First Last Words (And A Postmortem on Senior Picks)

I’ve been thinking about my first General speech for as long as I can remember. I always looked ahead to it: a fictional team, a fictional opponent, a fictional staff, fictional head judges, and a fictional Rec Hall stage. In my mind, the speeches were always perfect — the right mix of wisdom and intensity and inspiration. I would use forceful hand gestures, methodically pace back and forth like Patton, and raise my voice at just the right time.

(Quick sidebar: My favorite hand gesture to use during a speech is smacking the back of your right hand against the palm of your left. Go ahead. Try it. My favorite in-game hand gesture? The Michael Jordan fist pump. End of sidebar.)

But as most bonfire speakers can attest, the speech that comes out is hardly ever like the one you draw up in your mind. But no one was going to tell me that as I strolled into the Rec Hall, ready to deliver my first words to the White Legends.

One of the only things I didn’t obsess over during my preparation for Color War was what I was going to say in the Rec Hall, on the path, or on the field before big events. I’d been playing out those speeches in my head for years. I’d fallen in and out of love with so many ideas that I lost track. So I told myself that I’d just let the moment guide me.

Then a helicopter landed on the Athletic Field and two captains came running out of it. I knew what to say.

As I sat on the Rec Hall stage, listening to my staff give their opening speeches, all the memories from the past 17 summers came rushing back to me…in strangely precise chronological order. When it reached the summer of 2011, I saw a bunch of similarities to another summer that I hold close to my heart — 2001. I saw myself, of course, albeit in a different spot on the Avoda hierarchy. Back then I was in 14, trying desperately to prove myself to the men I grew up idolizing: Spencer, Levy, Lazzy, Moose, Bubba, E.J. I was so focused on being the best that I paid little attention to the fact that I was kind of a dick. But despite that, I still somehow managed to become a Color War captain in a stacked 14 (probably the G.O.A.T., but that’s for another day.)

And here I am now, a General. Wait, a GENERAL!?!?

Need a real quick sidebar. Color War Generals typically fall into one of two categories: magnetic, charismatic, unquestionable staff juggernauts (like pretty much every General I ever played for) or opportunistic reapers of circumstance (like me). Though I always pictured myself as the former, I’ve made peace with the fact that I ended up as the latter. I lucked out during a transition summer.

So again, I’m a General. A FUCKING GENERAL!?!?!?!?!

Sorry, one more sidebar. My first four Generals: Jeremy Agulnek (’96 Blue Grizzlies, three-time winning General), Jeff Vetstein (’97 Blue Justice, two-time winner), Spencer Kimball (’98 White Vipers, two-time winner), Eric Levy (’99 White Force, one-time winner). To be fair to Levy, I tend to bunch the Force and the Blue Dynasty into one extended two-year mission by him and Shimmy, so unofficially I consider Levy a 2-time winner — ignoring the fact that the Dynasty were thugs and bullies and probably cheaters. I’m not bitter. To sum up, the bar was set for me before I even reached Bunk 14, and it was pretty damn high. End of sidebar.

And next to me is my Captain, Jake Alexander. I like to say that Jake reminds me of myself at his age, but it’s not really all that true. In reality, 15-year old Josh and Jake couldn’t be more different. He’s confident, he’s positive, he’s well-liked, he’s a good teammate and a great leader, and as the saying goes, he “gets it.” I was none of those things — minus the confidence; I was probably too confident. But he doesn’t hold it against me. (In fact, the other team’s comedy song even called him my protégé. I had never been more touched by a comedy song lyric, especially one that was calling me a piece of shit ten seconds earlier.)

So really, Jake is a much better kid than I was. What I saw in him (and what I also sense in kids like Michael Shale, A.J. Felberbaum, Benji Satloff, Shay Wenglin, Eli Sabin, Nate Goldberg, and countless others) was an unbelievable passion for camp that manifests itself in everything he does. Those guys bleed for camp, and I have a special appreciation for kids who don’t take Avoda for granted. They dedicate every breath to making the most out of their summers.

Just a couple of Legends

For two days I knew I would have Jake, and I knew about the helicopter break, but I didn’t feel the true impact of the connection to 2001 until it was actually in front of me, blowing dirt from the infield into my face and taking off back into the clear blue sky. I remember having this unbelievable moment of clarity while the whole camp celebrated around me. In that moment, I split into two personas — the 2001 me and the 2011 me — standing side by side on the athletic field. A Lion and a Legend.

