Field day. Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when I was in elementary school, field day was the biggest end-of-school-year event on the calendar. The set up was a combination track and field meets color wars event. It was fun, it was loud and it was competitive. We were divided into teams and competed in events like the long jump, high jump and 40-yard dash. We also ran potato sack races, three-legged races and played tug-of-war. Individual and team points were awarded, scores were kept and winners were named. I think we even received ribbons (although my memory is a little fuzzy on this part, so don’t hold me to it).
Fast forward twenty-something years to yesterday … field day at my third grader’s elementary school. Kids were divided into equal color groups, not teams (this distinction was intentional). There was no long jump, high jump or 40-yard dash. No potato sack race, three-legged race or tug-of-war. No points, scores or winners, and definitely no prize ribbons. Field day at my son’s school is not a competitive event.
In our school, competition is considered the dirty “C” word. No one says this aloud, but it’s true. Nothing is about winning and losing. Just participating. Reading events, talent shows, Box Top collections … all just for the fun of it. No motivation to finish first. No challenge to do your best. The school’s ideology fits right in with the “everybody gets a medal” mentality that is rampant on little league fields and soccer fields around the country. I don’t usually agree with this ideology, in part because I’m competitive and in part because that’s not how it was when I was growing up. Back in the day, we had winners and losers, and only the winners received awards. Sure, the runners-up were sad, but they got over it — quickly — and life went on. Competition was, and is, natural. It’s healthy. It’s motivating. It’s part of life. And before anyone sends me an email about how “winning at all costs” isn’t healthy or motivating, that’s not what I’m talking about. Good sportsmanship trumps winning every time, but it doesn’t mean you don’t give 100%.
Back to field day … Despite my competitive nature and upbringing, you may be surprised to read that I am happy that field day at my son’s school isn’t competitive. Why? Because this event isn’t about who is faster or stronger or more talented. It isn’t even about sports. It’s about getting the kids — all kids, even the ones with disabilities — moving, laughing and playing together. Something they should be doing ever day, but sadly many are not. Field day is just a fun day, plain and simple.
To keep it light, the event has a theme and the games are silly, requiring a good attitude rather than good skills. This year’s theme was Rock ‘n Roll, so each of the 12 stations was named after a song. Some examples: Wipeout (ride a boogie board in a kiddie pool), I Wanna Rock (pick up marbles with toes), Welcome to the Jungle (race to collect stuffed animals before being tagged), Pour Some [Water] on Me (race to fill up bottle with water), Walk This Way (walk course with huge inflatable ring around belly), and so on. Each time the song “I Love Rock and Roll” was played, it was time to change stations. Throngs of blue, red, yellow and green clad kids from kindergarten through fifth grade ran from station to station, squealing with delight and singing along with the music. Not one kid stood still. Not one kid was left out. Not one kid looked unhappy. Despite the overcast skies and unseasonably chilly weather, UE’s field day really was a success … a dirty, wet, loud, joyful success.
And I bet everyone slept well last night, too.