Unplugged: Texas Catholic Boys Camp

November 12, 2012
Unplugged: Texas Catholic Boys Camp

A Marianist boys camp combines back-to-basics camping and outdoor fun with spiritual mentoring. 

It started the way so many good things begin, as a gift of generosity. Notre Dame Catholic School in Kerrville, Texas, held a benefit auction. A bidder purchased a pass for a young man to attend a two-week boys camp at Tecaboca, a renewal center the Marianists have sponsored since the early 1950s in rural Mountain Home, Texas. The winning bidder instructed the camp’s director to give the opportunity to a deserving boy.

Antonio Flores, 14, of Kerrville, received that gift five years ago, and he’s been back every summer. The boys fish, ride horses, shoot rifles, learn archery and participate in other outdoor activities. They also grow in their faith and receive the Eucharist daily, which is the part of camp Antonio finds most satisfying.

“I’m always a different person when I come home from camp,” Antonio says. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Esto Vir, the camp’s motto that means “Be a Man” in Latin.

Antonio’s mother, Emily, a single mom, says that without the gift she could not have afforded the camp fees. However, since Antonio attended the camp that first summer, she’s sacrificed and found a way for him to make it to Tecaboca.

“When the paperwork comes in the mail, there isn’t even a discussion,” Emily says. “That first gift got us hooked.”

A different world

Tecaboca is different from everyday life for the boys, Executive Director Kay Tally-Foos says. Here, pickup soccer games and ropes courses replace organized soccer practices and computers. Here, boys learn that being a man is about following Jesus, respecting others and themselves and being personally accountable.

“Everyone who comes to Tecaboca leaves as a better person,” said Nathanial Dyer, 14. Dyer plays dozens of soccer games every year for a competitive team in south Texas, and for him, Tecaboca is a place to relax and take a break.

“I love competitive soccer, but I’m always nervous,” Dyer said. “At camp, soccer and everything else is about having fun.”

Tally-Foos says the boys camp is unique because it’s one of just two outdoor Catholic youth camps in Texas, and the other is co-ed.

“To have Catholicism within the fabric of a camp like this is special.”

Tally-Foos says Tecaboca has survived an entire cycle in the camping world: In the last 40 years, other summer camps featured everything from speedboats to video games. Now, so-called “retro camps” are popular.

“We are very much an ‘unplugged’ camp, a back-to-basics kind of camp, and that’s what parents are looking for,” Tally-Foos says. “Boys see how easily normal life meshes with a prayerful life of working to hear God’s call.”

Tally-Foos believes it’s much easier to bring a boy up right than it is to fix a broken man. She says lessons boys learn at Tecaboca can stick with them for life.

“It’s healthy for boys to settle things in the cabin or on the soccer field without adults getting involved,” Tally-Foos says. “Those are lessons that could come in handy someday in the workplace.”

Lessons to remember

The memories of Tecaboca can be powerful for men who attended camp as boys. “A gratifying part of my job is seeing the twinkle in a grown man’s eye when he talks about Tecaboca,” says Tally-Foos. She tells the story of a man who attended Tecaboca in the 1960s and later struggled with alcohol abuse during his adult life. He said if he could have lived the life lessons he learned at camp about community, simple pleasures and listening for God’s voice, he would never have turned to alcohol.

For Jin Takamura, 35, rural Tecaboca was about as different a world as he could imagine. Jin attended St. Joseph’s School, a former Marianist school near Tokyo, from kindergarten through high school. Marianist Father Jim Mueller was principal of the school and invited some students to attend summer camp at Tecaboca. Jin was homesick the first summer, but ended up returning every summer until he graduated from high school. He loved Texas Hill Country and the Marianist charism and attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, a Marianist-sponsored school. Now a technology consultant and married father of two in Singapore, Jin is grateful for Tecaboca and hopes his sons can attend one day.

“My wife tells me I’m open-minded and positive,” Jin said. “I think this was influenced by my experience at Tecaboca. I can safely say if I would have been stuck in Tokyo every summer, I would not be who I am today.”

A self-described “camp person,” Tally-Foos knows the impact a camp like Tecaboca can have on a young person. After her father died when she was 13, the first person she wanted to talk to was her camp counselor.

“That’s who I wanted to cry with and get support from,” Tally-Foos says. “My heart and soul understands what camp can give a kid.”

A dedicated staff

Operating a summer camp is not a 9-to-5 job. Besides Tally-Foos, Program Director Howie Dotterweich and college counselors work around the clock for nearly the entire summer. It’s important to Tally-Foos that the counselors are role models for the boys. One counselor, Justin Quiroz, a senior at St. Mary’s University, is considering the Marianists’ aspirancy program for men interested in joining the order. Emily Flores’ dream is for her son to attend college, and she appreciates the example Justin and the other counselors set.

Those who serve at the camp get satisfaction from knowing they’re making a difference in the lives of young people. Father Jim Mueller first served at Tecaboca as a high school student in 1952. This summer he helped campers with fishing. One of the younger boys didn’t know how to fish and was nervous about learning. Father Jim convinced him to try and he eventually enjoyed the activity.

“He looked up at me and said, ‘You know, you would make a pretty good grandpa,’” Father Jim says.

The boys camp has made great strides under Tally-Foos’ leadership. When the Marianists hired her in 2009, less than a dozen boys had signed up for summer camp and it had to be canceled. Between the two sessions this year, 73 boys attended and there was a waiting list of 16.

“Someone recently asked me if Tecaboca needs a boys camp,” Tally-Foos says. “Well, no, Tecaboca doesn’t need a boys camp. But boys need Tecaboca.”


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