They arrived in capes and spandex, wearing matching shirts, bandannas, and smiles. While classic rock filled the grassy area behind the softball diamond, they applied face paint, surveyed the inflatables, and wrestled with the decision: shoes or no shoes.
This was San Dieguito’s “Senior Olympics,” and in a synecdoche of what makes our school special, hundreds of 12th graders stayed after school on the Friday before spring break to have fun and play.
These amazing students might have started the day in AP Art History, Concert Band, Auto Shop, or Culinary Arts. Here, however, as they worked in spirited teams to run relays, play tug-of-war, and shoot baskets into inflatable hoops, they exuded the energy of delighted seven year olds.
It was awesome.
At our Student Forum earlier in the week a senior had brought up the idea of recess. While her comment had been half in jest, it resonated with me as an honest and inadvertently profound idea. Here, as these seniors burst into celebration when teammates crossed the finish line of the blindfolded three legged race, the truth of the value of play showed its teeth with a smile.
The importance of play has been talked about by people more knowledgeable than I. Heck, a lifetime ago I had the pleasure of doing a book club with parents and teachers on Dr. Stuart Brown’s book Play. In the competitive world our students inhabit, it takes reminders like Brown’s book and our Senior Olympics to hold up examples of why we, and our kids, need to laugh more.
Some might suggest that competition had something to do with today’s event, and it’s true that the burly team of boys who lost the first tug-of-war were crestfallen in the seconds after they were pulled beyond the line, but as I walked around to the different events I realized that that wasn’t it.
Watching the kids, even in events as competitive as bouncy jousting, I saw that they cheered no matter who won.
I saw the smiles on the faces of the parent volunteers too, as they saw their kids acting like …kids. Everyone over forty knows how much time these seniors have to be adults, and seeing them clap and laugh spontaneously as they did so regularly in kindergarten reminded us of the joy that teenage angst withers before when that joy is given a chance to shine.
I said something to a dad who was there helping to manage a bouncy slide relay, pointing to a group of seniors jumping up and down and screaming as if they’d won the World Series.
“Yeah,” he smiled, “and this is their second time through. The first race was the one that counted. They’re doing this one just for fun.”
How important it is to have things in our lives that we do just for fun.
Today’s Senior Olympics, this amazing opportunity to release joy, celebrate play, and be a community filled with laughter, gave all of us who were there a glimpse of a kind of happiness we can never have too much of.