SHIRLEY -- The Playboard of Shirley's Seventh Annual Day of Play was a celebration of community.

With some 150 participants from ages one to 70, this year's event held Sept. 28 featured everything from a Skillet Throw for adults, to Kindermusik for toddlers.

In the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School library, Indian Hill Music Early Childhood Educator Bernadette Baird led a first-class Kindermusik program that had toddlers and their parents dancing and singing. Meanwhile, Fliptastic Gymnastics and Bodylines Pilates instructors led gymnastics, parkour, and Pilates workshops.

Playboard member Beth Quinty presented a heavy cast iron skillet to about 20 women who entered the skillet-throwing competition.

Nashoba Publishing/Dina SamfieldAyer and Shirley families move to the music during Indian Hill Music Early Childhood Educator Bernadette Baird’s
Nashoba Publishing/Dina Samfield Ayer and Shirley families move to the music during Indian Hill Music Early Childhood Educator Bernadette Baird's Kindermusik workshop at the Shirley Day of Play.
The winners were Megan Willwerth and Paula Gravelle, who cast the pan 46 feet, one inch, and 46 feet, respectively. Honorable mention went to Jennifer Howald, whose first throw literally tore the handle right off of the first well-worn pan.

Carolyn Sargent led an enthusiastic crowd of Zumba dancers, Luth's Karate offered a karate workshop, and the place was jumping with kids in a 360 Gymnastics-provided bounce house.

On the more cerebral side, a group from the UMass Lowell Autonomous Robotic Systems Laboratory (ARSL) demonstrated small robots operated with an iPad.

"The idea is to have these things for research and to bring them to high schools so they can build things with them," said ARSL Director Ioannis Raptis, UMass Lowell Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering.


Raptis said that he hoped to soon have a relatively inexpensive kit available that high schools could use to help further cooperative robotics research.

"A good robot needs to be cheap and easy to use," said UMass Lowell Mechanical Engineering sophomore Damien Laird, who, with fellow sophomore Jack Price, assisted Raptis.

Several Ayer-Shirley United Way Youth Venture groups raised funds for their causes at the event, including the Penguins swim team, who sold "slushies," and The Cardiac Quest, a trio of middle school girls who raised about $200 selling Cold Stone Creamery ice cream. Their "quest," they said, is to purchase and supply automated external defibrillators (AEDs) throughout the community.

Seventh-grader Michele Woodland had a baseball pitching set-up to measure ball speeds, and sixth-grader Sydney Korhonen helped start a pick-up game of soccer. Back indoors, Kelly Reed shared her face-painting expertise, and Ashley Cavaiolli offered crafts and a sensory table.

"I was honored to be part of the Day of Play!" Cavaiolli exclaimed. "My kids are my whole world and I'm excited to join in community events that are child focused. I decided to bring hands-on crafts like masks to decorate and wear, along with little leaf stick puppets for fine motor skills and mind-engaging fun."

At the sensory table was homemade "Flubber," a goopy slime, and outside Cavaioli set up buckets of soapy water for splashing, pouring, and mixing.

"My husband brought a box truck for the touch-a-truck portion, (and) my three kiddos were troopers for the day, so all in all it was a great family day," she added. "(There were) memories made of something we all joined in on, and I can't wait for next year's!

Other volunteers included National Guard members Travis Manchuso and Nikolay Bashko, both of whom served in Kosovo, who permitted kids to climb in and explore a non-armored Humvee in front of the school. Also present were members of the Shirley Fire and Police, with a ladder truck and police cruiser.

Jason Purdy Adds Magic

The highlight of the day was a performance by magician Jason Purdy in the auditorium, during which he invited an assortment of young volunteers to assist onstage.

Mixing humor and illusion, he did everything from making doves disappear and reappear at will, to escaping from chains and locked handcuffs.

"I was honored to have been invited," said Purdy, who praised the audience, young and older, for their enthusiasm.

"I love making adults feel like children again, and perhaps make them remember the first magic show they ever saw, or the first magic set they ever played with," he said.

After the show, he did a smaller group demonstration of how to use the magic wands he made available for purchase, along with some inexpensive magic kits. 

What's Next?

The Shirley Day of Play is an annual event that is supported by KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to build playgrounds.

Like KaBOOM!, said Playboard co-chair Sue Heinz, the Playboard passionately believes that play has purpose, and that unstructured play, in particular, "helps make children happier, fitter, more creative, and socially adept."

Through its extensive fundraising and community-building efforts, the Playboard is currently working on maintaining the playgrounds at Lura A. White Elementary School, as well as adding a metal shade structure and handicapped-accessible swing to the larger playground. The group is also working on improving the school's grounds and basketball area.

"It takes a village to make a successful Day of Play," said Heinz, "and we want to thank all of the volunteers who made such a fun-filled day possible. We are especially grateful that Jess and Chris Bailey have joined us to add energy and organization to our activities."

Heinz also thanked Ayer Shirley Youth Football and Cheer for hosting its spaghetti dinner after the magic show.

"The Ayer Shirley Broncos and Cheer spaghetti dinner was a great end to the day and fueled us up for the beautiful trail run on Sunday morning," she said.

Stay tuned for information on the Playboard's future playground cleanups, BINGO nights, and other activities. Information is posted on the Playboard of Shirley Facebook page: