Four elementary schools and the newly created Sunflower Park comprised Salina’s very first summer recreational program. Staffing at each site included a playground and an arts and crafts director, usually school teachers on summer “vacation” and three assistants from the college ranks. The schedule was brutal from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for eight weeks, rain or shine; the dog days were a special challenge. Lunches and breaks were catch-as-catch-can. Kickballs, bows and arrows, paints and brushes and a whole lot more were stuffed in directors’ car trunks to be loaded and unloaded each day. The schedule left little time for teachers to grab a vacation before the start of school, nor college kids to pack and leave for the fall semester.
Playground activities included a host of low organizational games aimed at staying within the comfort zone of those less inclined to participate in the more rigorous structure of competitive sports. Basketball, kickball and softball were available for those who enjoyed the challenge and could handle “the agony of defeat.” One of the favorites was a throwback to days of old when wars were fought with bows and arrows, but with a modern-day twist. Balloons were pinned on archery targets and, although a challenge in the wind, the pop, when successful, was worth it. Those who enjoyed arts and crafts went home with a project every day. Tie-dying a T-shirt was a favorite, but just as much was making something special for mom or dad. One year my arts and crafts director chose such popular projects that we were in danger of running out of materials before summer’s end. I called the presidents of each of the eight senior citizen groups to come to the rescue, and rescue they did! I requested they save the cardboard inserts in toilet paper rolls for projects. There came a time when I had to put a stop to their contributions. With over a thousand seniors and their neighbors and relatives during an eight-week program, anyone interested can do the math.
I could never thank my directors enough for their creativity and energy. The director at Sunflower Park arranged to have ponies trucked to the park and in some cases it was a youngsters very first — and maybe only — pony ride. Another popular activity was a scavenger hunt, which required a director to go on site on his own time, usually an evening, to prepare. Kids were lined up raring to go even before the playgrounds opened the next morning! Prizes were often on the director’s dime.
Culminating activities in the seventh and eighth weeks of the program included a track meet and a bottle cap carnival. The track meet was held at the old Liverpool High School on Fourth and Hickory and later the track at Onondaga Park in Liverpool. First, second and third place ribbons were awarded and everyone was treated to a cold soft drink compliments of McDonald’s.
The bottle cap carnival was a special treat unto itself. Kids were encouraged at the beginning of the summer playground season to save bottle caps; directors “secretly” saved, too, just in case a kid forgot or had little or no access to bottle caps. A dozen gross of prizes were purchased from ACE Jobbing Co. on North Salina Street with special notation on the purchase order: NO X-RATED prizes. Always wondered what went through the minds of state examiners during their annual audit? Each director was responsible for creating two events that they and their staff monitored. Tables were borrowed from the town hall meeting room. Activities were creative and hilarious. More on the bottle cap carnival in a later column.
At the conclusion of the summer program, each playground director was responsible for inventory and equipment drop-off. The first couple years there was no storage space to be had so I put some feelers out and lo and behold, through the benevolence of Crandall Melvin on Buckley Road, a barn was made available at his private residence. Not so much as a ping-pong ball or shuttlecock ever went missing in a barn that was never locked! It crossed my mind a time or two what went through the minds of my school teacher staff driving their CNY rust buckets onto the Melvin estate on an annual salary under 6k!
Next week: Park acquisition.