WOOLF ’99: viewing the trip through the eyes of a leader

Almost a month has passed since the beginning of this year’s WOOLF program, and I am sitting here at my computer with a sniffly nose and the beginnings of a head cold trying to remember back to when it all began. I wish I could begin this article, “WOOLF ’99 went off without a hitch and was a brilliant success all around,” but of course that would be a blatant lie. We had our share of problems, but they were interesting problems served up in the form of pesky gremlins. We fought those gremlins tooth and nail, but they never quite disappeared… unlike Timmy from 3I9. We never have found him yet.

What exactly was WOOLF ’99? Its beginnings lie in the distant past, in a restaurant in Pittsfield where Outing Club Director Scott Lewis asked me if I wanted to lead this year’s WOOLF program along with Andre Mura ’00. It sounded like fun, and since Andre had been co-director the previous year, he’d be sure to know what he was doing. But then I remembered. This was Andre. Andre from Queens, who, before he arrived at Williams had only seen trees once before, in a special exhibit at the Bronx Zoo, kept carefully in cages. He was quite shocked when he arrived here to find that we let trees run wild all over the mountains. But I digress. Andre and I were on the same WOOLF trip as freshmen, led a WOOLF trip together as sophomores, were on staff together as juniors, and it just seemed right to finish it off together leading the whole thing as seniors.

The process of selecting leaders began early in the spring, when we were deluged with over 100 applications for only 70 spots. After tossing all the applications down the stairs a few times to see which ones would land face up, we decided that it would probably be more fair if we actually read all of them, which we did, but it was a tough job picking out the leaders. It’s hard to see a name on an application and see a person…that is, of course, until you see the name in person during WOOLF leader training week. All WOOLF leaders were required to stay a week after school got out to learn how to lead freshmen out in the woods. The week consisted of a two-day wilderness first aid course followed by a three day backpacking trip, where experienced WOOLF instructors taught both hard and soft camping skills.

Applications to first year students went out with the general Williams mailing in April, and slowly began to trickle in as the summer began, most of them arriving before the June 1st deadline. Summer was spent organizing trips, sorting leaders, and matching them up to the trips. Many a night was spent typing names into spreadsheets; many a day was spent checking voice mail to discover 19 new messages and a cheerful electronic voice announcing, “Your mailbox is full.”

If I learned anything from being a director of WOOLF, it’s that freshmen are much easier to deal with when they’re simply purple applications neatly stacked in a folder. Actual freshmen are not nearly as orderly. The arrival of the five-day participants was a bit chaotic, but the three-days were an absolute circus. The trips started off with games down on Weston Field, followed by a cookout where groups got to know each other. After a concert by Bernice Lewis at Goodrich, trips went back to the field house for a group shakedown, and, for the five-day trips, to discover that none of their stoves worked, for the three-day trips, to discover that everyone, seemingly, had forgotten to bring a spoon. Running WOOLF is a bit like running an army, I think, only without an enemy, and without guns or nuclear weapons.

For all the gremlins that beset us, WOOLF ’99 was a tremendous amount of fun for all involved. To say it was a brilliant success might not be such a blatant lie after all. It was such a wonderful feeling to see everyone trudging back into the field house happy and singing, strange symbols painted with mud on their faces. Freshmen might be easier to deal with when they’re only names on paper, but they’re not nearly as much fun.

Many, many thanks go out to all those who helped with WOOLF this year. It was a success only because we had so many people do such a good job doing so much: Ben Katz ’00 tossing equipment around, Mark Acton ’00 wrestling with Security over first aid, Josh Goldstein ’00 and Megan Bott ’00 fighting Dining Services for pitas and Scott Lewis, the glue holding it all together. Last but certainly not least, all the staff members who pitched in to shuttle equipment back and forth, sell Crazy Creek chairs, pick freshmen up at the airport and drive all over Western Massachusetts in search of frame packs. And of course, my co-director, the ever-elusive Andre. We did it!

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