- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

ROANOKE — Sheriff’s officers are investigating complaints that counselors at a 4-H summer camp arranged fistfights between children ages 9 to 13, charged admission to the brawls and allowed betting.

Franklin County Sheriff Quint Overton said Tuesday that the youngsters were told to lie to parents about the fights after several campers suffered black eyes and one broke his hand.

No charges have been filed, but Sheriff Overton said six officers were investigating the five-day camp that began June 30 at the Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational Conference Center.

“It’s hard to believe anyone would do this,” Sheriff Overton said. He said he had heard that campers had been charged $1 for admission, and that the counselors and children could have bet up to $4 per fight.

The sheriff said investigators have talked to several parents since the first complaint came in Monday from Richard Rawls, who said his 10-year-old son had come home with a black eye. Mr. Rawls said his son said at first that he had been hit by a basketball.

“They pitted these kids against each other like a cockfight,” he said.

Mr. Rawls said his son had been forced to defend himself five times during the week. He had won the first four fights, but had been knocked out the fifth time.

“He’s OK now, I guess. He’s been crying, and he told me today he wants to go to the doctor,” Mr. Rawls said.

While girls attended the camp, the sheriff said the fights had involved only boys. Boys who did not want to participate had been confined to their cabins, Sheriff Overton said.

About 300 children attended the camp last week at Smith Mountain Lake. It was organized by the Bedford County chapter of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

The camp was supervised by teen counselors, ages 14 to 18, and adult counselors, ages 19 and older. Four teens and two adults had been in charge of the lodge where the fights occurred, said Charlie Stott, spokesman for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

If the accusations prove true, Mr. Stott said, “it’s certainly an isolated incident.”

Smith Mountain Lake is one of six 4-H camps in Virginia with activities ranging from rifle marksmanship and archery to computer science, journalism and the performing arts. They serve more than 26,000 campers every year.

Camp counselors generally come from local 4-H chapters and are mostly volunteers, who must have 24 hours of training on working with young people and emergency procedures, Mr. Stott said. The camps also have at least one full-time paid staff member.

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