When you hear of a popular tradition at a long-standing educational institution, you may envision dusty old trophy cases, rather staid traditions.
But kookiness has its place in the hallowed halls of two of Toronto’s oldest independent schools.
Take Upper Canada College, which was founded in 1829. A school with such history no doubt has countless time-honoured traditions that are ingrained in daily school life.
But that’s not to say new traditions, with a nod to the zany or slightly offbeat, can’t creep into student life — and even teacher life.
The Teacher Sumo Competition at UCC has only been in existence for a few years but has already established itself as one of the school’s biggest fundraising events, says Lorne Young, director of the creativity, action and service division at the school.
The event entails teachers “fighting” other teachers wearing padded Sumo costumes. Students organize the event and match teachers up in addition to fundraising for two to three weeks beforehand and during the competition.
“By the end of the event, everyone has participated,” Young says.
To get the boys revved up to raise money for charity, the school tells the students if a certain target is reached, teacher so-and-so will do a crazy thing like sing “Respect” or fight a colleague.
“We make fools of ourselves,” says Young, who has donned the Sumo suit himself in the past.
“It’s so padded you’re like the Michelin man,” he adds. “Most of it is just flopping around.”
The activity is all for fun and no one gets hurt, he says, though naturally the boys like the physicality of the tradition.
“They love the rough and tumble.”
In fact, it was a student who thought of the event a few years ago and it just stuck, he says.
“There’s no reason why you can’t have fun,” Young says of the event and fundraising initiatives like it. “The kids see the teachers getting involved in a completely altruistic way.”
Meanwhile, at one of the city’s oldest all-girls independent schools, a time-honoured tradition has adapted itself over the years to be more inclusive.
The Bishop Strachan School was founded in 1867 and Sports Day has been an annual September event at the school since the early part of the 20th century, says school archivist Sue Dutton.
But the event, formerly a full-on competitive athletic affair, was changed in 1973 to Crazy Sports Day to make it less of a sporting event and more about school spirit, she says.
“It’s a fun day,” Dutton says. “It’s non-competitive.”
In the past, Sports Day did include zany activities like obstacle races with spoons and eggs, and three-legged races — many of which the school has kept.
But the biggest and most beloved tradition that’s come out of Crazy Sports Day, Dutton says, is students dressing up in wacky costumes in their house colours.
It’s a big deal, she says, describing how students prepare for the big day. Some of the girls layer on pieces like crazy, while others wear wigs and dress up like they’re getting ready for Halloween, she says.
“It’s totally out there.”
By the time the girls reach their senior years, it’s respected tradition, she adds.
“They feel really sentimental about it.”
It’s a great way for students in the upper school to come together as a unit and get to know each other, Dutton says, but it’s also one of the few times the entire house meets as a group.
As for some older Sports Day customs the school no longer practices?
The blind obstacle race doesn’t seem like such a great idea today, Dutton says with a laugh. But in 2006, for the 100th anniversary of Sports Day, the school did bring back the slow bicycle race activity to see who could take the longest time to get to the finish line.
“That was an oldie,” says Dutton.
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