'Hunger Games' challenge promotes reading, survival skills
By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY - Dan Nicholas Park isn't at all like the futuristic, deadly arena in Suzanne Collins' novel "The Hunger Games."
In the bestselling series of books and this year's film adaptation, young contestants fight to the death in a televised battle royale.
The reward for those whose training, skill and instincts let them survive is fame, fortune and food for their starving home districts.
The kids and teens whose families participated in Saturday's "Hunger Games"-themed Survival Training Day at Dan Nicholas Park aren't faced with such a test.
But in a world where knowledge can mean the difference between surviving an accident or becoming a casualty, local volunteers helped fans of the series learn real-life, common-sense survival skills.
Seated around tents near the park amphitheater, volunteers taught them how to navigate by map and compass, how to build a simple shelter and how to secure two necessities of survival, fresh water and fire.
It's part of this year's 411 Community Read, which unites parks and recreation departments, libraries and other groups from Rowan, Cabarrus, Stanly and Union counties.
Bob Pendergrass, nature director for Rowan County Parks and Recreation, agreed to help plan and host Saturday's event.
Or, as Pendergrass said it in "Hunger Games" terms, "I volunteered as tribute for this."
There was no fighting, no self-defense or combat element to Saturday's three-hour event.
Instead, members of Boy Scout Troop 333 of Salisbury and the troop's Venture crew helped other volunteers teach survival basics.
The importance of a first-aid kit, for example.
"This one right here is enough to get you back to the doctor," said Caleb Robinson of Troop 333, holding up a small plastic pouch.
In an emergency situation, he said, things we take for granted - bandages and antibiotic ointment, for instance - can make a difference.
Scouts also showed a variety of tools and methods for purifying water, from plain-and-simple boiling over a fire to chemical tablets and filter bottles.
"I've drunk water from the river using this," Robinson said as he held up one such container.
Pendergrass said the events are meant to capitalize on the stories' popularity. He hopes those who have only seen the movie will read the books.
"Film is great, but books really expand your imagination," Pendergrass said.
David Askew, Venture crew leader for Troop 333, demonstrated a variety of fire-starting tools and techniques.
Kids leaned close as Askew, a former Marine, discussed how to start a fire with friction, a magnifying glass and a magnesium firestarter stick, in turn.
"Please don't try this at home," Askew said, prompting a few nervous chuckles from parents.
Dana Eure, director of the Cabarrus County Library, said each of the four counties has done something slightly different with this year's community read.
She said last year's book, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, was very popular, with events and lectures on the stories about the Vietnam war and those who served.
For "The Hunger Games," Eure said organizers spent 18 months collaborating and coming up with ideas.
In addition to the Survival Training events for young people, there have been lectures on Appalachia, where "The Hunger Games" main character Katniss Everdeen lives.
Another discussion dealt with the impact reality TV has had on America.
Eure said the books capture readers' imaginations as well as their fears.
"At my age, when we were growing up, it was all Cold War and we were terrified of nuclear war," Eure said.
In "The Hunger Games," when her little sister is picked for combat, Katniss volunteers to take her place, knowing she's likely to die as a result.
For readers like her 11-year-old daughter, Eure said, the message of these books is not one of fear."It's empowerment," she said. Katniss rises to the challenge and struggles to persevere in a world trying to destroy her.
For Chloe Musselwhite, 18, and sister Serena, 14, Saturday was a chance to learn something new while appreciating books they love.
Their mother, Tina, said the books and movie are about "survival and the human story, relationships and the sacrifice that Katniss made for her sister."
"Would you do that for your sister?" Tina asked Chloe.
"Of course I would," Chloe said, smiling.
Both girls said they enjoy the outdoors. Serena said she's had an interest in archery, Katniss' signature skill, even before she knew about the books.
For Bill Sanns of Salisbury, there at the event with his children and one of their friends, there's a very real need for basic survival know-how.
"The way the world is today, they need to know something about survival," Sanns said.
Everyone, he said, ought to know how to survive after a plane crash, a car accident or some other disaster.
David Askew agreed, saying that's why 15 youth and adult volunteers from Troop 333 wanted to be a part of the event.
"Think about all the natural disasters that have happened in the last 10 years," Askew said. "This skill set, no matter what, would help them in those situations."
Other "districts" parks and recreation departments have also answered the call.
On Sept. 8, the Cabarrus Parks and Recreation survival training event at Frank Liske Park included an obstacle course, shelter-building and camouflage, Eure said.
Earlier Saturday, a similar event was held at Belk Tonawanda Park in Monroe, Eure said.
The fourth and final "district" Survival Training event will be held this Saturday, Sept. 22, at Rock Creek Park in Albemarle.
Then, next month, kids from all four counties are invited to compete in the Final Challenge event, Saturday, Oct. 13 at Cabarrus Arena.
Young people will compete in a variety of competitions, including puzzles and physical challenges.
Eure said the Final Challenge is free and open to the public, not just those who took part in local events.
The Final Challenge will also include a free showing of this year's "The Hunger Games" movie.
For more information about "The Hunger Games" 411 Community Read events, go to 411communityread.wordpress.com