Having a Field Day

In 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson was just being a kid in Oakland, California. He was outside playing and had a glass filled with flavored soda water and a stirring stick. Then in a move that would surprise no mother ever, when it was time to go in, Frank left his concoction sitting on the ground outside for the whole chilly night. In the morning, the boy found that the contents of the glass had frozen with a great stir stick handle stuck down inside.

popsicle
I mean, who doesn’t love a good Popsicle?

Through the years, Frank continued to make his frozen treats, delighting his friends, and eventually his children. In 1923, he sold his “Eppsicles” to the enthusiastic public at a park in Alameda, California. I imagine it was something of a stampede, because nearly a century later, Frank’s accidental frozen concoction, renamed “Popsicle” by his children, remains a staple summertime treat, adored by children and at least one PTA mom who has definitely put in her time.

Last week, in the final few days counting down to summer break, my youngest son participated in his last ever field day. And because he will officially be a middle schooler next year, this was my last field day as well.

I’ve written about Field Day before. It’s that most dreaded of events on the grade school calendar, when the entire day is dedicated to outdoor games I am convinced P.E. teachers dream up only to punish parents for the hours and hours of torture inflicted by their children throughout the school year.

lasso golf
By far my least favorite Field Day game of all time. Oh the knots! By Wolff83 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21406979

For years, I have filled water balloons, chased playground balls, and untangled lasso golf ropes. I have soothed hurt feelings, tracked down lost activity passports, and broken up arguments about who tripped whom in the three-legged race. All of this I have accomplished while holding sunglasses, water bottles, tubes of sunscreen and whatever childhood detritus emerges from a bulging pocket.

This year marked my seventh field day at this school, not counting the years when I volunteered on two separate days because I had a child in both the younger and older grades. I arrived early, hoping I might have a greater opportunity to choose which activity I would lead—hopefully nothing with complicated rules, or whining children, or the need to take off shoes.

Then a miracle occurred. The school counselor responsible for checking ids, clearing background checks, and assigning tasks looked at me and asked, “Would you like to hand out Popsicles?”

icypops
Technically we did not hand out traditional Popsicles on sticks. These are less messy. And they come in blue flavor, which is evidently the favorite among the grade school crowd.

I was so stunned I could hardly speak. At first I only nodded, the glorious sensation spreading through me like glitter spilling across the craft table and cascading onto the floor. “Yes,” I managed to whisper at last. “Yes, I can do that.”

The only problem with Popsicles is that they melt, and so there is a narrow window for frozen treat distribution. Because of this, the children have to line up more or less all at once. Some might call it a stampede.

But we had a good system. The lucky mom assigned to popcorn duty (a parent of sixth grade twins who had certainly paid her dues over the years) was set up next to me. We suspended popcorn operations during the popsicle window so one of us could hand out the treats while the other marked off the Popsicle spot on each activity passport. We also cleverly convinced an unwitting student teacher to stand over the trashcan and help kids open their treats.

And then it was over.

There was no arguing. The kids were all happy to get a yummy frozen treat. I didn’t have to hold anyone’s water bottle, chase any playground balls, or frantically search for a wayward, wet sock.

sock-256961__340
Field Day can get all kinds of crazy.

Afterwards I helped the popcorn mom with her distributions and we chatted about how much we have loved our grade school with its dedicated teachers, talented administrators, and great support staff. Neither of us will miss Field Day.

After he was finished handing out treats to a sunny California crowd all those years ago, Frank Epperson filed a patent for his Popsicle in 1924. Soon, Frank’s accidental frozen concoction was one of the most highly sought treats on Coney Island and at Field Day, where after seven long years, this PTA mom finally caught a break.

 

The Greatest Two Hours in Field Day

Yesterday I’m pretty sure I set a world record. I mean it’s not official or anything and it probably doesn’t sound that impressive on this of all days, since today is the 82nd anniversary of “the greatest 45 minutes in sports.” Admittedly, that was pretty impressive, too.

It was in 1935, at the Big Ten Track and Field Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan that Jesse Owens tied the 100-yard dash world record and then smashed the world records in long jump, 220-yard dash, and 220-yard low hurdles. With a back injury. In just 45 minutes.

Jesse Owens
What truly impressive feats of athleticism look like. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96374 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5368787

I don’t run if I can help it (unless I have let one of my friends or one of my sons talk me into it, because I’m a sucker) but that sounds like a pretty good day to me. Owens went on to dominate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as well, and had it been a different, more just era, he would have raked in the endorsements. He did become the first African American depicted on a Wheaties box, but the big money sports endorsements he hoped to gain by leaving the realm of amateur sports behind, never materialized, and his career as an athlete was unfortunately short lived. Still, he remains one of the greats in sports history.

I will not go down as such. I doubt anyone will name a stadium after me, or craft a statue in my honor. I’ve not yet discovered the athletic niche that could land me on a Wheaties box, and at nearly forty, I suspect my time for that may be running short.

But I am proud of my accomplishments yesterday, when I served as the parent-in-charge at the lasso golf station at my son’s elementary school Field Day. By now I’m sure you’ve seen this game, played at company picnics and backyard barbecues.

You might choose to believe the entirely unsupported speculation (which more credible lasso golf experts might refer to as a “wild guess”) that cowboys in the Wild West played a similar game using tree branches and live snakes. Or you might believe that it emerged from campgrounds in the early to mid-90s and is new enough it hasn’t quite settled on a name just yet. You may know it as “ladder golf,” “ladder ball,” “horsey golf,” “dangle ball,” or even just “balls on bars.”

ladder
Oh, that game!

I’m sure there are more regional names as well, but the basic idea of the game is that you have a three-rung ladder-like structure and you throw bolas at it to try to get them to wrap around the rungs to score points. And by bolas, I mean two balls attached to one another by a rope, similar to the weapon used regularly by pre-Columbian societies to trip and take down animals. So, obviously, this is a great game to play with third through fifth graders.

Actually, we had remarkably few people get tripped up, or even get clocked in the head, which was something of a miracle given that initially the game was set up to throw toward the playground and that grade school students have a tendency to wander across any old field of play they happen upon. But very early on I did discover one major hurdle to lasso golf success.

Because the darn bolas get tangled. I don’t mean that once in a while they might get twisted around one another and have to be spun out. I mean that every single time an oh-so-helpful child picks up more than one of them at a time and holds them in his or her hand for more than 0.2 seconds the ropes form into a knot that might as well be held together by superglue. Honestly, I might rather play with live snakes.

But Field Day is about fun and parental perseverance. And so despite the fact that the mother I was partnered with disappeared before the first game could even begin (I have to assume she wandered off and got recruited to lead a rousing game of fun noodle javelin throw), and the line for my incredibly popular lasso golf station never dropped below ten or so anxious kids, and the bolas frequently ended up on the other side of the playground or across the kickball field, where I couldn’t always manage to grab them before an oh-so-helpful grade schooler scooped them up, immediately accidentally tying  the knot of all knots, I got pretty good at running a smooth game.

knot
Just a small knot here.

In fact, I got so good, had someone been handy with a stopwatch (and if anyone bothered to keep records of such things), I’m pretty sure I would have easily smashed the world record for the length of time it takes to untie a lasso golf bola. I probably shattered the record several times over the course of my two hour sentence shift.

Now I’m not saying I’m a world class athlete, or that this was the greatest two hours in sports. But it might have been the greatest two hours in Field Day, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get any big endorsement deals out of it.