Sunday, June 26, 2011

Red Beats White

Banner on top by Segundo (the photo isn't grainy, the air is just thick with all the dust that was kicked up)

Craneview Middle School - The eternal struggle of red vs. white played out against the backdrop of a clear blue sky this past weekend as the students of Craneview Middle School took to the field for the 64th Field Day Celebration. When the dust had finally settled, the red team emerged victoriously to settle this age old score until next year when they do it all over again.

I had been preparing for this day for years. The field of competition was more vast now and I was more ready than ever to leave the minors behind. But nothing could have prepared me for what I learned that  fateful morning in June.

"Middle school field day (undoukai, or taiiikusai as they call it in the upper grades) isn't as big a deal for the parents as it was in elementary school," she said. "What?" The impact of those words had momentarily incapacitated my auditory senses. "Some parents don't come at all and only a few people pack a picnic lunch." Thud! From her lips to the bottom of my heart the words fell like a ton of bricks.

"Field day," it had been one of the biggest annual school events in our lives for years. Like parents from every nook and cranny of Temple Valley, we would be up at the crack of dawn, cooking and packing enough food to feed a small army. Rice balls, rolled omelets, little wieners, meatballs and all sorts of delicious morsels were lovingly stuffed into square boxes that were methodically stowed into satchels between vinyl picnic baskets for the long trek through the valley to the Bounty Hill Elementary School yard. 

The parents would arrive early in droves, racing to stake a claim to a plot of ground they could call their own for the day. This is the way it has been for generations, I think we even used the same lunch box that my mother-in-law crammed rice balls into when my wife was Bounty Hill grammar school kid.  As sure as the sun would rise over the mountains to illuminate the valley, field day arrived each year without fail. Sure there were a few minor changes brought by the yearly changing of the PTA guard. There was the puzzling alcoholic beverage ban. Enforced to this day  with an iron hand, it still has people scratching their noggins as to why this match made in heaven has been cast asunder.

I was extremely proud of the fact that during my short time here I had raised the local practice of zig zagging on the tips of ones toes between the edges of the sea of vinyl picnic mats that bordered the sun-beaten, dust-covered school yard to a dance form requiring all the agility of a beautifully muscular-toned ballet dancer. No one could ever recall a time in the history of Bounty Hill Elementary that anyone had ever left an errant footprint on another's plastic picnic sheet and I was bound to keep the tradition alive - with a style none will ever forget. Perhaps no other field day event required as much focus and physical fortitude than this dance.

That is with the exception of  the annual tear-jerking gymnastic dance performed by the graduating sixth grade class. Their final performance in the biggest event of their grade school careers tugs on  the heart strings of every sixth grade parent and guardian under the sun. The only more emotionally packed field day experience occurs the next day, or day after that if you're like me,  when you come to the realization that it will take hours to get that dirt-embedded gym t-shirt back to its original color again (why do they have to roll around on the ground?). That's when I usually get misty-eyed about the whole thing.

It had taken me a few years to discover that if I laid out my plastic picnic mat (later augmented with a woolly layer of blanket) in back of the school I could snooze away most of the day alongside other like-minded fathers. Now we were in the middle school big leagues and everything was different. There would be no picnics. There would be no more rolling around in the dirt. This field day was serious business. They even timed how fast everybody ran around the track!   But one bright spot (or rather not so bright spot) was the line of trees, from which we could enjoy the comings and goings from under their lovely canopy. I spied those shady spires the minute I arrived at the school grounds and without any ballet-like fanfare made a bee-line for the unoccupied space around their trunks. It was a terrific vantage point to sip on ice-cold barley tea and watch Segundo, my youngest, and all the other kids at Craneview Middle Schoolers sweat bullets as they ran around the section of the school yard dubbed "the sun's anvil."

Before exiting the gates of the school at noon time with the other spectators who were off to lunch either at home or some local noshery, M and I attempted to make contact with Segundo. An expert practitioner of the art of feigned ignorance, he made it seem as if we didn't exist. Since storm clouds on the horizon were threatening to put an early end to the games, when the parents returned after lunch, we (like more than a few others) were not among them.

The truth is we weren't missed, but we missed all the excitement. It happened during one of the more heated athletic matches known as the kiba sen (warring knights event). Not unlike the chicken fight, it's a highly spirited competition involving two or more teams divided into groups of four. The larger lads or lasses act as a horse drawn chariot (or maybe just a horse) holding the smallest member of the group (the knight) aloft. The knights, borne by the chariot and horses, try to rip the hat off the head of their opponent. Who ever claims the most hats wins the battle.

It can get pretty intense and I've always been surprised that no one has gotten even mildly injured. So I wasn't too surprised to learn that the arrival of the chariots was followed by the arrival of an ambulance, but that's as much information as I could gather. Nobody is talking about it. It's what they would refer to in some ethnic enclaves of New York City as omerta, the code of silence. So far all I've been able to get out Segundo is that his art club mentor, who happens to share the same name as two classic, mustached, video game characters (which probably has destined him to be not a total stranger to trouble), got his nose broken. I wish we were all back at the grade school yard battling for blanket space again.


Since the publication of this article the editors have learned that the aforementioned injury was related to, not warring knights but, an even more dangerous looking game known as boutaoshi (pole pull-down). Here is a Youtube clip of a "pole pull-down" event at the National Defense Academy of Japan.

We have also been informed that when M was a Bounty Hill school kid there were so many kids enrolled that they didn't have enough space for the parents and kids to picnic on school grounds. All the kids would return to their class room for lunch and the parents would eat out or at home before returning for the second half of field day. Picnicking came as a result of the declining birthrate, which perhaps came as a result of the event you see pictured above.


  1. Love the banner-did he make it at home or at school? I can't imagine making it at home and then transporting it to school.
    Reminds me of my high school days -we had Blue vs. White Team day events. It was always fun but very competitive.

  2. He made it at art club. It's the most popular club at Craneview Middle School (which could explain why so many were so ill-prepared for the rigors of the "pole pull-down" event).