By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript
When I was a kid I didn’t play sports or even understand them. My athletic abilities were honed in the woods and fields and lakes of the outdoors. This paid off exactly one day a year when my rule-following, team-playing, uniform-wearing friends simply couldn’t keep up. I refer, of course, to Field Day.
I won at Field Day . . . a lot. And when I won, I got a ribbon that said first place, because that’s what happened when you won. Field Day was made for children like me — it was a series of physical events not tied to a coach’s whimsy or the ability to know where some nebulous place called ‘off-sides’ was, but instead tied to a child’s innate ability to jump, throw and dash.
I loved Field Day. Let me clarify, I loved winning on Field Day.
So this year I volunteered for Field Day at our daughter’s school and was assigned to the Broad Jump. In this event, students stood with their feet together and jumped as far as they could — perfect for the child who often leapt across streams or, here in the Tri-Towns, slushy, wet puddles.
As each child jumped, my event partner and I measured the length, called out their distance to be recorded and . . . filed it away until next year. No winners. No prizes.
What was a former Field Day champion to do??
I know, I know, society frowns upon pushy parents at sporting events. And I knew it wasn’t about who could jump the furthest, but whether they tried their best. Yawn. What I really knew was that a little competition would push them to jump further.
I began to show the kids how far they had to jump to create a new record. I cheered, I waved my arms, I whooped and I encouraged them to jump like they’d never jumped before.
At one point two fourth grade boys were neck and neck. The one would out-jump the other on each of their three turns.
And then . . . the final jump.
I placed my sneaker at the record holder’s mark.
“You have to jump past my shoe to hold the new record.” I said in a firm voice.
The class held its breath while the boy with the current long distance paced on the side. The boy sprung up and . . .
“74 inches!!” I hollered.
They kids went wild. The children to whom God gave a pass on jumping skills weren’t crushed, they didn’t feel badly for themselves, they were genuinely thrilled to watch their classmate soar through the air. The boy whose distance was beat, laughed and was a good sport and clearly planned to come back next year and tromp the record.
I was proud of my jumpers, and it was with this attitude that I grabbed a fellow mom and entered us in the grown-up’s Three Legged Race.
“Ok,” I said as I tied the white cord around our legs . . . “We’re winning this!”
We lined up with other moms and teachers. And . . . we were off.
The white cord immediately dug into my ankle and I gritted my teeth. No pain, no three-legged race gain. We were in total sync, we were tearing down the field, the finish line was in sight and then . . . our rhythm failed. I went down in three-legged tangle. Down, but not out. I clawed at the ground while my friend dragged me by the arm through the goose-poo strewn grass, and we crossed the line.
I might have fist pumped into the air screaming like I’d won Olympic Gold while my friend lifted me with her arms. There might be photographic evidence of me going slightly crazy. It’s possible that this is why parents and sports (let alone Field Day) are not a great mix.
But I’ll leave that to the experts to sort out. I’m already practicing for next year.