Cadet Trenton Harding hesitated to take his first step out onto the high ropes.
“You’ve got this. I believe in you,” said a cadet behind him.
The 13-year-old of Eighty Four took his first step and found himself standing high above the ground. Secured with a harness, he tentatively made his way across the line. At times he appeared mentally frozen, but pressed on.
“You’ve got this, Harding! You’re crushing it!” a trooper shouted from the ground.
He made it across the first line as troopers and cadets cheered him on. But there was another line to cross, this one much more challenging. A sudden change came over him, and he knew he could do it. He moved easily along the line, comfortably leaning back against the harness to traverse the obstacle.
“I could do this all day!” he shouted back, a smile breaking across his face.
He crossed a log and sailed down a zip line, then bounced over to Camp Cadet director Trooper Robert Broadwater.
“This is where they build their self-esteem,” Broadwater said.
“I want to do that again,” Harding told him.
State police from Troop B served as camp counselors and trainers last week at Heritage Reservation in Farmington. Kids ages 12 to 14 were invited to the camp from Troop B’s coverage area, which includes Fayette, Greene, Washington, Allegheny and parts of Westmoreland County. This was the second year for Camp Cadet to be held in Fayette County, and their applicants multiplied to 71. Forty-two cadets graduated from the camp Saturday.
“It’s been really good, really solid this year. This wouldn’t have gone so smoothly if not for these people in the blue shirts,” Broadwater said, motioning to the group of troopers who dedicate time throughout the year for fundraisers and promoting the free camp.
“When I go to these schools to promote this, I offer them an opportunity of a lifetime to better themselves,” he said.
The cadets participate in both law enforcement activities and standard camp activities. They wake up for early morning runs, and participate in hands-on demonstrations with law enforcement.
Campers learn to investigate a crime scene, participate in a mock trial and learn swift water rescue skills. They see demonstrations from state police motorcycle, K-9 and aviation units, getting a close up look at the equipment.
The campers learn respect, walking to activities in straight lines, saying thank you for meals and addressing adults as sir or ma’am. But the structure only seems to strengthen the bond among campers and between the cadets and troopers.
“Malik, did you get a nickname this week?” Cpl. John Weaver shouted at a squad.
“Yes, sir!” Isabella Malik shouted back.
“Stand up and tell me what your nickname is.”
“Spidermonkey, sir!” she answered between giggles.
Malik, 13, of Washington said she earned her nickname when she crossed the ropes course in the time it took Weaver to cross the street. She said it was her favorite part of camp.
“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer, and I wanted to see what this would be like for me,” she said.
She has wanted to be a K-9 officer since a demonstration in her third-grade class in the McGuffey School District.
The week’s activities taught her she has the skills and perseverance to succeed. During the morning runs, she said she was concerned asthma would hold her back.
“I know I can push myself. I know I’m going to complete this, and I’m going to stay strong,” she said.
Logan Koon, 13, of Bentleyville said his favorite part of camp was “getting yelled at.”
“Not usually ma’am,” he said when asked if he likes being yelled at. “But this is different. I enjoy it.”
“It really makes you think about what you say and do,” he said.
He thanked the troopers because “they take time out of their lives to do this with us,” he said.
He plans to become a game warden in Montana.
Bowen Sauer, 15, of Greene County returned to camp for the second year to be a senior cadet.
“At first, it’s very surreal. It brings back a lot of good memories,” he said.
He said he enjoys watching the cadets “grow up” over the week and learn how to work with a team.
“They respect themselves more. They’re learning not to quit. They’re learning to respect people and respect property and teamwork,” he said.
It’s a challenge when he sees cadets struggling, he said.
“Sometimes it’s hard whenever they are down or can’t push themselves. You really want to see them push themselves,” he said.
He said he loves to see “the smiles on their faces, watching them grow and the unforgettable bond” among campers.
Broadwater said Heritage Reservation is a perfect location for camp, and thanked the Boy Scouts of America for their support during the week.
“The support we get from Boy Scouts of America is second to none. They don’t have to be here, but they stay here to help us,” he said.
He said the goal of the camp is for the cadets’ lives to be changed.
“We’re hoping by the end of the week to give them the opportunity of a lifetime, and I believe we’ve succeeded,” he said. “This is something they can remember years down the road – that feeling that they haven’t been given something. They’ve earned it.”