The brave travelers – some 100 strong – journeyed on toward the dawn as swiftly as their steel chariot could carry them, braving too little sleep, a fierce need for caffeine and, in some cases, not-quite-mandatory bus-wide singing. Onward to the rolling green landscape at the Center of Prothro on fair Lake Texoma they traveled – site of the Leading the Pride Leadership Camp.

Leading the Pride Flip the Island

Campers play “Flip The Island,” trying to turn a canvas tarp over without stepping off. (At top) Campers compete in “boats” of their own design, racing in teams dragging one rider around an obstacle course of people spraying them with water guns.

There the travelers would make camp and study the all-too-often-overlooked science of leadership under the guidance of the Center for Civic and Scholarly Engagement director, college staff, student leaders and professors working with the Leadership Development Institute (LDI) and student leaders from the Leadership Empowerment And Development (LEAD) programs. This year’s camp theme was “Giants, Wizards and Dwarves: The Power of Heroes,” built on the characters and literary landscape of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The students, staff and faculty took an hour-long bus ride from Central Park Campus for the Leading the Pride Leadership camp, an annual event designed to instill leadership values and problem-solving skills through team-building activities. The day included team challenges, inspirational speeches and general merriment, all with a purpose.

“Whether you are coming in just to learn more about leadership or you feel like you are an established leader, today is going to be a great day where you become who you are as a leader,” Coordinator of Programs for New Students Stephen Rogers said in helping introduce the camp schedule.

The camp’s “Giants, Wizards and Dwarves” theme was inspired in part by a game of the same name played at the camp the previous year.

The game is a cross between the schoolyard games “tag” and “paper, rock, scissors,” where a team converses for a few seconds to choose which character type they will be – a giant, a wizard or a dwarf – and then throw up hand signals to let the opposing players know. Giants beat wizards. Wizards beat dwarves. Dwarves scare giants. The losing side has to run for safety without being tagged by their opponents. If they are tagged, they have to join the opposing side.

Besides being great exercise for the players, the game reinforces cooperation and quick decision-making by the players. Sides were changed often, which illustrated the need to evolve with a changing landscape and sometimes adjust plans. It also showed the players that there can be advantages to being smaller in size, as they were more agile when it came to tagging their opponents.

All of the games had lessons worked into them, whether it was about coordinating with others in “Flip The Island,” problem solving in “The Human Knot” or listening to and trusting your peers in “Minefields of Mordor.”

“Minefields of Mordor” was designed so that a blindfolded participant was directed by voice only through a grid of squares taped on the ground. If the person stepped on the wrong square, he or she was “blown up” and lost. That game was run by Advising/Testing Director Torrey West and Political Science Professor Michael McConachie.

“We just laid out the game rules,” West said. “They came up with their own strategies. They got better at it as they watched others competing. That’s what you want to see. It’s a learning opportunity for them.”

As the day drew on, the student participants worked together to build “boats” out of a variety of lighter-than-water objects, then raced them in the pool, which was a highlight for some of the campers.

“The Boat Race was my absolute favorite part of the day,” Mellaney Sedar said in a survey taken after the camp. “My team was full of very intelligent people, but throughout the day we kept over-thinking our strategies for each event. It caused our team to fall behind the other teams on all the other activities. The Boat Race was the moment when our abilities all came together in one successful triumph.”

Leading the Pride Helms Deep

The Helms Deep Scavenger Hunt was the last major contest of the evening, with campers working together to figure out clues and find Lord of the Rings characters, all by flashlight.

The camp wrapped up with a scavenger hunt and bonfire in the evening. Teams had to locate characters from The Lord of the Rings trilogy stationed around the camp. Campers searched the camp by flashlight, reading clues to decipher each character’s location, where the character would read a profile he or she wrote, talking about the lessons people could take away from the character.

Waiting in a stand of trees for the campers to find her, Mara Pitcher, one of the day’s student leaders, reflected back on the day.

“The LEAD Program talked about different leadership styles and I got to practice a different leadership style than I was used to today,” she said. “I took the back seat. I let my team run the show and tell me what to do. I just went with the flow, and it was great.”

Dr. Terry Hockenbrough, director of the Center for Scholarly and Civic Engagement, said she thought the camp went great as well.

“This was our fourth year of going to camp. This year was the best camp ever,” she said, giving all the credit to the student leaders led by student Jacob Schorr, and faculty and staff who helped plan and execute the camp. “On a scale of 1-10, I think it was a 9.5. We want to leave a little room for improvement.”

Next year’s camp is already in the works.

Learn more about the CSCE, LEAD and LDI programs, and how to become involved at .