What are your memories of Field Days at school? Fond or frightening? If you’re of British Heritage, you may know them as Sports Days. Either way, elementary schools have traditionally held Field Days in the spring each year. They’re days filled with games and activities, including athletic contests and also more fun-focused events. Think sprints, races with eggs and spoons, wheelbarrow races, three-legged and sack races, and horseshoes. Sometimes, parents were invited. Occasionally there were prizes and often there were rivalries between grade levels or groups of classmates.
But how can Field Days work when kids aren’t in school? And how can they work when they’re not allowed to be together, but required to socially isolate themselves, such as during Spring 2020? Changes presented by the global pandemic of 2020 are not the only ones seen by Field Days over the years. Students today might not recognize one of the early Field Days in the U.S… and certainly wouldn’t recognize the outfits.
Field Days in the Past
Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York claims to have been the first women’s college in the United States to hold a Field Day, all the way back in November 1895. It consisted of 17 students who had not been trained in athletics or competition, who participated in several track events. They competed in the 100-yard dash, the running broad jump, the running high jump, and the 220-yard dash.
One event that apparently stood out was the running high jump. Impressive as the results were, one observer wanted everyone to understand just how impressive those jumps were. After all, the jumpers were all wearing Victorian bloomers while jumping.
The performance in the high jump was better than it appears on paper, for, owing to the fact that the competitors wear bloomers of the most ample kind, the bar has to be cleared some four inches to allow for the sweep of these nether garments.
School uniforms are one thing, but thankfully it’s been a long while since any American student had to worry about the circumference of their bloomers while competing in the high jump.
Field Days During a Pandemic
The pandemic of 2020 brought new and different challenges. How could schools run Field Days in an era of enforced social distancing while students were at home? And should they?
The Online Physical Education Network decided that Field Day must go on despite COVID-19 and all its implications. OPEN developed exhaustive resources for teachers, parents, and community groups to hold a National Field Day on May 8, 2020. Thousands of schools across 50 states hosted virtual events, complete with an opening ceremony on YouTube.
Activities for National Field Day included the traditional, the ingenious, and the bizarre — even things like the Wash Your Hands Relay, the Clothes Relay, and Flip Your Lid. Each activity had online tutorials, and schools and families everywhere posted videos of their versions online.
The Towel Flip Challenge
One activity spawned by National Field Day that took on an online life of its own was the Towel Flip Challenge.
It wasn’t an event at Vassar’s 1895 Field Day, and may not make the Olympics any time soon, but here’s the challenge: lay a towel onto the floor, stand on it with both feet, and without removing your feet, turn that towel upside down so the side that was touching the floor is facing upwards when you’re done. You get extra points for doing it with style! And you get extra extra bonus points for doing it without falling flat on your face. One last thing — you’ve got to do it in just one minute.
Did you try it? How did it work out? If you haven’t tried it, or any of the National Field Day events, the good news is that all those online resources and highlights (lowlights?) are still online. Every day can be a Field Day until the day we can all have a traditional Field Day again… without “bloomers of the most ample kind.”
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