Meet the Orientation Club at BHS – Berkeley High Jacket
From the depths of the Berkeley High School (BHS) Club Fair comes an activity known only to the most adventurous and alternative students. An activity centered around the idea of getting lost and then not getting lost and rumored to be the most effective method of earning sports credit, the BHS Orienteering Club has lurked in the shadows for too long. Orienteering is a sport practiced mainly in Scandinavia, based on a mixture of sailing, hiking and running. The way it works is you receive a map from an area; generally unique in nature, with multiple points you must head to in a specific order before returning to your starting point. Despite its simple appearance, the sport can be very complex. Often the maps are incredibly basic and the terrain can be difficult with no roads or paths to help you along the way. It’s a physical sport but also very intellectually demanding, as navigation and map reading are essential skills you need to succeed.
As former Co-Chair Ben Jacobson-Bell said, “It’s like a hike with a purpose.” The sport is only as competitive as you want it to be; many people see it as a nice walk through a forest while others see it as high stakes, a long distance race to the finish line. There is a ranking system for the difficulty of the courses from 1 to 7, and the more difficult ones have less detailed maps and more detailed terrain, which makes the process more difficult.
BHS is unique in having a team, as orienteering is not a common activity for high schools. Orienteering events in the Bay Area are hosted by the Bay Area Orienteering Club, and these are the events the BHS team attends. According to Jacobson-Bell and fellow former co-chairman Nathan Booth, the demographic of people attending a meet is mostly 30s to 50s, Boy Scouts and some families. High school teams are far and few in between. BHS is ahead of the predicted boom in orienteering that could come after the pandemic, when high school students across the country are sure to be hit with the urge to run through brush and trees with a map.
Besides the sport itself, orienteering at Berkeley High is known for its generosity to those seeking athletic credit. Members are required to attend certain competitions and there are meetings and practices every week, but it’s as hard as you want it to be in terms of physique. As long as you get home at a brisk pace, that counts towards your hours spent exercising. Orienteering is a great option for those who don’t know where to start when it comes to sport, but still want to find community during their physical career at BHS. According to Booth and Jacobson-Bell, the community identifies as “nerdy”, but is of course welcoming to everyone, no matter what social designation they give themselves. Unfortunately, activities are currently on hiatus due to coronavirus restrictions, but as soon as things reopen they will be ready to get back into the fray. So, as one might imagine they say in orienteering, “Grab a map, grab a compass, and have fun!”