Day Camp: The Right of Play

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.

Roller-skating

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.

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.