Who Comes to SYC?

IMG_1558Our staff consists of dedicated adults who make the journey to Lake Murray each summer from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, & as far away as North Carolina.  A significant portion of our staff have been working together for several years and take their vacation time to share the Christ life.

Our Campers come from rural, urban and suburban congregations including Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina.  Campers are encouraged to bring their friends and each year we have several campers who have minimal or no church background.  In addition, we generally have campers who are in foster care or from children’s homes.

Here are some of the places campers live in recent years: Oklahoma: Edmond, Ada, Wayne, Ardmore, Chickasha • Arizona: Phoenix • Texas: Dallas, Irving, Houston, Athens, Pilot Point, Winters, Abilene, Stamford, McKinney and more.

SYC is a camp where you can make forever friends from so many places.  It is an opportunity to experience the kingdom of God and all it’s diversity.  SYC does not discriminate with regards to ethnicity or religious preference.  We strive to be a Christ centered camp in all we say and do.



The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

By Tammy King McDaniel

In Honor of Gladys King, mother of SYC Director, Grady King and Tammy McDaniel on July 13, 2014 to SYC Campers.

In thinking about what to say tonight about my mom and her love for Sooner Youth Camp, several thoughts came to mind. But I really think that the one things that rings true is that it is hard to remember when SYC was not a part of her life.

My family was introduced to Sooner in 1969, the year we move to Eufaula, Oklahoma. Yes, its true if you are doing math that was 45 years ago. In the summer of 1969, my brother, Grady attended Sooner for the first time being introduced to it by the Lay family of McAlester, OK. Our mom was a single parent, a relatively unheard of term in that day and age. Money was always tight and sending Grady to camp was a financial hardship. However, mom was not going to let that stop him from going to camp. Believe it or not, Grady was shy, and as I recall a little apprehensive about going to camp. But mom loaded him up and I tagged along for our first of many treks to Sooner Youth Camp.

That trek has continued for Grady for some 40 years with our mother a part of many of those years until her health prevented her from traveling and enduring the July heat at SYC. You see, Grady has spent the majority of his birthdays at Sooner Youth Camp. For our mom, distance was not an issue to celebrate his birthday! She would make her fabulous strawberry cake, pile me in the 1950 Ford, with no air conditioning and head to Sooner for Grady’s birthday celebration.

It became a Sooner tradition for Grady, our family and the SYC family. Even after “camper status” had come and gone, Mom continue to make the “trek” as Grady became a staff member.

Our mom knew the difference that a camp experience can make in a young person’s life. She saw it first hand in her son, a shy and withdrawn boy wearing horned rimmed glasses as well as the other kids that made the journey each summer. Upon her death last October, many of the reflections that were shared with us were from Sooner campers who had experienced mom all those summers.

Our mom would have never considered what she did as extraordinary or a sacrifice. “That’s just what mothers do for their children” she would say. But we see what she did much differently. So, it is only fitting that when mom passed, that we establish a scholarship fund in her honor so that other youth who might not have the means to come, could have the Sooner experience. Some of you here tonight as a result of the scholarship funds. There’s nothing besides her children and grandchildren that would make mom more proud than knowing she has helped make Sooner Youth Camp available for some young people who cannot afford it.

So, we honor our mom tonight and pray that through you, the Sooner tradition will continue to bless the lives of youth for generations to come. I am confident she is smiling and humming, “My God and I.”

Give a Legacy Gift

Have you considered a Legacy Gift?

SYC is a non-profit church camp with two sessions each year at Lake Murray, OK. Camper fees and donations make the camp possible.  A legacy gift is a good way to help other young people attend camp.  Campers come from a variety of circumstances and family situations including a long tradition of sponsoring youth from children’s homes.

My mother, Gladys King was a single mom raising two children and someone helped me to attend SYC for the first time.  She passed on Oct 27, 2013 and several people made a legacy gift in memory of mom.  My first year at SYC was 1969. I entered s a 13 year old and turned 14 on July 20, 1969 while at camp.
It was the first landing on the moon and I listened to Walter Cronkite share the news on a small radio belonging to a counselor.  A legacy gift helps young people in memory of someone to experience God’s love in Jesus Christ at SYC.

It makes an eternal difference.  I know.

Legacy Gifts help us remember people who were a part of the SYC Family. Legacy Gifts can be made at anytime in memory of someone who believed in the mission of SYC.  The list is long of former staff members, parents of campers or someone who simply donated time, effort and resources.

May the Lord bless you richly!

Grady D. King
Grateful Son



SYC at Historic State Park built in 1930’s.

photoSooner Youth Camp has been at Lake Murray since 1947.  Lake Murray State Park is the largest of all state parks in Oklahoma built by over 17,000 workers making $1.25 a day.   SYC is the longest running group to utilize a camp in the history of Lake Murray State Park.

We are blessed by the deep connection to history, the sacrifice of men and women and the State of Oklahoma’s commitment to maintain and preserve original structures.

Read interesting history about Lake Murray and Group Camps:





And the Survey Says…

Research regarding faith development reveals that church camp ranks in the top three most spiritually formative experiences of a adolescent’s life. Being in nature away from the constant pressures of deadlines to focus on faith, friendships guided by trusted leaders has a profound impact on teens.

At SYC,  THE CIRCLE is the number one most mentioned and favorite tradition. It is an SYC tradition that closes each night of camp. The staff takes their place and lights the path with flashlights. After a few minutes, the campers walk quietly along the path from oldest to youngest to an open area under the stars and form three-four circles. After several minutes of singing favorite praise songs, the song, “My God and I” begins and the circles come closer together in solidarity.  It is THE tradition that is most mentioned as favorite time at SYC.

