SHIRLEY -- At Piccolino's Restaurant in Shirley on a recent Wednesday night, members of the Shirley Play Board gathered to plan Shirley's Third Annual Day of Play, which takes place once again on the same day as the Shirley Educational Foundation's "Ready, SEF, Go!" Autumn trail run.

This year's date is Sunday, Oct. 4, and SEF will be donating 80 percent of the proceeds from their event to the SPB for the purchase of climbing equipment and a swing set for the Lura A. White School playground.

According to a 2009 Harris Interactive Poll, 82 percent of parents believe children don't spend enough time playing outside. In partnership with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play back into children's lives, the Shirley Play Board hopes to reverse this trend by continuing to improve the town's play spaces and foster partnerships with Shirley's recreation commission and school district to create even more chances for children to play.

To honor cities and towns making this commitment to play, KaBOOM! named them Playful City USA communities. In the third year of this annual program, 32 of 93 Playful City USA communities were repeat honorees from 2008. Thanks to the volunteer Shirley Play Board, Shirley is one of only 22 cities recognized for the third consecutive year.


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The Shirley Play Board began in 2007 as the brainchild of two Shirley parents, Sue Heinz and Beth Quinty, who were concerned about Shirley's lack of updated playground equipment and safe areas to play. Through their efforts, the group quickly grew into an informal board, with the support of local businesses and other volunteers. Their first annual Day of Play that October featured an obstacle course, pumpkin and face painting, a parade, a costume contest, dance instruction and participation by local police and firefighters. Despite soggy weather, Shirley's First Annual Day of Play on the Shirley Common was a big hit with both children and adults.

Through the board's efforts, Shirley became one of the first 21 towns ever to be awarded Playful City recognition. By November 2007, Heinz and Quinty had submitted a grant application and "Playful City USA" home movie to KaBOOM! in an effort to win a new Imagination Playground for the town. As a result, Shirley was awarded $5,000 toward the town's Second Annual Day of Play, which, in turn, has helped the organization to begin fundraising for play spaces for Shirley's children.

The 2008 Day of Play had increased community support and participation, with the addition of Pilates, gymnastics, dance performances, mock Sumo wrestling and more donations of food and other products from local businesses. Shirley's Days of Play are now self-sustaining via the $5,000 and donations that help to fund promotional T-shirts, posters and signs. Via KaBOOM! and Playful City USA, the ongoing activities of the SPB make Shirley eligible for other grants and services related to increasing play opportunities for its children.

With the generous donation from SEF of 80 percent of its proceeds from this year's trail run, the SPB hopes to host a community build at the LAW playground to install the new climbing wall and swing set by the end of October. Everyone who pays to register for the trail run, donates goods and/or services, sponsors a runner, becomes an official sponsor of the event or donates money directly to the cause, will be able to say that he or she helped to pay for the modernized equipment at the LAW playground.

The SEF 5K run will start at 10 a.m., and the 2K at 11 a.m., both at Holdenwood in Shirley. Public school children will be receiving information and sponsor sheets early in the school year, and adult registration soon will be available online at shirleyedfoundation.com. Runner sponsor packets for children will also be available at the town clerk's office. The first 100 registrants for either race will receive a "Ready, SEF, Go!" T-shirt. Others may be available for purchase. Top winners will be awarded prizes.

Both trail runs will be officially timed and included in a series of runs hosted by Eastern New England Trail Runners, making runners eligible for official qualifying times. 

Depending upon the level of sponsorship, businesses may have their logos and information printed on marketing materials such as advertisements and goodie bags, the "Ready, SEF, Go!" T-shirts, the finish line banner or the SEF and Shirley Play Board Web sites. Sponsors that have already signed on include Clif Bar, Catalano (Dunkin' Donuts) and Dick's Sporting Goods.

The Annual Day of Play will run from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Shirley Common. "This one will be even better than the last," according to Shirley Play Board co-founder Sue Heinz. "We have an affiliation with the schools this year." PTA President Ann Kahn, and head of the Shirley School District's PE Department, Sue D'Amico, are now involved.

As a dozen Play Board volunteers sat together at their Wednesday night planning session, they brainstormed fresh ideas for this year's event. "We're looking for more unique play experiences for children. I was thinking about juggling, jump roping, and yo-yo instruction," said Heinz.

Other ideas included a climbing wall, Ultimate Frisbee or disc golf, Brazilian martial arts, Zumba (an aerobic exercise inspired by Latin music) and hip hop dance instruction. The activities will be structured in 20-30 minute blocks, with two events being offered simultaneously.

"We need people to think about what we need to do to enhance play all over our town," says Heinz. "It's not just Lura A. White. We need to be able to provide places for people to meet all over our community. People need to get to know one another."

"Right now, we are having to get on our phones to make play dates to get together. The pool and sledding hill are wonderful places to meet. But people are not driven to go to the playgrounds in town."

Each year, Shirley parents volunteer to clean up the elementary school's playground in preparation of the start of the school year. By the end of summer, it can be filled with broken plastic play equipment, litter, weeds, dog droppings and an abundance of sand that covers the blacktop. There is no organization in town that maintains the area over the summer, and there is a dearth of safe, up-to-date playground equipment.

"As long as you know about the Shirley Play Board and Playful City, you will know who to contact when the need arises," said Heinz. In response to questions about the need for a playground for a school that may close in a few years if school regionalization takes place, she replied, "Even if the school closes, we'll still be supporting the local community by having a place to play. And if we ever need to move it, we'll move it."

The goal of the Shirley Play Board is not just to improve the elementary school playground, but also to enhance other areas such as the Benjamin Hill Mystical Maze, and the soccer field adjacent to the new Shirley Senior Center. "Enhancing recreational opportunities for children in Shirley is one way of encouraging young families to move to the town and remain here," said Heinz.

Shirley's Playful City grant coordinators will present their vision for play and explain their commitment to the Playful City USA Campaign at the Aug. 3, 7 p.m. Board of Selectmen meeting at the town offices.

"We are still looking for sponsors and volunteers for both the Day of Play and the trail run," said SPB co-founder Beth Quinty. "Anyone who is interested in helping to promote play in Shirley is encouraged to attend the meeting or to contact us."

For more information and updates on the Shirley Play Board, the Third Annual Day of Play, or the SEF trail run, contact Sue Heinz: (978) 425-9447, e-mail SEF at info@shirleyedfoundation.com or visit shirleyedfoundation.com. Monetary donations can be made out to and mailed directly to SEF, P.O. Box 943, Shirley, Mass. 01464. Be sure to write "SEF, Ready, Go!" on the memo line. Contributions toward the trail run are tax-deductible.