As you know, I am not one to shirk responsibility. Never let it be said that I refuse to stand up to be counted. Responsibility? Bring it on!
Except that this afternoon,
I was allotted a task of such frightening responsibility that even I quailed. Let me paint you a picture. It is Upper Primary School Sports Day. The sun out on the school playing field is as hot as it has been so far this summer making me regret the fact that
I have forgotten to protect my arms and nose with sun cream of a major factor. Four gazebos have been erected on the grass, under which the pupils gather in their classes, ready to be called out to race. On the opposite side of the carefully marked race track
two rows of fold-up chairs have been set out for parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters.
It's years since I last attended a School Sports Day though in my time I have attended more than most. There was
one summer, I remember, when all four of my children were at the same Primary School - two in the Upper Juniors, one in the Lower Juniors, one in the Infants. Each section of the school, you need to know, had its own school building and its own playing fields.
Just to complicate matters further, the Lower Junior School was on the other side of a busy main road.
That Summer, all three schools held their Sports Days on the same afternoon. It was just about possible
to hop, skip and jump between Upper Juniors and the Infants School - but nigh impossible to fit in a quick trip to the Lower Juniors school. I spent the afternoon running between playing fields, hoping against hope to catch the Eldest and Middle Darling Daughters
in consecutive fifty yard sprints, then heading off to watch the Youngest of the Darling Daughters in the skipping race, before arriving just in time for My Boy's sterling performance in the Infants' Egg and Spoon Race. Medals? You are right, nobody deserved
one more than I did.
At least on that occasion I was just a spectator, albeit a permanently out of breath one. Today I was allocated a Most Important Task. No mere spectator, I. My job was to stand at the
Finish Line with two other volunteer helpers, armed with colourful plastic rosettes. Mine was yellow and denoted Second Place. Shirley was in charge of the red First Place rosette, while Max had the green Thurd Place. As the first, second and third placed
runners breasted the tape, it was our job to hand out the rosettes and encourage the Successful Ones to report in to the Results Desk. You see what I mean about responsibility?
I could imagine all kinds of
unpleasant scenes if, say, a parent was convinced that the child to whom I had awarded second place had actually pipped his / her opponent to the tape. Shirley warned me that yesterday, at the Lower Primary Sports Day, there had been tears from those who didn't
win. What on earth had I let myself in for, I wondered.
It wasn't so bad when the winner was far and away from the rest of the field, with the second place runner well ahead of the third placed child. This
happened maybe once or twice. Most of the time the pell-mell rush to the finish meant it was almost impossible to separate one from t'other. I was indebted to Shirley for her Sterling Decisiveness.
of the races, the second placed children having reported to the Results Desk, would set off at a fast trot back to the gazebo where their class was sitting, still clutching the yellow rosette. This meant I had to race after them to retrieve said rosette, somehow
persuade them that they should give it back to me, then hurry back to the finish line before the start of the next race.
Despite all that, by the second race I'd overcome my fears and remembered exactly why
I love School Sports Days. The Egg and Spoon Race! The Dressing Up Race! The running, the jumping. The expectation at the start. The determination to do one's very best. The ear to ear smiles at the finish. The high fives. The applauding parents, making sure
that every child is cheered all the way to the line, however far they finish behind the winner. The fact that, as a result, every child finished in triumph.
Afterwards while the children return to their classrooms
to collect their coats and bags before being reunited with their proud parents, I helped stack the chairs. The head-teacher thanked me for my help.
It had been, I told her sincerely, my immense pleasure.