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All work and no play? . . . not at Whitman

A large field of grass has so many possibilities: a manicured lawn, a public park, a golf course or a backyard. However, to most students an open space of grass means one thing — a playground.

Playgrounds were officially organized in the United States in 1906 when the Playground Association of America received government funding to implement them in schoolyards. John Dewey himself was a member of the PAA. "It is the business of the school to set up an environment in which play and work shall be conducted with reference to facilitating desirable mental and moral growth," he wrote in Muscles and Morals.

While playground fun paired with scholastic study is usually associated with youngsters of the elementary school age, college students are not excluded. College campuses, including Whitman, give large spaces of grass somber titles such as athletic fields. However, the students know those open spaces of grass are playgrounds.

Ankeny Field has always been the playground of the campus. Above, an intramural team runs through a drill.
Whitman College's playground, formally known as Ankeny Field, lies smack in the middle of campus. In 1904 trustee Levi Ankeny provided the money for the open grassy space for the beautification of Whitman's campus.

During the early years, Ankeny Field was used primarily for varsity football and baseball as well as for some intramural sports. Nevertheless, the mayhem of playground ramblings occurred in the form of pie-eating contests, three legged races, egg tosses, and tug-o-wars during May Fete activities. And the 1963 edition of the Waiilatpu reported that the "Back-to-Marc Day" activities were "somewhat untraditional" because of an "emphasis on fun" on Ankeny Field.

Over the years, Ankeny Field has also been the central point for many students' shenanigans. Professor of history emeritus Tom Edwards recalled an incident in the early 1970s when students objected to wooden outfield fences on Ankeny Field because they cut off passage across campus. "One night the students folded them up and put them around Memorial Building." The Whitman administration heard the students' message loud and clear, Edwards said. "The field became more user friendly by the late 1970s. Students used it for games, music, and ‘moving' conversations."

We know Dewey was correct all those years ago when he claimed playgrounds were an important part of education, but he may have been shortsighted to apply the concept only to elementary school children. From the evidence, at least at Whitman, college students need a place to play, too.

Ankeny Field is common ground, where students from the different residence halls develop a sense of community, said first-year student Jeff Knezovich. "Ankeny is every-body's place. We need a swing set out there. I'd love a swing set and a little sandbox."

Although the traditional classroom structure promotes a work environment where students are responsible for their individual assignments, usually it is not set up to teach students to work together on large projects. On a playground, however, students are able to form groups and work toward the common goal of play. Knezovich remembers several students coming together on Ankeny Field to play "slip-n-slide." Students laid out a tarp, others covered it with soapy water, and then they all proceeded to fling their bodies at top speed onto it, sliding until they skidded to a halt on Ankeny's grass. "It was great," said Knezovich.

Through cooperative play there are successes just as there are successes through cooperative work projects. On the other hand, some games or work projects don't always succeed. Senior Mark Kilmer remembers a football game played on a snow-covered Ankeny Field during his sophomore year. "It resulted in a big, purple, swollen, black eye for me and a dent in Damon Leichman's head that's still there." Nevertheless, the students were able to overcome the obstacle of physical injuries, and the players remained friends, Kilmer said.

Students leave Whitman with a solid education and invaluable experiences on campus and beyond. But, just as important, they leave with friendships. Because, as they spilled out of their classrooms onto Ankeny Field, someone asked them, "Ya wanna' play?

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