DECATUR – What do you do on the last day before winter break?

At Dennis School, they had a contest to herd cow-colored balloons into pens while riding stick horses.

“I found it on Pinterest,” said Beth Creighton, a school board member and organizer of the annual book fair, which was the reason for the assembly.

The theme for the Scholastic Book Fair held in September was “Saddle Up and Read.” Creighton comes up with a different competition for every year's assembly, in which the adults battle it out for bragging rights while the students cheer on their favorites. She found the cow-patterned balloons and the wire corrals on Amazon.

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Third grader Brady Clemens cheers during the wild west showdown assembly.

The rules were: the competitors had to “ride” their stick horse, not just hold it, and bat the balloons into the pens with their straw cowboy hats, not their hands. They could steal each other's balloons until the balloons were corralled. A few of those battles got pretty intense.

Principal Matt Andrews was so breathless afterward he could hardly talk.

“I'm out of shape,” he said with a chuckle.

The winner was middle school counselor Rachel Dick, who said she runs after school every day, but maybe not on Wednesday.

“I'm pretty winded right now,” Dick said. “I don't think I'll run today.”

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Principal Matt Andrews claps as secretary Katie Gillen is introduced for her round of competition during the wild west showdown assembly rewarding students for their book fair sales at Dennis School. 

The staff had no idea what they were in for until they arrived in the gym and Creighton explained the rules to them, but they usually don't. Creighton kept the game and the rules hush-hush right up until the assembly. In past years, especially when the game required teams, she would provide a hint here and there. Dick said the strategy was to “herd” as many of the balloons into her end of the gym as possible and get them into the corral as quickly as possible. A few errant balloons ended up floating toward the watching students, who batted them back into the field of play, and occasionally toward their favorite competitor. Creighton joked that she thought she had some “photographic evidence of cheating” but decided to let the results stand.

“They always want to know if they're going to get dirty and should they bring a change of clothes,” Creighton said. “I decided to be nice this year.”

In past years, the games have included jousting, a pirate war and the Monster Games, one of which was rubbing butter on their faces and trying to pick up Froot Loops with their faces and no hands. That was definitely a year when the competitors needed to bring a change of clothes.

Parents spent $6,000 at the book fair, which means that Dennis classrooms received 600 new books, Creighton said.

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Social worker Abby Steele and principal Matt Andrews compete to corral the most cow balloons at Dennis School Wednesday. The student body was rewarded with watching school staff face off in the wild west showdown assembly as a reward for their sales during the school book fair. 

The rest of the day was spent in fun activities. Andrews said the kids had worked hard all semester and the day was a reward, with movies and games and time to wish each other a restful holiday break.

Jayden Elliott, an eighth-grader, was sure he was going to be the winner of the afternoon ugly Christmas sweater contest. He'd taken a regular sweater and decorated it with garland, ornaments and bows, using a glue gun to keep everything in place.

“You just went and bought yours,” he said teasingly to classmate Trenton Horn, who admitted he had.

Mea Abbott, also in eighth grade, wore a Goonies T-shirt under her Christmas overalls, which she said she found at Target. She, too, was looking forward to having fun with classmates.

“This is going to be an easy day,” she said.


Staff Writer

Education and family reporter for the Herald & Review.

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