Day Camp: The Right of Play

Written by

Dr. Sherwanda Y. Chism

I have the most incredible childhood memories of summer in Memphis. My daddy, Sherman L. Jones, worked for the Memphis Park Commission, the parks and recreation arm of the city. He was a community center director and, with his colleagues, provided entertainment for all of Memphis.

The Memphis Park Commission, now called Memphis Parks, is a collective body of planners who managed the city’s swimming pools, open-air parks, and community centers. During my childhood, our neighborhoods and gyms were full of safe, fun, and organized play. The Park Commission curated events all year long, but for me, the most memorable ones happened during the summertime at day camp. It was the place for all to be—weeks of fun, reconnecting old friendships, and creating new ones. It meant indelible amusement, fierce competition, finding my niche, and learning life skills. With its magic touch, the Park Commission impacted all the communities in our beloved city of Memphis—helping many of us discover our gifts, talents, and natural abilities through summer camp.

Day camp was the highlight of summer for kids in Memphis just like me.

Day Camp

The school bell rings
On the last day of school.
My mind rushes to day camp
And the awesome things we’ll do.
Day camp.
’Round the flagpole
In a circle we’d stand
For a moment of silence
And the Pledge of Allegiance.
First the morning announcements.
Then we’d anxiously wait
To hear Mr. Willie enthusiastically say,
“Morning, campers! Have a great day.”
Day camp.
So glad to see friends—
We’ve all been waiting
To laugh and play games
With action-filled days.
Day camp.
Playing Connect 4
And other board games,
And duck, duck, goose—
No day was the same.
Frolicking on the playground,
Sliding down silver slides,
Spinning on the merry-go-round,
Swinging fast and high.
Ping-Pong, dodge ball,
And tetherball too.
Avoiding a direct strike
On the eight ball shooting pool.
Square dancing with your partner,
Doing a do-si-do,
Playing checkers, jacks,
Go Fish, and B-I-N-G-O.
Day camp.
Field trips to the zoo
And Adventure River Water Park,
Playing box hockey
In the red wooden box.
Anticipating lunches
From the refrigerated truck,
Cooling off with chocolate milk
And frozen juice cups.
Rainy-day games like
Popcorn parachute play,
Musical chairs,
And potato-sack relays.
Three-legged races,
Jumping through Hula-Hoops,
Countless swimming lessons
In the city’s public pools.
Day camp.
Nachos with cheese,
Pickles, and blow pops
Yellow igloo coolers
With the bright red tops.
Countless games
Of tug-of-war
And choreographed dances
On the main gym floor.
Red light, green light
And red rover, red rover,
Rise and fly card games
With no do-overs.
Day Camp.
Uno tournaments
With ever-changing rules,
And tinikling and Double Dutching
With no socks or shoes.
Building stick houses
And painting ceramic clay
To jump-rope jingles
And hand games all day.
With the mobile unit,
Skating between the
Basketball goals.
“Safety, Song, and Skit,”
A unique talent show,
Creative expression
Of playground rules.
Completing obstacle courses
In the Mud-Derby Olympics,
Trying to win first place
In all the events.
The Beale Street Show,
Half the summer spent.
An elaborate display—
Of Memphis’s youth talents.
The costumes,
The backdrops,
The choreography,
The songs.
The Beale Street Show always met with huge ovation.
Day Camp was never a miss.
It was always a blast
For the city’s precious kids.
There was so much fun to be had.
Day camp ended
Just as it began,
With a flag ceremony
And color guards folding the flag.
We’d sing our own version of “Taps,”
Signaling the day’s end:
“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the parks, from the trees, from the sky;
All is well, safely home, God is nigh.”
We’d go home,
And wait to do it all over again.
Day camp, summers in Memphis well spent.
well spent.

My dad in the gym during a community event
Swimming at a city pool.
Playground smiles.
Clip highlighting my dad.
Swimming at a city pool.
Girls waiting to perform.

All photos courtesy Dr. Sherwanda Y. Chism.

Dr. Sherwanda Y. Chism

Memphis, TN

Dr. Sherwanda Y. Chism is a lifelong educator who resides in Memphis, TN with her husband, Donald Arness and children, Trinity and Donald, Jr. As an educator, Dr. Chism has worked as an advocate for underserved and underrepresented populations across Shelby, County, TN. She has also shared her practices, highlighting her work with gifted and talented students on local, state, and national platforms. Dr. Chism, a gifted storyteller, enjoys writing poetry and stories that highlight her family and the beauty of growing up in Memphis, TN. She has compiled many of her stories in her first book, Unearthed. When Sherwanda is not teaching and writing, she can be found making music with her family, baking, styling hair, serving as a postpartum doula, and studying to be a trauma-informed life coach.