"There's really no place like this," she said. "It's a really great trip because kids are actively participating in everything. If they leave this place and they're not wet and dirty, they didn't have a good time."
Mary Rotz and her husband, Bob, who runs the sound system and the boat slide; launched Antietam Recreation in 1977 on a 32-acre farm along the banks of Antietam Creek. Over time, they have been joined by daughter Jessica, 23, office manager; son Rob, 21, the family's builder; son Andy, 19, champion trick roper; son Tim, 16, head outlaw in the Wild West show; son Charles, 14, cable ride supervisor and actor in the Western show; and son Billy, 11, who works the petting zoo, canoeing and kayaking stations.
The Rotzes have transformed the wooded property into a sprawling fun zone where the Old West intersects with modern-day adventures - a crossroads of activity with Christian principles serving as its guideposts. The Rotzes build Christian messages into their Wild West show, Chuck Wagon dramas and some other events.
"Faith is the reason why we exist. We wouldn't host these school groups just for the fun of it," Mary Rotz said. "The faith of our forefathers got them through their hardships, and our faith can get us through the struggles we face as a nation today."
The Rotzes use a piece of American history to illustrate the power of faith during Antietam Recreation's Wild West drama, "Brother Against Brother," which portrays the story of ruthless Confederate William Quantill's bloody raid on Lawrence, Kan., in 1863. All other Antietam Recreation activities will close temporarily so Memorial Day guests can attend the afternoon performance, Rotz said.
Broadfording Christian Academy students and their chaperones got a sneak peak at the show during a field trip to Antietam Recreation on Monday, after enjoying Andy Rotz's trick roping demonstration. Against a backdrop that included a livery stable, saloon and horses tied to a hitching post, the young cowboy jumped through ropes while standing on top of his horse. He wowed the crowd with such rope tricks as butterflies, cowboy wedding rings and grasshoppers. One brave volunteer, Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Thomas Riford, even held the newspaper page that Rotz ripped in half again and again with a 14-foot bullwhip sailing through the air at speeds announced to be between 750 and 900 mph.
Rotz last year shattered Vince Bruce's 1993 record for executing the most consecutive Texas skips, a popular rope trick in which the roper swings a large vertical loop and jumps through the loop every one and a half revolutions. Bruce performed 4,011 Texas Skips atop the Empire State Building in 1993; Rotz completed 11,123 straight skips in three hours and 10 minutes at the Wild West Arts Club convention in Nevada in March 2003, according to an article in American Cowboy magazine. He will be featured in the 2005 Guinness Book of World Records.
In addition to Wild West-related entertainment, Monday's guests took turns rotating among five activity stations, the heated swimming pool and two adventure activities - including playing "capture the flag" using forts in the woods and swinging across Antietam Creek on ropes. Groups changed stations at the ring of a bell every 20 minutes.
Watching some of his peers careen down the boat slide into the creek and others make their way across the water on a wooden barge, fourth-grader Arthur Nicholl anxiously awaited his group's turn at the pool.
"I can swim underwater with my eyes open," said Arthur, 10, of Funkstown. "I like pools."
Third-grader Carly Hill, 9, liked maneuvering the kayak, but she raved about the carousel ride - a former circular horse walker on which harnessed kids rotate at progressively faster speeds.
"I liked that swing thing," the youngster said. "It went really fast."