Sports Day!

The scoreboard - it's a tie!

The best day of the year in school is most certainly Sports Day. Fierce competition, free food, happy students, silly dances, and zero responsibility. What could be better?

Sports Day is serious business. The day before Sports Day was ‘Sports Day Practice Day,’ where the students rehearsed running relays and stretching. It’s not just a day of fun and games: it’s a day of fun and games in a specific, controlled way that’s impressive to parents (and also a day to imbue a bit of propaganda, as I later discovered).

Sports Day preparation

Watching Sports Day Practice Day from the window of the English room on the fourth floor gave me a good preview of the events to come. Groups of students were rehearsing dance numbers all afternoon, making me anticipate what I would see the next day.

Sports Days preparation - with umbrellas!

But the next day, I came to school to find Sports Day had been canceled due to ‘yellow dust.’ I didn’t see any dust, but apparently it was so bad that exercising outside would be ‘dangerous’. Of course, I didn’t find out about the cancellation until 5 minutes before the start of my until-that-moment-canceled first hour class. Surprise! While this holds true to anywhere you are, I think it is particularly important to anyone working in a Korean elementary school: always be prepared for everything.

The following day, it was on. The schoolyard was all done up for the big day.

Sports Day

I was impressed by the number of parents able to come out, considering it was a Tuesday morning. It seemed a good number of the students had parents present.

The activities started with some stretching:

…which was accompanied by a song so great I had to capture it on video:

Isn’t it wonderful?

The principal looks over the events

The Principal, administration and head of the Parents’ Committee sat above the events, lording over the proceedings behind a table set with fresh fruit and rice cakes like the Roman Emperor observing the Gladiator Games. Ok, it wasn’t all that much, but the grandeur of their set-up did seem a bit silly.

Some sixth grade students in charge of broadcasting

Some of my favorite sixth grade girls (not that I choose favorites…) were in charge of ‘broadcasting.’ Please note that the shirt on the right: “CASHED / i’m cashed, brah.” Awesome.

Free from responsibilities other than being present (and doing a tiny bit of relay running), I spent the day mostly observing and hanging out with students and other teachers. And being waved at repeatedly by waiting fourth-graders:

Cute fourth grade students, waiting

I think they're cheering for the white team

Fourth Grade cheer section

Team Blue fourth graders

They look so cute and sweet here. In class, some of them tend to be more of the opposite. Hard to imagine…

Each grade had one or more events. There were many races and relay races, along with a few adorable dances. But by far the most interesting event was #3:

3. Dokdo is ours!

which was “Dokdo island is ours!” (as expressed by my co-teacher)

Dokdo is a hotly-disputed tiny island / cluster of rocks in the sea between Korea and Japan. Both countries claim ownership, although they are currently patrolled by Korean coastguard and both of the two permanent island residents are Korean. Things recently got really heated when Japan released new school geography books that stated Dokdo belonged to them. Propaganda about these rocks is all over the place in Korea.

A third grader claiming Dokdo for Korea

The event was essentially a relay, in which the teams competed to cover all of Korea’s territory with little orange flowers. Dokdo featured rather prominently on the map, considering its relative size.

Dokdo is ours!

The final step was to put together a sign that read: Daemado Island is Japan’s land. Dokdo Island is Korea’s land.

It all seems rather silly to me, as there don’t seem to be any resources or anything actually worth disputing over on the islands. But it is definitely not silly to the Korean people. Or to my school, apparently.

Fifth Grade's Umbrella Dance

My second favorite event was the much-anticipated umbrella dance routine. It was super cool, and kind of reminded me of high school marching band days…

More cute outfits from the dances:

Adorable Kindergarten dance

First Grade's Twister-inspired costmes
First grade, wearing a bunch of Twister boards and towels on their heads and no pants!

Probably second grade? Diggin the doo-rags, and the GODSEND t-shirt.

My favorite non-dance outfit:

Kids wear these hoodies all the time. They seem to be gaining popularity with the older ones too. It can be very frightening to be teaching and turn around to see a small skeleton or monkey has suddenly appeared in class.

Two other rather interesting events featured parent – teacher race competitions. The dads against the male teachers was an intensely competitive match, although the teachers easily won. Go teachers!

Sports Day culminated in a giant relay race of the entire fourth grade, with the top sixth grade runners as ringers at the end. It was a vicious race: first the blue team had a giant lead, then the white team pulled way ahead. The entire school watched from the sidelines, screaming wildly for their team. Coming into the final lap, it was neck-and-neck, the blue team finally closing the gap. And then – the unthinkable! – the white team dropped the baton on the final hand-off. The blue team pulled way ahead and won by a mile, winning the day.


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