If you ask people about Play Day, the annual parade and family races on Main Street, you won’t get more than a couple of sentences before you hear the words ‘fun’ and ‘family.’ Although the latter can sometimes change from year-to-year, the former is as much a guarantee as the setting sun.
This year was as it has been for the previous 83 years, races on the lawn; a community lunch and you probably saw grandma and grandpa lounging in a lawn chair one minute, then charging down the pitch the next minute.
“It looks like it’s a fun activity for the kids and parents,” said Jim LeShana, the new VP of Academics at Barclay College. “It also looks like its an opportunity for people to make connections with each other. I can tell very clearly that it is extremely affirming for the community.”
Le Shana, his wife Jeanine and his 8th Grade daughter Joy just recently moved to Haviland from Orange County, Calif. and were enjoying their first Play Day from the sidelines.
“[We didn’t have anything] quite like this in southern California,” laughed LeShana. “We lived for 15 years in Newberg, Ore., and they had something they called play day. But they didn’t do sack or three-legged races there, it was a kind of serious track meet. It did have the same kind of community feel though, with the kids and parents having a good time.”
According to local historian Delores Williams, Play Day was first organized by local farmers, who wanted to provide an event where kids and families could “blow off some steam and have fun” after what was then a grueling harvest season.
“As long as it’s been here, we’ve been here,” said Lloyd Ballard who, with his wife Irene, watched three generations of family members run races, from a pair of shaded lawn chairs. “I’m 85, but my folks brought me [to the first year] when I was one year old.”
Both products of Kiowa County rural schooling, Mrs. Ballard recalled the early years when kids from all of the surrounding rural schools would gather and run races down Main Street.
“I went to country school and it was really important that we come to it,” said Mrs. Ballard who said she always brought their four sons and one daughter, their grand children and their great grandchildren to the races, which have now moved to the sprawling lawn next to the Haviland State Bank.
“The young people really enjoy it; look at all of these kids running around here. We enjoy watching them also,” added Mr. Ballard who smiled and noted that although he hadn’t won many races, his wife had. “Irene was very fast!”
Only in a small community like Haviland can such a pure and untouched tradition continue.
Williams remarked that there had been lean years. But even when weather, illness and apathy dwindled attendance numbers, there were families that carried Play Day through the famine.
We can all agree that everyone in attendance last Friday was grateful for their seat at the feast.