By Dina Samfield
SHIRLEY -- For the past six years, the Playboard of Shirley's free Annual Day of Play has been held on the same day as the Shirley (now Ayer-Shirley) Education Foundation's Holdenwood Trail Run.
This year, however, the Day of Play has a day all to itself, the day before the race, and will be a fun-filled extravaganza that stretches from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Saturday, Sept. 28, at the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School. The event will be followed by a spaghetti dinner hosted by Ayer Shirley Youth Football and Cheer.
Shirley's Magical Day of Play will kick off with the reading of the town of Shirley "Day of Play Proclamation," after which fun, games and physical-fitness demos and classes will ensue. Participants are welcome to come at any time.
New this year will be two parkour demonstrations with Fliptastics Gymnastics of Fitchburg. Parkour, a holistic training discipline that uses movement developed out of military obstacle-course training, is suitable both for kids who tend not to gravitate toward team sports and for athletes who wish to fine-tune their agility and coordination.
Shirley's own 360 Gymnastics will return with an obstacle course for the preschool- to early-elementary-school set, plus a bounce house for all ages.
Other activities include sample classes sponsored by "Zumbamaniac" Carolyn Sargent, Maria's School of Dance, Luth's Family Karate and Bodylines Pilates.
Local United Way Youth Venture and other community groups will have stations set up for hula-hooping, face-painting, crafts and kite-making, and a bucket of toys will be available for unstructured free play.
Outdoor field games will include soccer and a chance to measure your softball pitch speed, plus a scavenger hunt.
For the musically inclined, Rob Compagna, owner of the Rob Compagna Guitar School in Groton, will give sample guitar lessons.
There will be food vendors and fee-based activities, including a chance to create foot- and handprints in wet clay with The Pottery Paintin' Place of Lunenburg, to be painted there at a later date. The materials fee for the pottery will be $15.
The day will culminate in a free presentation of magic, illusion and comedy at 4 p.m., with the internationally known magician/illusionist Jason Purdy in the school auditorium. Purdy, who uses a mix of humor, drama and audience participation to amaze and entertain crowds of all ages, is perhaps best known for his dove act and grand-scale illusions.
"I'm excited to have the opportunity to bring some of my magic and illusion to a community that understands the importance of play, as well as the benefits of creative and fun ways to play," Purdy said about his Shirley debut. "Actively educating and encouraging the importance of physical activity to families -- now, that's magic!"
An arm of the Shirley Charitable Foundation, the Playboard of Shirley works with other local charitable groups, individuals and businesses to raise money toward its goal of improving the Lura A. White School playground and other play spaces around town.
The group is made up of community volunteers, and thanks to their hard work, the town has been a KaBOOM!-authorized "Playful City USA" seven consecutive years.
A national nonprofit agency dedicated to creating better places to play, KaBOOM! helped make the 2011 LAW Community Playground installation possible through a $20,000 grant. But the effort was mostly made possible thanks to a large number of individual, family and business donations of time, energy and money.
Last year, Shirley newcomer Jess Bailey joined the Playboard and immediately began strategizing new ways for the group to raise money to maintain and improve Shirley's play areas.
"(My husband) Chris and I had always wanted to get involved in our community, once we figured out where we would be raising our family," Bailey said after a recent Playboard planning session.
The couple happened to buy a house next door to Playboard co-founder and Chair Sue Heinz, who told them about the Playboard's mission to promote accessible play and fitness for the community.
The Baileys soon went to work with Heinz and other Playboard members to orchestrate last spring's successful adult Bingo night, which raised nearly $4,000. The money is being used to purchase the equipment needed to install a handicapped-accessible swing for the LAW playground, and to provide the area with a new shade structure.
According to Heinz, the new 220-square-foot shade structure will have a blue metal roof, "to blend in with the baseball field."
Moore's Lumber is giving the Playboard a $1,500 discount on the price, and Mark Pinard of Pinard's Landscaping has volunteered to coordinate the installation this fall.
"I thinks it's important to remind the community that play is more than just sitting down playing video games, which is how children play now," Bailey said. "I think we need to create situations where adults and children get together to play in a more active way that incorporates both your body and mind."
If you would like more information or to volunteer for Shirley's Magical Day of Play, contact Bailey at 267-228-4773, or email@example.com.