The Vancouver Elks Lodge 823's ritual team stands victorious after its first-place win at the South Regional Ritual Competition on Oct. 13, 2012, in Raymond.
Even a wandering eye can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
For only the third time in its 110-year history, members of the Vancouver Elks Lodge 823 will attempt to show off the perfection of their initiation ritual at the Elks National Convention Ritual Contest on July 14-18 in Reno, Nev.
Such competitions are a long-standing tradition in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Centered around the national organization's detailed initiation ceremony for new members, teams must re-enact the ritual as judges inspect their every word and movement.
Performing in the role of esquire on the Vancouver lodge team, Keith Laurent must memorize around 800 words in a script he's expected to follow to a T.
"They'll ding you on anything: hand placements, walking," Laurent said. "It's quite a challenge actually."
The local lodge scored 97.8 out of 100 at a regional competition last October. That first-place showing propelled it to the state competition in January, which the team also handily won.
At the national event, the team will face off against other state champions from the West, just as those from the east side of the country will compete against one another. The winners of both will then face off for ultimate victory.
Laurent said the nearly 45-minute initiation ceremony -- the same for all Elks lodges -- is meant to instill the values of the order by guiding new members through four stations where key concepts are explained: fidelity, charity, justice and brotherly love.
There are about 800 members of the Vancouver Elks and all have pledged to uphold those qualities.
"It's kind of like a play, but it really shows the ambition of the order, what we're all about," Laurent said. "You only get initiated once so we take that one time for a new candidate pretty seriously."
Judges at ritual competitions watch for memorization, pronunciation and specific movements from competitors, such as if they are properly placing their right hand over their heart while saluting a flag or if their heels are lined up. Teams are also critiqued in more subjective areas, including "impressiveness."
Laurent said the lodge was recently visited by judges from Washington who helped them prepare for nationals. The experts pointed out that the tuxedos the team planned to wear didn't quite match; some had pockets, others didn't. The judges advised them to rent new tuxes or warned they could be docked points.
"Once you walk in that room, you're on," Laurent said.
Nationals is a big deal in the world of the Elks, but Laurent said the team is ready after its successes in Washington.
"We feel very confident," he said.
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