Saturday, October 20, 2018
News Roundup

At 'Hunger Games' camp, children want to fight to the 'death'

LARGO

The first day of camp brought girls with lunchbags and suntans and swimsuit strings hanging down the backs of their shirts. They smiled and jumped up and down, excited to see each other; many were classmates at Country Day School, the host of the summer camp. It was this friendship that made Rylee Miller, 12, feel a little conflicted. "I don't want to kill you," she told Julianna Pettey. Julianna, also 12, looked her in the eye. "I will probably kill you first," she said. She put her hands on Rylee's shoulders. "I might stab you."

The boys had gathered away from the girls, across the room. Eli Hunter cocked an elbow and pointed the fingers on his other hand, explaining that he was a sniper in a tree. He gunned down Liam Cadzow, a tiny blond boy in a bucket hat.

"What are we going to do first?" shouted 14-year-old Sidney Martenfeld. "Are we going to kill each other first?"

"No! No violence this week," the camp's head counselor was busy telling the children. But keeping the kids from talk of murder would prove difficult. That was, after all, the driving plot point of The Hunger Games — and this was Hunger Games camp.

At the end of the week, the 26 kids expected to compete in a real-life Hunger Games tournament. They'd spend the next few days training. Then they'd fight to the "death."

"If I have to die, I want to die by an arrow," Joey Royals mused to no one in particular. "Don't kill me with a sword. I'd rather be shot."

• • •

The Hunger Games trilogy is wildly popular: The first movie grossed nearly $700 million worldwide. More than 36 million copies of the books have been sold in the United States. One of the girls at the camp can recite the first chapter by memory.

While it's difficult to think of a children's phenomenon that doesn't involve violence, The Hunger Games might take the prize. As punishment for a failed rebellion, 12 districts have to send a boy and girl to fight to the death in a televised tournament.

Jared D'Alessio, the summer camp director, remembered plenty of debate when the camp first had the idea to do a Hunger Games-themed week. But he felt they could cut out the violence. The kids would pull flag belts from each other's waists. It's not like they'd really be hurting each other with weapons.

• • •

"What's your specialty? Ours is primarily weapons," said Frances Pool-Crane, the youngest camper at 10 years old.

"Ours is, like, half weapons," said Briana Craig, 12. "Alliance?"

"Sure," Frances said. The girls were decorating posters for the Games. "LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH," Frances wrote.

Next door to the Hunger Games camp, about two dozen kids in another camp played a computer game where they built structures to protect their lives from monsters. Kids can fake-die in nearly any game these days, counselor Simon Bosés said.

"But if you actually sit down and talk to them and they say, 'I'm going to kill you,' they don't understand what they're saying. Death for this age isn't a final thing. It's a reset."

Susan Toler, a clinical psychologist specializing in children's issues and an assistant dean at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, called the camp idea "unthinkable."

When children read books or watch movies, they're observers, removed from the killing. "But when they start thinking and owning and adopting and assuming the roles, it becomes closer to them," Toler said. "The violence becomes less egregious."

• • •

On Wednesday morning, the camp's head counselor, Lindsey Gillette, told the campers there would be a rule change to Friday's Hunger Games tournament. Instead of "killing" each other by taking flags, the campers would instead "collect lives." Whoever had the most flags would win.

Gillette told the campers she changed the rules so that no one would get out early and have to sit on the sidelines. But privately, she said the violence the kids had expressed was off-putting. She wanted the camp to focus on team-building activities.

Like the Minefield. Blindfolded, kids walked through a field of cones and baseball gloves and Hula-Hoops, with only a partner's voice to guide them. D'Alessio and Gillette congratulated them on working together.

• • •

Friday came, and so did the Hunger Games tournament; or, at least the cleaned-up version in which no one could "die."

Alyssa Stewart, 12; Alexis Quesada, 13; and Julianna formed an alliance. After nabbing a few flags, they paused in a safe zone, a green picnic bench under a tree, to get a drink in the shade.

There, the girls added Andrés Kates, 11, to the alliance. But the second he left the safe zone, they grabbed his flag. "Hey!" he yelled, stumbling backward.

The girls ran off, first across the basketball court, then through the grass, between buildings, by the water fountain, past the body lying on the ground . . .