The young Lion turned and asked, “So, what are you gonna do?”

Not sure how to respond, the sage Legend asked, “What would you do?”

The Lion just smiled, lowered his eyes, and nodded towards the lake. “Whatever it takes.”

I looked up and he was gone, a distant memory swept up in a dust bowl.

It felt like everything was coming together. Helicopter on the field. White team in the Rec Hall. Ten years after my proudest day. I had the team I wanted, the captain I wanted, the location I wanted, first alma mater, work details on Day 1, a General’s shirt with my name on it, and the best week of my life still ahead of me. I had more than a good feeling about this Color War. Everything was lining up. There was no stopping my momentum. This felt right. This made me believe that all the bumps in the road that preceded this moment were strategically placed and well worth the struggle. It felt like destiny.

And that’s what I told my team. I didn’t scream or break benches or trash the other staff. I didn’t rant and rave and stomp around. I didn’t even stand up. As I looked around the room, all I could think about was how perfect they looked. We didn’t have any #1 picks, the All-Around Athlete or the Leadership winner, but we had what I believed to be the swing pick in every division: A.J. Felberbaum in Seniors, Josh Polasky in Juniors, John Sandberg in Sophomores, and Paul Yarin in Freshmen. Even without Louis Yarmolinsky or Sam Witt or Mike Shale, I liked what I saw. They were mine and I was ready to lead them into war. Hindsight is 20/20, but I swear that we picked a good team. We did get 2-3-4-5-6 from our Senior list. Here, see for yourself.

Okay, that image is a little deceiving. I just like using screen capture on my laptop. Allow me to elaborate. Without captains, our list went Robbie-Jake-Entner-Fink-Roth-A.J.-Shale-Benny-Satloff-Bamel. I will go to my grave trusting that list, especially after Benji Satloff completely outkicked his coverage at 10 when people thought we were crazy for having him at 8 to begin with. The mistake was not getting more for Robbie Katz. I had a very calculated approach to Senior negotiations. As badly as I wanted Robbie, I knew that a) Tricky wanted him more and b) Brad Shalek would try to take advantage of my affection for Jake. So I went hard after Robbie for the first hour.

Now, make no mistake — I wanted Robbie. Anyone who says otherwise is crazy. He’s not the best athlete I’ve seen at camp (that mantle belongs to either Doug Charton, Eric Steiman, or Dan Schneider), but he is probably the most physically imposing. You needed an army to beat him. He was so dangerous, in fact, that we had a shadow on him when he was playing Flagrush defense. In the end, I felt that I had outmaneuvered Tricky and Brad. Aside from choice captain, we got 2-3-5-7 and 12 of 20, but more impressive was that we had seven picks between 10 and 20, including doubles at 14-15 and 19-20. And even with all that, we still needed one more body. I knew that going into picks, so I tried to overcompensate by jumping on as many 14ers as possible. In doing that, I forgot that Drew Lukoff was a cyborg sent from the future to dominate Color War. More directly, I whiffed in the 14-18 range.

It started back at 11, when they surprised us by taking Jake Nodell — a hockey player in Bunk 11 with good size — over Adam Holtz, the backbone of Bunk 14 and a notoriously effective instigator. I was psyched to steal Holtz — who I felt was better than Nodell in every way — but knew we’d lost another big body to throw at Robbie all week, so I had to grab some size immediately to cover the Nodell loss. What I failed to remember was that between 14 and 20, I had five picks and three big 14ers (Matt Glick, Jonah Simon, and Simon Gulergun) on the board, but I really only needed one of them. So after they grabbed Drew Stein at 13 and we took the best available, Isaac Goldman, at 14, I had a decision to make and it had to be the right one. Seeing him as a reliable goalie in waterpolo, Zooball, and Dead Zone, a good contributor in several skill sports, and the best tennis player in camp, we took Jonah Simon. Tricky shouted out Glick’s name before I could even write Jonah’s down in my book. I knew I’d made a mistake but with three of the next four picks, I figured we could make it up.

