The only sounds louder than the squeaks of tennis shoes on the hardwood gym floor Friday, Jan. 20 at Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City were the shouts of victory and cries of defeat from teams of students and teachers.
At the third annual Burleigh's Intense Games (B.I.G.), 21 teams competed in a series of races and challenges, all for a good cause: Proceeds from the event will benefit The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan re-establish their lives at home.
"We just wanted to give back to the community," said eighth-grader Darius Baker, 13. "I think the soldiers don't get the credit that they should, and sometimes, when they come home, they don't know what to do, because there's not that structure like in the military."
In the gymnasium, three teams at a time raced against the clock, and each other, to move a tennis ball from one end of the room to the other, using only sections of gutters. In a room off the media center, students bounced balloons into the air, trying to keep them from touching the ground.
In the media center itself, about a half-dozen "minute-to-win-it" challenges were set up for teams to attempt — with varying degrees of success.
"That's hard — tougher than it looks," said Krista Strawitch, a family and consumer science teacher, as members from the team of teachers (the Kid Crushers) tried to drop CDs onto the tops of plastic cups.
The annual games, in all their silliness, benefit a different charity every year, said student council adviser Tony Miceli. In 2010, the school raised about $700 for the American Heart Association. In 2011, about $1,600 was raised for the Maryland Special Olympics, and athletes from the special Olympics actually came out to play in the games with the students.
"That was fun," recalled Tess Hawkins, 13. "It felt really good, to know that you were a part of that."
This year, students and faculty hoped to break the $2,000 mark for The Mission Continues, said eighth-grader and student council president Pranav Ganapathy. (Fundraising totals were due Tuesday.)
"The soldiers defended us for so many years, and the least we can do to repay them for helping us is doing something like this, to somehow try to repay them," said Pranav, 12. "That's the goal here."
Bigger and better
Every year, Miceli said, the games get bigger and better. More students participate, and more donations come in. Money is raised through students buying T-shirts to wear at the games, and through the sale of healthy foods in the cafeteria during the event.
"So this is promoting fitness for people, and healthy food, too," said Eunice Cho, 14.
The entire thing is organized by students, Miceli said, right down to choosing the charity that benefits from the games.
That gives students a good feeling, Tess said. "It's great to see how it turns out, to be such a success," she said. "We put so much hard work into this."
This year, almost 250 students — and one team of about a dozen teachers — took part in the friendly competition. There are no prizes, Miceli said, which lets the students have more fun, Miceli said.
It lets the teachers have more fun, too, as the Kid Crushers left no event untried on Friday.
"It's fun," Strawitch said. "It's way to see the kids in a different light; sometimes the quietest kids are suddenly full of action. And, they get to see us in a different light, too."