Testing mettle, shaping futures

By Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate August 15, 2013 05:10 pm

Physical training, classes taught by law enforcement at summer academy

Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson Cadets recieve some encourging words during team push-ups on Wednesday near Whaler Island.
Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson Cadets recieve some encourging words during team push-ups on Wednesday near Whaler Island.
For some teens, it’s a life-changer, others, a challenge and, for a few, just too much to handle. The Redwood Coast Explorer Leadership Academy has been helping shape its participants lives for 10 years now.

Wednesday morning a group of 14 Crescent City Police Explorers were lined up wearing sweatshirts folded into sweatpants getting ready for physical training on the beach at Whaler Island Groin.

The challenge began with the teens taking off their sweatshirts and folding them neatly.

“You just failed folding class,” said Drill Instructor Judd Anderson.

That was one of the nicer comments.

Training went into running in place, mountain climbing (getting on all fours then essentially running in place), leg lifts and pushups.

“Are you going to do something in this academy or are you just going to be a rock?” yelled Drill Instructor Kurt Cooke.

The exercise rotation repeated itself. And again. The kids faces were red and twisted with sand stuck to sweat-soaked shirts. The instructors kept pushing them.

A corridor of bent over bodies provided an obstacle each teen had to belly crawl through. Then came team pushups. The idea is to have the teens lie facedown in a line with feet resting on the shoulders of the teen behind them and perform a simultaneous pushup. They tried to lift up in unison but ended up resembling caterpillar walking. Finally after several attempts they got their first one and then a few more.

“That’s one, nine more to go,” said Police Sgt. Erik Apperson, observing the teens.

The academy is the brainchild of Apperson, something he imagined more than 10 years ago in an attempt to give local teens something constructive to do during the summer. The idea morphed from an experience when he was a Crescent City Police Explorer. 

It was back in 1996, a day of  physical training that Apperson didn’t finish. 

“I definitely regretted not sticking it through,” said Apperson back at his RV doubling as a command center parked outside of Crescent Elk Middle School.

The teens were in the gymnasium practicing defensive tactics. 

In 2003, Apperson put together the first academy that ran for three days on a shoe-string budget. The budget has grown with the support of outside donors. The Academy was also stretched to a week as more volunteers offered to provide instruction in subjects ranging from boating to CPR to ethics courses. The quality of the academy also improved as the coordination, experience and structure of the instructors evolved, Apperson said.

Local law enforcement officials also play an integral part in helping the camp move along by providing instruction in various classes on their free time, Apperson said.

Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson Teng Lee, 17, responds to his instructor during physical training.
Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson Teng Lee, 17, responds to his instructor during physical training.
While the academy is supposed to be something positive for the children, it doesn’t come without its criticism, Apperson said.

“We get a lot of criticism that we are too tough on the kids,” said Apperson. 

During a break in defensive tactics Blaine Winters, 17, sat at a cafeteria table in the Crescent Elk Gym reminiscing about the earlier physical training session. 

“That was probably the hardest physical training I’ve had in my life,” said Winters. “You feel horrible at first when you’re doing it, but you feel better afterwards.”

He also appreciated the code of ethics class presented by Police Chief Doug Plack and drug awareness class presented by Sheriff’s deputies Seth Cimino and Richard Griffin. 

“There’s skills in here you can learn that don’t have anything to do with law enforcement,” said Winters. “I’d encourage really anyone who is a kid to join.”

Class guide Robin Pearce , 17, is in his second year at the academy. He acknowledges the academy, especially the physical training is difficult, but he still sees the value in it once the teens graduate on Saturday.

“The walk across that stage, the feeling of that accomplishment is like none other,” said Pearce. 

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