Field Day

Field Day: n. A school event comprised of various non-traditional sporting competitions; designed to turn formerly angelic students into demonic hellspawn.

It never fails to fail. Field day is a great idea in principle, but in reality it is a mess of sunburns, hurt feelings, and sports equipment.

I love the idea of field day. A chance to celebrate altheticism and being healthy and teamwork. I love that it provides an opportunity to shine for the kiddos with more bodily-kinesthetic than mathematical-logical intelligence.

But in five years of teaching sixth grade I’ve yet to have a year where this day wasn’t a test of every ounce of patience I pretend to have.

It brings out the worst in them. The kiddo who dashed across the classroom on Friday to help a friend clean up his spilled snack is today telling that same friend: “C’mon! Ugh! Just dribble it. It’s not that hard. C’MON – we’re losing! GO FASTER!”

When the thing being dribbled is a football, and it’s being dribbled around a slalom course of traffic cones, it is that hard.

There are the kiddos who dominate. For them, dribbling a football, throwing a frisbee through a hula hoop, relay-racing with tires and playing soccer on scooters is easy.

Then there are the kiddos who… don’t dominate. Either from fear of failure or lack of athletic skills, these are the ones who know they’re going to get dragged during tug-o-war, run over during scooter soccer, trip and tumble during sack races.

Putting both groups on the same team and telling them to work together is a recipe for disaster. Half cringe and half cheer. The louder one group yells, the more the other group cowers.

It’s a mash-up of insecurity and ego – with some I-haven’t-figured-out-how-to-use-my-post-growth-spurt-body-awkwardness sprinkled on top.

But criticism and mean-spirited competitiveness don’t fly with me. I haven’t spent all year creating a group-centered mindset to let them tear each other down because they’re suddenly broken into Blue, White and Maroon teams. They know that when they line up for lunch, they’re all still Schmidties. And when they come back to our classroom tomorrow, they need to be able to look each other in the eye with respect, not regret.

I saw one kiddo freeze today during a ‘team-building’ activity where they had to get all eight of them across the blacktop using only nine random pieces of gym-class-junk. She was teetering on a wooden block, her face a mask of panic as her teammates screeched at her: “DON’T FALL!” and told her to simultaneously crouch and pick up a traffic cone and pass it forward. She wanted to freeze, stabilize… or disappear – but she was “slowing them down’ so she bent, grasped the cone… and lost her balance. Her hand touched the blacktop momentarily, and her team had to start again from the beginning.

Her walk back across the playground, chin tucked down and lips pressed tight, looked like a battle march and I wanted to cry for her.

But I wasn’t giving my kiddos enough credit. When she reached the starting line they hugged her and offered: “You almost had it. You’ll do better next time. We’ve got this.”

And she picked her chin up and smiled – offering a strategy: “Why doesn’t someone with better balance go last? I’m no good at balancing and picking up the equipment. Also, it’s way easier to balance on the block if you turn it the other way.”

~Proud teacher moment~

Flash forward a few hours to Field Day – part 2. Instead of wacky made-up games, it’s now lightning rounds of volleyball. Pitting the six 6th grade classes against each other.

This began out promisingly enough. Both my boys’ and girls’ started off 2-0 for one simple reason: they know each other. They were so quick to say: “You’ve got this one. Great shot. I’ve got your back. Ah, great try! Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”

The other classes bickered and stumbled over each other as they all scrambled for every ball.

My class didn’t end up 5-0. The loses eventually came as the other classes organized – determining their best servers and using them exclusively while my kiddos clung to: “You haven’t served yet? Hey guys, let’s make sure he’s next. Don’t worry, you’ll get the next one over.”

They laughed and chattered and congratulated while their competitors strategized.

And the cheers started. I believe I could live my whole life without needing to hear another chorus of “We Will Rock You.” Or the words, You’ve been schooled! I pwn’d you! You’re going dooooow-oown.

My favorite? When a boy from another class jeered, “Oh, it’s over!” And one of my literal-minded kiddos responded, “No it’s not; we’ve got 8 minutes left in this game.”

Ahhh, innocence.

At the end of the day we trudged back in the building – exhausted, sweaty and stinky (please, for the love of all things olfactory, remember that Axe and Body Splash are not the same as deodorant). The face paint that had been so crisp and sparkly this morning was now running down cheeks and smeared into eyes. Ponytails were askew, ribbons un-bowed. The kiddos slumped into their seats and rested panting chins on grimy, suntanned arms.

They listened with squirmy-anticipation to the afternoon announcements, anxious to find out which team had ‘won’ the no-prize for having the highest number of points.

As soon as the gym teacher began to read the results: “And in third place, with a total of 1127 points, we had the BLUE TEAM…” The kiddos forgot their exhaustion and hoarse throats and began a new round of chants and cheers. By the time the White Team had been proclaimed the winner, you could hear the jibes & applause echoing from every classroom.

But in room 202, the loudest cheerer of all was quickly copied by the rest of the kiddos, and what he said was colorless: “Go Schmidties! Good job today.”

I couldn’t agree more.