It’s Friday morning around 9 a.m., and members of the Music for All staff are at Ball State University’s Field Sports Building setting up for the upcoming student and director registration. In comes a group of cheerful young adults, sporting green T-shirts that display the word “SWAG” in bold white letters on the back. They had just arrived at Ball State to prepare for thousands of incoming campers, 500 of whom will be arriving Saturday for the Leadership Weekend Experience.

They enthusiastically begin to put together notebooks for the incoming campers, laughing and conversing with one another. They frequently check-up on Music for All staff to see if we need help with anything. The attitude and mood amongst these individuals is incredibly positive, and the camp hasn’t even begun. With this being my first camp as a Music for All employee, I’ve only ever heard of what the SWAG Team entails, who they are, and what they do. Witnessing their excitement before the real fun of camp begins has given me a sense of what the rest of the week would look like.

What is the SWAG Team?

The SWAG Team is a group of volunteers that range from college-aged students to band directors to others interested in music education. They serve as counselors, staff assistants, and role models to the 1,000+ student participants at the Music for All Summer Symposium.

The SWAG Team began in 1980 by then Executive Director Tim Lautzenheiser with only 12 people, many of whom he knew and selected personally after teaching at the University of Missouri and New Mexico State University. In fact, Norm Ruebling, Camp Director of Students, was on the second SWAG Team ever. To say the institution of this program is everlasting is quite an understatement.

The 2017 SWAG Team consists of 64 members: 50 SWAGs for the high school campers, and 14 SWAGs for the middle school campers. Approximately 40 of them returned from previous years. Each SWAG is assigned to a different division, with a senior SWAG is in charge of each division. Jamie Weaver and Carrie Miller have been directors of the SWAG Team for 16 years. Between the nine senior SWAGs, there’s a combined total of 87 years of SWAG experience; the entire team has a combined total of 150 years experience.

What do SWAGs do?

With their tremendous amount of experience, SWAGs have quite a few logistical roles that involve a multitude of things: moving equipment, setting up and tearing down events, supervising campers at events, running nightly floor meetings (a very unique and uniting aspect of Summer Symposium), etc. Their most important job, however, is being a role model to the students. They focus on portraying what leadership is through their actions to the campers.

The question probably crossing your mind is, “What does it really take to be a SWAG?” The selection process is quite meticulous. The most important aspect they focus on in a SWAG is “evidence of servant leadership,” which is what the SWAG Team is based on. There is an application process that involves questions about their ideas of servant leadership and collecting letters of recommendation. SWAG applicants apply December through March, and they usually know if they are on the team by mid-March. Jamie Weaver states, “Roughly half who apply will actually make the team.” This year there were approximately 100 applicants.

SWAG Sessions

Before camp even begins, SWAGs go through several days of training, some of which I had the pleasure of sitting in on. They had an Ethics discussion with Music for All CEO Eric Martin and Leadership Training with Fran Kick, Educational Consultants of Leadership Programs at the Music for All Summer Symposium. As evidence of SWAGs’ enthusiasm, Eric, Fran, and I were each greeted with a standing ovation. Eric Martin expressed the importance of displaying integrity at all times and “using your wit” to get the job done to be successful. He also discussed being representative of the institution of Music for All. He also asked who applied to be SWAG because of a SWAG that inspired them. Over half of the room raised their hands.

On the leadership side of things, Fran Kick had the SWAGs do a few leadership group activities with director volunteers that mirrored what they would be experiencing with their campers. Some of the activities included learning names by tossing a t-shirt, racing to the finish line by balancing a binder on their heads, and so on. All of this training and learning combined is empowering and inspiring to this enthusiastic group of individuals, who are sure to lead a successful and positively life-changing experience for not only the campers but everyone around them.

Chatting with SWAGs

I even had the opportunity to chat with a couple of SWAGs, a returning member, and a new member. Second-year SWAG Patrick Mainieri told me, “I’m in a unique situation because I’m a Fine Arts Coordinator for a school district, and I’ve been a band director for about 10 years at Morton H.S.” With Morton H.S. being involved in many different events and aspects of Music for All, and Patrick having a summer camp background being a Camp Director at the YMCA for 15 years, he found himself being “pulled toward the SWAG Team.” He also participated in Bands of America events when he was a student at Woodstock H.S. in Georgia, making his whole experience with Music for All come full circle. Conlon Griesmer, a new member of the SWAG team, and a Music for All events intern this past Fall season, also participated in Bands of America events in high school. Once he graduated from high school, Conlon wanted to give back to Music for All because of how formative and enriching it was in his life. Conlon remarked, “We joke about how it’s like Disneyland here, but camp is truly the happiest place on earth.”

With the SWAG Team being united together in music, Jamie Weaver describes the SWAG Team in one quote: “From the outside looking in, no one can understand it. From the inside looking out, no one can really explain it.”