The body lying on the ground. CJ Hatzilias, 11, face-down, in the grass. He was crying. "They stepped on me," he said.

Someone went for help. "CJ, what happened?" Gillette asked.

"They stepped on me," he said.

D'Alessio knelt down. "I'm sure it was an accident."

CJ shook his head. He said some boys had knocked him down and kicked him.

D'Alessio got him up, wrapped an arm around him, walked him over to the camp offices.

The boy wiped his nose. "I got stepped on," he said.

   
Comments
ESPN’s College GameDay headed to Florida-Georgia

ESPN’s College GameDay headed to Florida-Georgia

The biggest Florida-Georgia game in years will have the pregame hype to match the high stakes.ESPN's College GameDay will be in Jacksonville for the annual rivalry game, the network announced Saturday evening. The SEC Network's pregame show, SEC Nati...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
USF’s messy, at times ugly, but still perfect

USF’s messy, at times ugly, but still perfect

TAMPA — They're not Alabama. Oh, are they not Alabama.They might not even be UCF.The USF Bulls are the least-respected unbeaten team in Division I-A, and they're also second banana in the AAC to those perfect scoundrels 80 miles down I-4.And th...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Nick Kelly’s takeways from Saturday’s Lightning-Wild game

Nick Kelly’s takeways from Saturday’s Lightning-Wild game

Having won only twice all time in Minnesota, the Lightning needed to start fast to quiet the crowd in what coach Jon Cooper called one of the three toughest NHL buildings in which to play. Ryan Callahan accomplished that with his goal in the first th...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Without Milton, No. 10 UCF beats ECU 37-10 for 20th straight

Without Milton, No. 10 UCF beats ECU 37-10 for 20th straight

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Darriel Mack Jr. stepped in for Heisman Trophy hopeful McKenzie Milton and rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown, and No. 10 UCF forced five turnovers in beating East Carolina 37-10 for its 20th straight victory. Nate Evans returned...
Updated: 1 hour ago
No. 21 USF escapes with 38-30 win over UConn

No. 21 USF escapes with 38-30 win over UConn

TAMPA — USF entered Saturday evening's homecoming contest against Connecticut needing not so much a statement game as a satisfying one, just a feel-good effort following a sequence of close, concerning ones.Problem is, these Bulls never can fol...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Woman, 20, killed by falling palm tree on Egmont Key

ST. PETERSBURG — A 20-year-old woman died Saturday afternoon at Egmont Key Park when a palm tree fell on her, according to Hillsborough deputies.Isabel Melendez was lying in a hammock about 4 p.m. on the island, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Offi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida State climbing under Willie Taggart, but ‘Noles still have a long way to go

Florida State climbing under Willie Taggart, but ‘Noles still have a long way to go

TALLAHASSEE — Florida State's 38-17 comeback win over Wake Forest on Saturday was a nice way to start the second half of coach Willie Taggart's inaugural season.It was certainly better than how the first half went — with a 21-point home d...
Updated: 3 hours ago
FSU journal: Tackle for loss becomes moment to reflect

FSU journal: Tackle for loss becomes moment to reflect

TALLAHASSEE — Less than two weeks after Hurricane Michael destroyed his Panama City home, Florida State LB Janarius Robinson was just happy to be back on the field and able to contribute.He did more than that Saturday.Robinson recorded a career...
Updated: 3 hours ago
In letter to Christ the King church, Bishop Parkes outlines actions taken over abuse allegation

In letter to Christ the King church, Bishop Parkes outlines actions taken over abuse allegation

TAMPA — The Diocese of St. Petersburg knew nothing about allegations that a priest sexually abused a child at Christ the King Catholic Church at any time during the three years the priest was assigned there, Bishop Gregory Parkes told parishioners at...
Updated: 4 hours ago
McKenzie Milton out of starting lineup for No. 10 UCF at ECU

McKenzie Milton out of starting lineup for No. 10 UCF at ECU

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Heisman Trophy hopeful McKenzie Milton did not start at quarterback on Saturday night for No. 10 UCF at East Carolina. Team spokesman Andy Seeley said only that it was a game-time decision by coach Josh Heupel. Darriel Mack Jr. mad...
Updated: 4 hours ago