As a crowd of children counted down to zero, Greg Allen stood at a flagpole fiddling with a rope.
He had strung up a big golden ball where a flag would normally wave, and he planned to slowly lower it as the grand finale to the New Year's Eve-themed celebration at Cradle Beach Camp.
But the ball wouldn't fall.
"Maybe we won't get to celebrate New Year's after all," he said.
He started to scan the lawn, looking for an alternate plan. As the supervisor in charge of the special-needs children at the camp, Allen has learned that the trick to a successful program is thinking on his feet.
Allen has been working at Cradle Beach Camp on and off for more than 30 years. He started the summer after his junior year at Buffalo State College. Back then, he was looking for a way to spend his summer. He wanted to do something different before getting a job in the real world, he said. One night, he mentioned his dilemma to a friend at a party.
"My friend talked to me about [Cradle Beach] for like two hours," he said. "He couldn't stop talking about it."
Allen called the next day and was accepted as a counselor.
At the time, he said, he was painfully shy. But working with the counselors and helping run activities and crafts helped him to become comfortable standing up in front of a crowd.
"Working here gives you the strength to just go out and get things done," Allen said. "I knew I'd never be the same person again."
Even after he graduated from college and began working as a special-education teacher at a school near Syracuse, he kept coming back. He worked his way up from counselor to supervisor.
He has a passion for developing programming for his campers that will seem "magical," he said.
"I ask myself, what do you think would be really hard to pull off?" he said. "Then I sit up at night and think about how we can make it happen."
On Tuesday night, the focus was on how different cultures ring in the New Year.
His campers already had watched a game show unfold between two counselors playing 2007 and 2008. One counselor dressed as an old man to represent 2007. The other, who was clad in a big diaper, played 2008. The two answered trivia questions, raced and jousted.
Then it was onto a show with a homemade Chinese dragon and a ceremony where campers rang a giant bell as they read off a list of things the children get to do at camp.
Finally, it was time for the golden ball to drop.
Allen was frustrated with the snag and about to call the finale off when the rope came loose and the ball started to drop. He cued the kids up again, shouting, "10, 9, 8 . . ."
As the ball touched down, the children cheered, shaking tambourines and pounding drums.