SYC is hard to explain to those who are invited  to a rugged, hot place with simple  accommodations. But as a director I give the SYC guarantee--“If you come to SYC participate in everything and at the end of the week say, ‘It wasn’t worth it,’ I’ll refund your fee.” It’s never happened.

If you are looking for a camp with a Christ centered emphasis, conversations about faith, lots of fun, and where servant leadership is foremost, then SYC is for you.

Grady D. King
1st Week Director

Historical Roots: SYC Gives Back

For years it was called Cabin Z. It was a cabin in the boys area that gave way to rotting floors and a bad roof. SYC staff decided to approach the State of OK and offer to build a cabin if the State would supply the materials. The year was 1997 and in one weekend about 15 SYC staff and other helpers made it happen.

Group Camps in OK State Parks have historical significance because they were built by the Civilian Conservation Corp.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 17–23. A part of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide employment for young men in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000; in nine years 2.5 million young men participated.

The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs.[1] Principal benefits of an individual’s enrollment in the CCC included improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. Of their pay of $30 a month, $25 went to their parents.[2] Implicitly, the CCC also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation’s natural resources; and the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for the protection and development of natural resources.[3]

During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.[4]

Why Come to SYC?

An Interview with Scott Billingsley

Scott Billingsley is the head men’s counselor for 1st week of SYC.  Scott’s association with SYC  began in 1981 as a 13 year old camper.  He lives in Lumberton, N.C. and is a history professor at UNC Pembroke.

Why do you keep coming back?
Because I love the people. For me, it’s all about the people and the place. The relationships that I make and renew each summer are an important part of my life.  The place has history and the experiences that I have had there. It is a constant.  Not much has changed about the place. Going to camp feels like going home.

How does SYC help teens spiritually?
For a week out of the year they get away from everyday distractions. They focus on building relationships with others and with God.  They learn to be leaders and what it means to build community through shared responsibility.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about coming to camp?
Come with an open heart, open mind, and ready to have fun.

Camp Makes a Difference!

God does some amazing things in the the life of young people at camp.  I first started camping as a young boy scout around age 10.  with parents going through great difficulties those weekend camping trips made a significant impact on me. I loved getting out in nature, learning survival skills, how to adapt in nature and cooking creatively over open flame. But as I look back, I remember the caring adults who spent time with me during those critical weekends of family chaos.  I still have merit pages earned while on those camping trips.

Then, at age 13 I was went to Sooner Youth Camp and God once again placed me exactly where I needed to be.  Caring adults, new friends, answering questions, being around people who were on fire for Jesus and sharing Scripture in very practical ways began to take seed in my life.  By then, I was the child of  single parent, a caring Mom who sacrificed financially for me to go to camp.  Every Summer I went back to Dear Ole’ Sooner Youth Camp because of relationships.

This July will make my 44th year since I began camping at Lake Murray. She is in my heart. I refer to SYC as “she” because of the way that this experience has given birth to faith in the lives of young people in profound ways. Faith formation research still has camp as a key faith forming experience for youth.

SYC has less numbers than in previous times for a variety of reasons, but SYC, like many other Christian camps makes a difference.  Traditions matter–that which we pass on and each camp has her traditions.  What is important is that Christian camping still ranks as a significant factor in the formation of faith in children and teens. Adults too who experience the week.

In a time of expensive camps, air conditioned facilities and lots of camp perks: repelling, horse back riding, etc. SYC remains simple and relatively inexpensive.

Relationships rooted in Jesus Christ, community experience, character building through shared responsibilities and lots of conversation while having fun remains constant as SYC.

Grady D. King


In 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana in London, the first space shuttle was launched from Cape Canaveral, President Reagan was shot and wounded in Washington, D. C., and I was a first-year camper at Sooner Youth Camp. My earliest memory of Sooner was getting to camp early on Sunday morning and worshiping with the staff. After lunch I rode around in the back of a pickup truck with some other guys, making sure all the cabins had enough beds and mattresses. It was hot work, the mattresses looked really thin and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know anyone–I was nervous. I wasn’t worried about the heat and I could sleep on just about anything, but, like a lot of 13-year-old kids, I liked having a friend to hang out with when I was in an unfamiliar place.

The first day was a little awkward, but it didn’t take long to meet some people and get to know the other guys in my cabin. I went to camp with guys like Wade McKnight and Jimmy Vercelli for six years, and we became life-long friends that still keep in touch with each other. Staff members, such as Olden Cook, Dorothy Smith, and Bob Utley, modeled the Christian life for me and had a lasting impact on my spiritual growth. I returned to camp as a counselor in 1991, knowing that I had the opportunity to continue to form relationships with campers and staff that would last a lifetime.

Thirty years later, it’s still hot at Group Camp #1, I still make sure the cabins have enough bunks, and there are always folks I don’t know on the first day of camp. But some of my closest friends and fondest memories are formed and renewed each year on the beautiful shores of Lake Murray. Sooner is a special place for a lot of people. You can read some of the camper testimonials on this website or check out our Facebook site for video clips of campers explaining what Sooner means to them.

Scott Billingsley
First Week Counselor

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We Camp at:

Youth Camp #1
Lake Murray State Park
13528 Scenic Highway 77
Ardmore, OK 73401