Yard Duties: The Playground’s Judge, Jury, and Executioner

I have no interest in jumping on the police brutality bandwagon. That’s because I know where the real danger lies. The biggest dispensers of violence aren’t wearing a badge and blue uniforms. No, they’re dressed in jeans and Looney Tunes t-shirts. They walk our nations schools, attacking children. And I’m the only one willing to fight them. You ever heard of the Iron Whistle? Sand Pigs? The Wo-Man? The Buzz Kut? How about this familiar term: yard duties? Yeah, you heard of them. I bet the hair on your arms is standing straight up.

Do you know why they’re called “yard duties”? It’s not what you think. Fifty years ago, a boy named Spencer Kipshaw overheard his irate father yell, “I just stepped in a pile of dog ****!” Spencer’s mom gasped, “Walter, we call it ‘yard doodie’ in front of the children!” The next day at school, one of Spencer Kipshaw’s friends brought a Luger his father “found” in France during WWII (“spoils of war” if you know what I mean). During recess, a group of boys stealthily made their way behind an oak tree to check out the blood-crusted pistol. Along the way, Spencer whispered, “Fellas, watch your step. We have to avoid that recess monitor like a yard doodie.” The phrase, which garnered a good five minutes of laughter, caught on and traveled through the school district, around the state, and then nationally. This was all on wikipedia… until “they” forced the website to take it down.

tetherball yard duties duty

Who did it?

On a side note, Spencer Kipshaw was murdered in 1976; his body was found hanging from a tetherball pole. Soon after his death, yard duties managed to successfully switch the spelling from doodie to duty using a propaganda campaign with the help of a militarized teachers’ union.

I Speak Out Because I Am a Victim

I’m not just a witness. When I was in the first grade, there were two yard duties: Theresa and Mrs. Luna (aka Lunatic). Like many villainous pairs in movies, one was big and beefy, while the other was scrappy and small. However, unlike most villainous pairs, neither one was “the brains” of the operation. Both were “the muscle” even though one was skin and bones and the other one was pure fat. You could say things like this in the 90s.

yard duties duo

Mission: To Find and Execute Your Child aka Charlie

The biggest adrenaline rush yard duties get is when the recess bell rings. At our school, when the bell rang, every child was supposed to freeze until the second bell rang, then you would line up and wait for your teacher to escort you back to class. I heard this was for safety reasons, because we all know kids stampede over one another to get back to class. In reality, going back to class always resembled a funeral procession. I personally think this rule was invented to give kids a place to easily fail so that they may be punished. I’m sure there’s a fancy psych-word for it.

Anyway, once the bell rang, Theresa and Mrs. Luna were like sentry guns. If you moved, you got shot down. Didn’t matter why you moved. Let’s say you were swinging on the monkey bars, the bell rings, you drop to the ground, but just as you hit the ground, you fall forward. You moved. You’re dead. Or, let’s say, you’re sprinting for the ball just as the bell rings. There’s inertia, gravity, and a bunch of other physics stuff at play and you can’t stop without serious injury. You’re still moving. You’re dead. I watched a boy hurl himself from the top of the jungle gym onto the ground just because he’d rather risk a broken neck than be caught moving after the bell rang.

There were kids all over the playground, frozen in the dumbest poses because they knew if they simply lowered their arm, they would be punished.






Theresa MOVED yard duties duty school

If you moved, you ended up with one of three punishments (a) sit on the bench during your next recess (b) citation (this was for repeat offenders) (c) stand in the “bad kid” line and go back to class after everyone else. That may not seem so bad, but that’s only because you’re reading this with hardened adult eyes.

I never got in trouble for moving, but my eldest sister did. This is her tale: she was playing with my cousin and some of his friends. The bell rang, everyone froze, but one kid. ONE kid. Jeremy Goodrich, who was later appropriately renamed Jeremy Badpoor. Theresa decided she was in the mood for collective punishment and made my sister, cousin, and his friends line up with Jeremy in the bad kid line. I think yard duties have a daily abuse quota they have to reach. My sister cried. What kind of person punishes an entire group of children just because one refuses to obey?

This kind of person:


Cafeteria Doodie

Yard duties are not limited to the playground. Their jurisdiction also includes the cafeteria. Theresa always eyeballed our sandwiches, chips, and cookies. She would utter, “That looks good” and you would always feel ashamed. Mrs. Luna, on the other hand, ate infrequently, much like a reptile.

yard duties duty theresa


At the end of every lunch, Theresa would lumber up to the stage, grab the microphone, and blow into it. You could tell this was Theresa’s way of “flexin.” She sauntered up there like it was her grand throne and we were some diseased peasants, unworthy of her presence. I wish I knew what was going through her head the day she decided a blast of white noise would be the best way to get a room full of chattering kids’ attention. When Theresa blew her mighty horn, we were supposed to hold up our peace signs to acknowledge that she got our attention. If you didn’t hear this blast of white noise… then you just found yourself cradled in the enemy’s hands.

