Twelve-year-old Jason Amoss, a Taneytown seventh-grader with the build of a linebacker, found himself struggling to scale a nearly 7-foot wall at a military obstacle course.
Cries of "Come on, Jason, you can do it" boosted his self-esteem, and some quick brainstorming with his teammates from Northwest Middle School enabled him to conquer the wall, one of eight obstacles at a leadership program at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation in Reisterstown.
Twenty Carroll County seventh- and eighth-graders, ages 11 to 13, proved challenging obstacles can be conquered with teamwork and problem solving. In Jason's case, his teammates hung behind him to provide a timely hoist as he scaled the wall.
Jason's success drew cheers and brought a smile to the face of Brig. Gen. Larry McBee, host of the Maryland National Guard camp and project director of ABOUT FACE, an after-school program that strives to teach leadership skills to children who are at risk for delinquency problems.
On Thursday, the campers' "I can'ts" were soon supplanted by "We cans" at the spacious complex off Hanover Pike. McBee and his staff provided eight demanding drills made more complex because speed and individuality were secondary to teamwork.
In five-member teams, the campers raced to beat the clock. They jumped hurdles, dove through large tires, high-stepped through a dozen small tires, scrambled over the wooden wall, traversed from platform to platform on a rope swing, eased through a string web, and rolled a large cable spool around a hilly obstacle course.
Perhaps the most demanding obstacle was a synchronized trolley walk that required each team member to walk in unison as they held ropes attached to 4-by-4 boards under their feet.
"We found out that we had to all step at the same time, or we couldn't move anywhere," said Lauren Gillis, 13.
McBee was eager to give students a sampling of ABOUT FACE, which he plans to implement at the Taneytown school in September. A modified version has been used for two years at some Baltimore and Baltimore County middle schools, he said.
McBee is awaiting approval of a Justice Department grant, which would pay 75 percent of the $80,000 cost to operate the program at the Carroll school. He said he was confident the program would go forward if they don't receive the grant.
The Maryland National Guard routinely enlists private and community support for such programs, so they can be offered free to schools and students.
ABOUT FACE would be open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. three days a week during the school year, McBee said. Paid and volunteer staff members would offer an hour of homework support; an hour devoted to topics such as violence, drugs, peer pressure and teen sex; and an hour of group recreation.
The program also would take participants to Camp Fretterd six weekends each academic year, challenging students to experience a military environment and use what they have learned after school in real-life situations, McBee said.
The obstacle course used Thursday blended with the objectives of the leadership camp, said Linda Selby, Northwest Middle School vice principal and the leadership camp's coordinator.
Camp participants were recommended by teachers for their potential leadership skills, she said. A grant through the Maryland Safe and Drug-Free Schools program provided $3,700 for student fees.
Field trips and class instruction offer opportunities for students to learn to use their leadership skills in a positive way, rather than giving in to peer pressure, Selby said.
"I see it all the time when kids come to my office," she said. "They know what is right, how they should act, but tell me they didn't do the right thing because of what the other kids would think of them."
Field trips included a day at Cunningham Falls State Park in Frederick County. The event featured canoeing and rowing exercises. The campers' lessons in futility and frustration -- they were traveling in circles -- turned into lessons of success and boosted self-esteem.
"They began as 20 individuals and now are a team of 20," said David Storey, leadership camp director and a physical education teacher at Taneytown Elementary School.
The reactions of the campers were varied.
Lauren Gillis, Rachel Barnes, 13, and Ashley Wantz, 13, praised camper Jon Gill, 13, for helping everyone at Cunningham Falls.
"He got us going where we didn't think we could go over some of the big rocks," Lauren said.
Younger campers, such as 12-year-olds Sarah Storey, the director's niece, Kelly Heck and Aine O'Carroll and 11-year-old Melissa Hiner enjoyed making friends.
"You see eighth-graders at school and see how they act, but you don't know them," said Aine.
"We know them better in a few days at camp than in nine months at school," Sarah said.
"And we're treated more like grown-ups, pushed to do well, and dTC it makes us feel better when we do our best," she said.
Pub Date: 7/19/98