in it’s own doomed kind of way. Near the end of the game when more of both teams had quit and even my co-captain, Amy, called it a night after injuring her foot, it felt like it was just a handful of us fending off hordes of French’s forces. “Ko” and other fleet-footed comrades of his rushed our flag time after time, not even bothering to return to their side of the line after abortive attempts. They’d simply move back into the trees on our side of the line, knowing that with our dwindling numbers no one would sneak up on them from behind. They'd rest, plot another angle, and then fly at us again.

My solid defensive team: James, Rhonda, and "J". Without them, our flag would have been stolen much more quickly. I always try to pick people I think will not only be willing, but will even enjoy the thankless defensive work of guarding the approaches to our flag. I lucked out with these three.

"J" actually did double duty, doing some valuable offensive work with "M", especially during the first game.

These two boys, "Ko" and a new student I call "King" plus another one from our church kept us on our toes during the final segment of the second game. A little longer and they would have taken the flag for sure.

Antonee! A former teacher at our school, now working for the clinic and on Managaha to help with church pathfinder team, Antonee was a force to be reckoned with. He plays CTF like he plays "Mafia." Silent, deadly, totally unpredictable. I was never comfortable unless he was in jail and a constant refrain in our camp was "Antonee is out there, somewhere. Sooner or later he's going make a move." Thankfully, Rhonda, who heard him approaching through the jungle more than once and was able to nab him in time, stopped him from being even more of a threat.

Girlie, left, our 5/6 teacher was one of our most reliable offensive players. She took one of her students, "Bella" with her on a few raids, but they simply needed more help.

Dr. Ricardo Rankin, one of our two Dentists in the Deep (Dr. Ken Pierson is not pictured--he went back on a different boat so I didn't get a chance to take his picture). He and Ken spent hours creeping through the jungle to get a good vantage point for snagging the flag. All they needed was sufficient distraction to make a dash for our opponents flag. Unfortunately, we were too busy playing defense to be of any help. Ricardo is a long-time CTF veteran. Every year he says he thinks he'll skip the came, but he always comes around. And thank goodness, he's one of our hardest of hard-core players. Ricardo and his family have been a key feature of our annual Managaha campouts and we were so glad they could join us again this year.

It was crazy and exhilarating fighting them off. I knew we couldn’t hold them off forever, that eventually we’d lose, but it was fun while it lasted. We’d go out fighting, in blaze of glory, die all, die merrily.

And then, just like that, the game was over. Nicole and Angie decided to forfeit. It was after two in the morning—their team members were dropping out of the game like flies (as were our own) and they were ready to go to bed. We accepted their “surrender” of sorts and called it a night. I think if they had known how close they were to winning outright they might have stuck it out and won the game. But in fairness, they had given themselves the hard work of defense and it wasn’t their preferred style of play. Especially since we were in no shape to do very much attacking, it was pretty dull work for them.

So we “won” the second game—a war of attrition. But the victory was a bit of letdown—it felt more like what it perhaps truly was—a loss.

Still over all, it was lots of fun, as evidenced by the fact that as always we were still talking about thrilling moments from the game the next day. In Capture the Flag as in life, things don’t always turn out the way you expect—that which you anticipate most eagerly can turn out to be anticlimactic in the end. And by the same token, you take joy where you find it, often in the most unexpected places, and you can have a lot of fun even when you’re losing a battle.

I’m not sure that I’ll play Capture the Flag next year at Managaha—for a number of reasons, so this may have been my last game. I’m at peace with how it all turned out—because I played with my dear colleagues, precious students, and good friends who I love, respect, and care for. How this or that game turned out will soon be forgotten but those who played with me will be in my heart always. For me, the players are more important than the game.


Jai said...

That was a fun game, but pretty frustrating. Ko definitely kept me on my toes, and Antonee was making me angry the whole time, but I made some awesome memories and I had a blast. I really hope we can play against some other private school teachers!!!!
Thanks for the awesome team Sean!

Anonymous said...

I loved reading about this game. And the end was very moving. Great read Sean :)