So here we are at 17 with three names staring at us: Gulergun, a fiery leader in 14 who won’t win you any events on his own but brings a growling intensity to everything he does; Eric Goodman, an athletic scrapper who could help swing hockey and soccer; and Drew Lukoff, who I’ll get to in a second. I knew two things for sure: 1) Simon would be a x-factor in a close Color War, and 2) Aaron “Shaggy” Shuman, an underrated Color War performer who is constantly overshadowed by his own shortcomings in skill sports, would be there for us at 20. My thinking at this point was three-fold. I wanted to keep stacking up 14ers; I felt strongly about the impact Goodman would have on hockey, soccer, and the evening activities; and I was certain that blue wouldn’t be able to pass up Simon right before our double. Essentially, I was sacrificing him to get two better skill athletes in Goodman and Drew. We took Goodman, they took Drew, and we took Simon and Shaggy.

Here’s the thing about Drew, and anyone who’s been at camp since 2008 will agree with me on this. He’s fucking awesome.

This year, he completely snuck up on us. I already let him do that in ‘08 and should have known better. Back then, he was a sophomore in his first summer and absolutely took the camp by storm. He single-handedly annihilated my Blue Army sophomores. The next two years, his dominance tailed off as Benji Satloff rose and Sam Roth started staying two months. In ’09, he didn’t stand a chance when the Blue Monsters gave up a quad to get him. Every time I listed off the picks, Jonny Singer and Justin Lukoff would stand up and count “2-3-4-5” out loud and on their fingers. The next year was Sam Roth’s C.W. debut and Drew was overmatched.

But this year, there were no expectations for him. He wasn’t going in the top 10 and he didn’t need to carry anything, and I think that partially led to him falling down the board. Our final list had him right after Drew Stein and before Jonah, Glick, Gulergun, and Goodman. So how did I have a chance at him at 17 and pass? Short-ish answer: The first realistic place to take him would have been 13, I watched blue pass on him twice (13 and 16), and I got greedy. I think in the back of my head I was hoping that they forgot about him and would let us take him in the 19-20 double. We also concluded that even with him, we weren’t beating Robbie in Senior Hoops A, which is the one sport that Drew excels in.

That’s the tricky thing about picking a Color War team. You can’t make your picks based on who you think they will take next. After all the work you’ve done in preparation, you think you know every angle and every secret, and it took a brain-fart like passing on Drew THREE times (14, 15 and 17) to remind me that the other guys knew their shit too. He didn’t dominate anything all week, but his presence was always felt. Like his brother Brandon, Drew has an innate ability to affect every game he plays, even when he’s not the best on the field.

So what should we have done? I’m not sure what would have made the difference, but if I could do it again, I’d go with Isaac and Drew in the 14-15 double. They probably still take Glick at 16, and then I would have jumped on Goodman at 17. That way, I could still get either Jonah or Gulergun in the 19-20 double after they take the other at 18. Of course it’s irrelevant, but I love speculating what could have been. Back to reality.

After Shaggy, they took Alex Goff and Alex Entner in a double, and then I fell completely off the wagon with my 14 addiction by passing on Max Goldfarb and Scott Yarmoff. Jonah Greenberg and Ricky Birnbaum are great, but they couldn’t contribute on the field the way Max and Scott did. Yarmoff especially was a revelation. I knew he could contribute in two sports, softball and volleyball. But then I turned around and he was popping up in the swim meet and at side events and stealing the show in their play as an effeminate rival camp director.

The lesson here: when in doubt, take the Lukoff…unless it’s Jay.

More is on the way, including these clever titles, which may or may not spawn actual articles:

How We Also Screwed Up Juniors, Sophomores, and Freshmen
The Path: A Tradition Unlike Any Other
Get to the Choppa!: Lessons from Passing on the Ragin Brothers
The Famous Case of Landslide v. Landslide (and Teapot v. Teapot)
Stop Crying!: A Journey Into the Dark Heart of the Freshman Division
Welcome to Dave’s Diner: “Can You Send That Other Table a Plate of Shit?”
The Time We Called Dan Cetlin’s Parents About Getting His Violin
JoCo Goes Off the Deep End When Jason Says His Play Makes No Sense
Finally Getting to Second Base: A Dead Zone Domination
Oh Man, Tilly Passed Out Again: A Sleep Study

And my personal favorite…

Every Time the Curtain Opens, Just Call Him Fat and Smelly

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