“Who wants a Luger?”

I Didn’t Hear…

It was lunch time. My classmate Brett and I were talking about Doritos. I did not hear Theresa’s gale of silence because I typically relied on seeing her walk up on stage (she wasn’t hard to miss). So Brett and I kept talking. Let me explain something to you about myself and Brett. We were not bad kids (while at school). We weren’t the sort to get in trouble. In fact, I would say we were the more sensitive, scared-to-get-in-trouble types. Basically, cowards.

I remember telling him that I wish a giant Dorito fell through the roof so I could eat it.

As Brett and I were talking, I felt something hitting my lunch box and turned to see Mrs. Luna’s beef jerky skeleton face glaring at me from the end of the table. Let me paint this picture for you: I was close to one end of the table, she was on the opposite end, shoving my classmates’ lunch boxes so that each one collided into the next until they hit mine. Lunatic

Once she got my attention, she pointed at me and Brett and screeched, “You and you, BENCH!” It was surreal. I never got in a trouble at school. If I could just get my teacher here, she could be a character witness and testify that I was a good little girl. It was all a misunderstanding! Sitting on the bench was a harsh punishment for a first time offender. I was going to be propped up in front of the entire school for a whole 25 minutes. And I knew I would cry.

Lord Theresa began to excuse each table to go to recess. My classmate sitting on the opposite side of me said that Mrs. Luna had actually been shoving their lunch boxes into mine for quite some time. No, don’t use words to get my attention. Why use words when you can blow into a microphone and shove lunch boxes? If I could go back in time, I would pick Mrs. Luna up and slide her across the table, head first, but only after I put a garbage can at the end for her to slide into.

Just as our table got excused, I made a fateful decision: I was going to run. There was no way I could handle recess on the bench. The bench was shameful. Sitting on the bench meant I was guilty of something. I didn’t deserve to sit on the bench. I always put up my peace sign. I just didn’t hear Theresa this time. Give me a warning, at least. This was injustice and I wasn’t going to take it.

A Life on the Run

I followed my classmates out to the playground then made a dash for the shadows where I would spend twenty-five minutes as a fugitive. The playground was located on the backside of the school behind the last row of classrooms. There was no way I could hide on the playground without being caught and I definitely couldn’t wander the school without a teacher getting suspicious, so I hid behind the last row of classrooms. It wasn’t that uncommon to see a kid walking through there, so if someone saw me, I could play it cool and act like I was on my way to the bathroom. Plus, I could keep an eye on the playground from there.

The benches/cells were located in the middle of the playground between the asphalt and the grass. It gave you a nice 360 view of what you were missing out on, plus everyone could look at you and whisper about how you were on the bench. There was a certain type of kid that was commonly found on the bench (Jeremy Badpoor) and to be associated with these kinds of kids was bad for your reputation and ego. From the shadows, I saw Brett on the bench. He was tainted.

yard duties

At one point, I looked through the gaps between the buildings and saw Mrs. Luna frantically looking around. For once, I am not exaggerating when I use the word “frantically.” I knew she was looking for me. Let me tell you, when someone is looking for you with a bloodthirsty glow in their eyes, you stay hidden.

Treated worse than a school shooter.

For twenty-five minutes, I hid behind the classrooms as she paced the asphalt looking for me. She never found me–that’s why I’m still with you today. I kept my head down and ducked behind my classmates when it was time to line up after the second bell. By the time the teacher’s appeared, Mrs. Luna’s rage was restrained by the presence of sane adults. Even after I was safely in the classroom, I was afraid the Lunatic would come after me during the next recess when I was back on her turf.

Nothing happened. I guess if there’s a lesson in all this–for all you kids out there–it’s that if you don’t want to be punished by a yard duty, just take off and hide. Maybe you’ll get away with it, but still be haunted by the incident 30 years later. If someone even mentions “yard duties” or I hear what sounds like someone blowing into a microphone, I get real anxious and run to the nearest shadows where I cower for exactly 25 minutes. Where’s my payout?

Bury Your Heads in the Sand

Even though I’m telling you all this, I bet none of you will do anything to stop yard duties. It doesn’t fit your “narrative.” Regardless of your apathy, I’ll be staging a bench-in next weekend at the capitol. There I will blow into a cordless microphone and hand out citations to government employees. I will do this until there is systematic reform, charges brought to guilty parties, payouts to those affected… or until a publisher offers me a six-figure advance to write a book about it. Sometimes it only takes one person.

And, for the record, I’m not depressed nor do I want to hurt myself.