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A Boring,Weekend-Long Pep Rally? Not!

 

 

Last year I was accorded the honor of representing the WVHEA at the Hugh O’Brian Youth leadership seminar. When I agreed to go I was not in the best of spirits. My brother had gone a few years ago and reported that it was a long stretch of boring speakers punctuated by periods of pep rally cheers and enthusiasm.

By the time I arrived at the seminar I was asking myself what I had ever done to deserve this, and promising to be a good boy for the rest of my life if I just got out of there alive. As I went to sign in, my worst fears were realized: no sooner had I set foot outside the car than a short woman grabbed me round the shoulders and attempted to crush me while insisting, “You look like you need a HOBY hug.” Eventually I detached myself from this lady and struggled through a sea of red jackets and enthusiasm to the check-in desk where they forced me into a red jacket and told me where to find my room. Back out in the fresh air I proceeded to my room, wondering what sort of cult initiation I would be forced to undergo.

After I was unpacked, I was told to report to the ballroom for orientation. The room was easy to find: all I had to do was listen for the screams and yelling. With much trepidation I offered up my soul to God and pushed open the door. The noise nearly made me retreat, but summoning up my courage I forged ahead to an empty seat in the back of the room. Unfortunately for my eardrums (and my sanity), I had arrived in the middle of a PMA session. For the longest time I could not figure out what PMA meant. Eventually I learned that it stands for Positive Mental Attitude (whoever named it must have had a sense of humor for it inspired anything but). PMA consists of jumping around and yelling, activities that would normally get you arrested for disturbing the peace. I was forced to suffer through this for about a half-hour before the Big Daddy (this is what they call the head counsellor) got up and gave a speech about the founding, purpose, and mission of HOBY. The first panel discussion followed, which proved to be quite interesting. The panel members spoke about themselves for five minutes each and then the floor was opened for a ninety-minute question-and-answer session. I enjoyed this immensely, and by the end of the second panel I was ready to admit that HOBY had definite redeeming qualities.

This admission, however, was immediately put to the test by the hugging lady, the same woman who had greeted me upon my arrival. Struggling free from her embrace and catching my breath once again, I retired to my room to dress for the evening dance. The less said about that dance, the better. I spent the night playing chess, checkers, Ping Pong, backgammon, and at one point descended even to the depths of Go Fish in search of something to do to fill the time. In search of food or another drink (or just to let my ego heal after being beaten six times in a row at chess), I occasionally ventured into the darkened room where people jerked spasmodically to the beat of something that could loosely be described as music. Eventually it seemed to be time for bed and a sigh of disappointment (or relief) went up from the crowd as we all filed to our respective dorms and hit the sack.

            My peaceful slumber was abruptly broken the next morning by loud banging on my door. I glanced at my clock and ascertained that it was only six in the morning. Silently cursing all early risers, I rose and unlocked the door, whereupon it was yanked open by a burly counsellor. He ordered me to get myself together and be at the cafeteria in a half-hour. This thrilled me to the core and letting out an expletive, I headed for the showers to wake up.

I arrived in the cafeteria on time (barely) and quickly wolfed down whatever it was on my plate. I decided it would be advisable not to consider what it might actually be or what the animal it came from could have looked like. After finishing breakfast, I headed to the parking lot to board a bus.

It appeared that the day’s activities would be held at the Dow chemical plant. As soon as we arrived we were ushered into a large room and made to sit through one of the most boring speeches by the governor I have ever heard. I was not alone in my opinion, and we got our own back by asking the most embarrassing series of questions it has ever been my pleasure to hear. When he was finished writhing under our scrutiny, a panel was summoned. At this point the day began to pick up. I noticed a distinct decline in the frequency of PMA sessions, and the discussions were quite enjoyable. The high point of the day occurred about noon when a crazy scientist got up to demonstrate the effects of liquid nitrogen. After we had picked pieces of flower, rubber ball, and glass from our persons, the discussions continued. I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day and was positively jubilant on the bus back. This state of affairs, however, lasted only until I was informed there would be another party that night. Eight consecutively lost chess games later, I went to bed.

The next morning I slept through the wake-up call and let my roommate get the door. Discovering that they had failed to wake me, the counsellors took drastic action, and two minutes later I found myself deposited unceremoniously on the floor, dazed and sleepy. Cursing once more the habits of early risers, I betook myself to the shower in an attempt to clear my sleep-fogged brain. It apparently did not work since at breakfast I found myself agreeing to the most heinous of suggestions: I agreed to sing at the HOBY talent show.

  Despite my rude awakening, that day was as highly enjoyable as the last. We had several invigorating discussions and then did a community service project. This was right up my alley since it involved nothing more strenuous than weeding. Several hours later we were once more bound for our dorms feeling boisterous and tired. I was then reminded that I had promised to sing in the talent show, but such was my exultation that this hardly dampened my spirits.

A half-hour later, showered and changed, I was happily rehearsing for the coming disaster. Except for my part in the show (the less said about that, the better), it was quite enjoyable. Some of the people really had a lot of talent, and the ones who did not were at least funny. At the end of the evening, we all bade each other good night and retired to our rooms to sleep it off.

Surprisingly I found myself awake the next morning before the burly counsellors even made it to my room. I watched their faces fall as I stepped out with great dignity to make my way to the shower. Unfortunately the affect was spoiled when I tripped and fell flat on my face. I picked myself up and headed for the shower, gales of laughter at my back.

Breakfast was slightly subdued for we knew we were leaving that afternoon. Despite my original misgivings about the seminar, I had truly enjoyed myself and I found myself wishing the HOBY weekend did not have to end. I had made lasting friendships and participated in the most interesting discussions. By the end of the small closing ceremony, I am not ashamed to say that I was blinking back tears as I realized just how much I was going to miss the people and the activities. The last thing I did before leaving was to find the hugging woman who had first greeted me and give her a great big HOBY hug.

                                    -- Gwyndaf Garbutt

 

HOBY is open to all 10th graders, but only one representative is selected from each school; this means only one homeschooler from the entire state can attend. I urge all 10th graders to consider participating in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is the only place I have ever been that simply accepts everyone as they are. I had a great time and learned a lot about current affairs in WV. For more information about HOBY and how to sign up for it, go to www.wvhoby.org.