As one might imagine, the current "Field Day" experience for Generation Z is a far cry from the one of our youth that typically involved little more than foot races and maybe using the playground equipment (all blistering hot steel and cracked dirt, of course, no plastic surfaces or wood chips to be found) as a makeshift obstacle course.
The format in 2019 - at least for the two Li'l Frys at their elementary school past week - is this: each classroom of 20 or so kids rotates through all 17(!) stations, getting about fifteen minutes per station. There's a morning group (8:10am-11:00am) and then an afternoon group (11:30am-2:30pm). The logistics behind this sort of progression involves hundreds of teachers, volunteers, and hyperactive kids is military-like in its complexity and implementation. Special commendation to the staff member who had to blast the air horn "rotate!" signal every 15 minutes all day.
1. Nine Square (indoors) - Requiring a do-it-yourself PVC pipe cage, nine players each have a square space from which to pass a ball back and forth ("no double taps!") over the top rails of the PVC cage bars. A kind of three-dimensional variation of the old Four Square game. If the ball hits the floor inside your square or if you pass the ball outside the cage's boundaries, you're out. Then everyone shuffles forward to take your spot in the nine spaces a new player enters in the first space.
2. Basketball Knockout (indoors) - This one confused us. Something about two players shooting but the first shooter has to make it before the second one makes it. That shooter is safe, so the other is out, but then sometimes the other one can keep shooting. Huh? Whatever happened to "Horse" or "Around the World"?
3. Agility Course (indoors) - What you get when you make kids run across taped down circles, hop over small hurdles, and weave through plastic cones. Low tech, but the kids seem to kind of like it.
4. Snack and Class Photo (indoors) - Every kid got a fruit punch popsicle. Hardly seems to us like a proper station.
5. Toss - Throwing tennis balls into holes in a canvas target like a midway carnival game.
6. Bounce House - Why not turn a birthday party gimmick into a "Field Day" station? Jumping and tackling your friends in mid-air can be exercise.
7. Inflatable Obstacle Course - Self explanatory.
8. Wrecking Ball - Yet another inflatable. Climb inside and stand on one of four platforms, then swing a giant vinyl ball at each other. Last one standing wins. Reminds us of the late, great ABC show "Wipeout!"
9. Playground - This seems kind of lazy, turning the playground these kids use every day into a "station." And what's up with schools now putting those giant canvas tents over playgrounds to make shade? Why didn't someone come up with that 40 years ago to better protect us from future skin cancers? Thanks for nothing, Baby Boomers.
10. Sack Race and Three-Legged Race - Now we're talking. This is old school "Field Day." We can't remember for sure that these kind of races were featured at our F.P. Caillet "Field Days" of the late 70s/early 80s, but we're guessing they were.
11. Hamster Balls - Easily the most impressive station. Kids climb inside huge clear inflatable spheres, then run on the inside surface like a hamster wheel (get it?) to move forward and backward along a "track." We managed this station for 90 minutes in the blazing afternoon sun. Big mistake. They look like harmless, puffy-looking toys but they are formidable beasts of hot vinyl that are hard to maneuver and unwieldy to wrangle, especially for the younger kids who either don't know how or aren't strong enough to run on the inside surface of the ball and create momentum. Which means we're stuck pushing them while they flop around inside like a tube sock in the dryer. Then there's the issue of trying to rotate the ball to get the one doorway level with the ground. If a kid comes back with the ball and the door's facing straight up in the air, get ready for screaming muscle pain and muttered curses. It's a miracle we didn't get heat stroke out there. Next year we're going to pick an indoor station.
12. Gaga Pit - A Thunderdome sort of thing where you step inside a plywood octagon and play a game with a ball. We've heard about it but never seen it in action.
13. Tug of War - Pretty exciting for the first couple of minutes. But then you have another 12 minutes to kill before the stations rotate. How many times can you do this without the kids losing interest? Maybe three.
14. Soccer Kick - Two players are the goalie, two players attack and try to score a goal. Rotate and repeat.
15. Water Ball - Fill garbage cans with water from a hose, add soakable hacky sack balls, then wage war. It's really just a delivery system for getting the kids wet. (No overhead throwing allowed, wink wink.)
16. Water Race - Relay race where two teams take turns transporting water into an empty bucket by filling up cups and holding them over their head as they run. First team to fill the empty bucket wins. The "get extremely wet" requirement comes from the holes poked in the bottom of the cups. As expected, the handoff relay element quickly vanishes and the kids just start running one after the other.
17. Inflatable Slide - The sort of thing we would have loved as a kid. The slide is 20 feet tall easy.