Orienteering is a relatively new outdoor activity that is starting to really catch on in the United States. Merriam-Webster describes it as “a competitive or noncompetitive recreational activity in which participants use a map and compass to navigate between checkpoints along an unfamiliar course (as in the woods).” That works.
Imagine this: You arrive in an unfamiliar area and, without any advance knowledge or warning, you are handed a topographic map that is keyed to show vegetation, forests, fields, hills, streams and other terrain considerations. You have a compass and some type of a device (electronic or hole punch card) to help document reaching a control or checkpoint. There are many of them. The checkpoints are numbered, and you must locate them in order, in the shortest amount of time – like an advanced nature-based scavenger hunt. That’s what orienteering is like on a competitive level.
For students (or cadets as they are referred to) at the Western New York Maritime Charter School in Buffalo, orienteering is a unique sport that combines running with navigation skills. Throw in a dose of outdoor knowledge and savvy and you are on your way to a new adventure every time you are in the field.
“Orienteering motivates me to keep my grades up and do well in school,” says Andre Hillman, a junior from Buffalo.
As I spoke to 10 cadets during a recent conference call, it was noted that they receive a gold pin if their grades are 90 and above, a silver pin for 85 to 90. Every one of the cadets associated with the Orienteering squad had a gold or silver pin.
Jacob Kolmetz, a sophomore from Williamsville, enjoys learning the navigation skills while upholding a elevated standard of physical fitness. Training is a key component and from spring to fall, the cadets will run three miles a day for at least five days a week. During the winter, there is indoor training.
While orienteering may seem a bit intimidating at first, especially for someone who may have never traveled out of the City of Buffalo, beginners will usually go out in pairs and work a lower-level course. It’s doesn’t take long for the cadets to figure things out and slowly improve. As you become more familiar with the concept, you will eventually advance to upper level courses that are longer and trickier.
“It’s easy to pick up orienteering because of team leadership,” said Nathan Guzowski, a freshman from Cheektowaga. “It’s cadets training cadets. We help each other.”
Of course, it’s more than just the competition and the fun. “We need to attain a certain level of discipline,” said Nathaniel Waldraff, a junior from Cheektowaga. “You need to be mature and focused. When we are ready to go out into the real world, it helps set up our priorities in life.”
The school is part of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), one of 614 schools across the country. There are 11 geographic regions and the Western New York Maritime Charter School is a member of the Northeast Region or Area 4. There are 60 schools in this region. Last fall, this team placed second in the regional orienteering competition and qualified for the nationals – held this past February in Florida. While it’s not the first time the school has been represented at the nationals, it was the first time that the cadets placed in the Top 25 in the country. It was quite an accomplishment and the young men are proud. There have been females involved in the past, as well. Teams are traditionally co-ed.
“We have a sense of pride every time we are out competing,” said Ben Rogemoser, a sophomore from Tonawanda. “We are representing our school, we are representing our families and we are representing Western New York.”
“We are very proud of these young men,” said Commandant Catherine Oldenburg. “They conduct themselves with honor and integrity. Both the school and the faculty are very proud of them.”
Next year, the NJROTC Orienteering Nationals will be in California. Since funding for these events comes from private sources, there is no guarantee they can attend even if they qualify. We wish them well.
On a local front for anyone interested in learning more about how you can get involved with orienteering, there are a couple strong clubs in Western New York. The Buffalo Orienteering Club was formed in 1975, founded by Dave Cady (www.buffalo-orienteering.org) of Buffalo. He is still involved with the club and serves as the Treasurer. The club has about 60 members. The BOC will be hosting an event on May 6 in Delaware Park, to be held in conjunction with the Cherry Blossom Festival.
On May 20, BOC will also be hosting an orienteering event at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park. As part of the day’s festivities, there will be a 10 a.m. workshop for newcomers interested in learning more about this growing pastime.
The Rochester Orienteering Club is also very active (www.roc.us.orienteering.org). They will be hosting an Introduction to the Sport of Orienteering on April 14 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Fleet Feet Armory, 155 Culver Road, Rochester. Register on the website. They also hold many events throughout the year.
No special equipment is needed other than a compass. However, most of the time it is used only to be sure the map is properly “oriented” to the terrain. That said, it’s also important to be dressed properly. Spring in New York usually means some soggy ground and biting insects. Long-sleeved shirts and pants are important. Proper footwear is key, too. Dress for the weather. Some type of insect repellent is also a must to help keep the discomfort level down. In addition, after spending that much time outdoors, you’ll want to do a “tick check” to make sure you don’t have an unwanted hitchhiker around.
If you like spending time outdoors and you enjoy a bit of a challenge, orienteering can point you in the right direction.