Hey, world — Pokey Stick is here! Local teens create outdoor game

RIPTON — The students at the North Branch School, an independent middle school in Ripton, are holding the first-ever Pokey Stick World Finals in March to support fundraising for children in Haiti.
Pokey stick is a game invented by the students at the school. Using components of tag and hunting, as well as elements from the novel “The Lord of the Flies,” contestants use the school’s 10 acres of woods and fields to play a unique and thrilling game of hide and seek.
“We wanted something fun to do at lunch that was challenging enough physically that we wouldn’t be restless the rest of the day,” said Ben Huston, an eighth-grader from Waltham and one on of the game’s several inventors. “It’s wholesome because it gives us a way to take out our energy so that we’re focused during the class that follows lunch, so that we aren’t thinking of running around in the fields.”
The game has been played almost every day this year. Participants gather in the woods with sticks; a hunter is chosen and the “runners” scatter and hide. The hunter must pursue and tag the runners with his or her Pokey stick, which may not have a dangerous point on it. Runners a can hide anywhere on the property, including in the tops of trees.
“We are never aggressive, and it is all about having fun,” said Will Crawford, an eighth-grader from Ferrisburgh who is an avid players and co-founder. “We have a specific rule book for preventing injury.”   “HUNTERS” GATHER DURING a game of Pokey Stick in the woods behind the North Branch School in Ripton recently. From left are Paul Thurber, Ben Huston, Henry Black, Jack Lyons and Sasha Meyers.
The idea for having a school-wide Pokey Stick Championship came when the Pokey stick leaders realized they wanted to include more people in the school in the fun. Players made flyers and sign-up sheets and encouraged classmates to enter.
“Then I came up with the idea to have an entry fee and have the funds go to sponsoring a kid in Haiti,” said Crawford, referring to the fundraising project of his classmate Hannah Zimmer, an eighth-grader from Lincoln.
Since the holiday break, Zimmer has focused her fundraising for children in Haiti. Her inspiration came from a former North Branch School student, Caroline Kimble, now a junior at Middlebury Union High School, who went with her church service group to Haiti over the winter holiday to build houses in Port-Au-Prince.
“Caroline inspired me,” Zimmer said. “I want to travel and help people in the world, and I thought I could connect that goal with one of my skills, which is baking.”
Then the Pokey stick players rallied to the cause.   PAUL THURBER, A Pokey Stick “hunter,” runs through the woods in search of “runners.”
“She was doing the Haiti thing too, so we just made her the almighty money keeper,” said Crawford. “The entry fee was to collect money for the Haiti project.”
“The money will be enough to send a kid to school for a year,” said Zimmer.
Zimmer and the students have been raising money all year for a variety of causes. In the fall they conducted a bake sale every week to raise money to pay for a dinner for local families; the NBS students cooked and presented the meal at the Congregational Church of Middlebury.
Before the winter holiday, students raised money for Heifer International. With the support of classmates and teachers, the students raised more than $150 and then donated a flock of chickens and a goat to a family in Central America.   “HUNTER” HENRY BLACK stands and waits at the base of a tree for a “runner” to come down.
In February, the ninth-grade girls continued a school tradition in which they make Valentines gifts for classmates to “purchase” for a “special someone.” Students had options to buy a card, song, or poem for their valentine, or give their valentine candy and a paper “heart shower.” The students raised $150 and donated the money to WomenSafe of Addison County.
And recently the students held the 4th Annual Penguin Plunge, when students raised money through pledges from friends and community members and then took dozens of dips into a frozen Ripton pond. The students raised over $5,000 in pledges to support financial aid.
“All of this is a perfect merger of students inventing and playing and taking initiative,” said Tal Birdsey, head teacher at NBS. “They are using their powers to address problems and issues in the world outside of the school. They are having fun, being creative, and thinking about other people. It makes our school joyous and very busy.”
The winner of the Pokey Stick World Championship will get one NBS Instagram post and bragging rights.
“It is a fun way of accessing our primitive instincts,” Crawford explained. “It keeps us active and happy. We are competitive, but when it comes down to it, we all play for the love of the game.”
The next fundraiser the students will conduct will be the annual school play, which the students write and produce on their own. Each year the play raises about $1,000 for school financial aid. The play will be performed on April 14-15 at the Ripton Community House.   NORTH BRANCH SCHOOL students Ben Huston, left, Griffin Lower, Jack Christner and Will Crawford this year invented a new game called Pokey Stick that they now play with classmates in the woods around their Ripton school.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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