Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Julie, a teacher at Williams-Cone school, and her twin daughters Faith and Ellie, 5, join a few friends at the sledding rink Thursday at a family night for this year’s Winter Games. Williams-Cone won silver at the games last year, competing against schools across the state. This year, they’re going for gold. Luna Soley / The Times Record

Williams-Cone Elementary School in Topsham is currently ranked first in the statewide Winter Games, a program hosted by Winter Kids that promotes physical activity and wellness for elementary students.

Last week — the third of four in the monthlong program — the competition was focused around family engagement. Williams-Cone school hosted a family night at Foreside Field in Topsham. Sledding, snowshoeing, a scavenger hunt, snow cone toss and s’mores and hot cocoa were among the activities on offer Thursday evening as families crowded around firepits and sledding rinks in the fading light.

Randa Rineer, Williams-Cone principal and instigator of the school’s participation in the games, said applying to participate in the Winter Games last year was a thoughtful response to the return to school following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We realized as a school coming out of COVID that we needed to rebuild and restore a genuine sense of connection and belonging all across the community,” Rineer said. “When this opportunity presented itself, it really was perfect.”

For Ann Martin, a physical education teacher at Williams-Cone for the past 30 years, the Winter Games have been a great addition to the cold winter months for her students.

“Winter in Maine can be very long,” she said, but “playing outside can be fun and relaxing.”

“You don’t need a lot of equipment,” Martin added. “You just need your imagination.”

Melissa Alexander, a parent of two at Williams-Cone school, wore a snowsuit to accompany her children to a family night at Foreside Field. Luna Soley / The Times Record

Imagination was on display on Thursday as kids crowded onto UFO-shaped sleds to be dragged across the snow by obliging parents, mimicking dogsledding.

Rineer said a speaker who had competed in the Junior Iditarod was coming to visit Friday — one of many visitors that have included the Bowdoin Nordic Ski Team and a representative from Wyman’s Blueberries.

January is a challenging time for all, Rineer said.

“We decided to embrace it.”

For parents, the rewards have been greater than tired-out, happy kids at pick-up time (all of the Winter Games activity occur during school hours).

“It’s an immense amount of work, but it feels like such a nice community thing,” said Melissa Alexander, a parent of two at Williams-Cone school.

“They’re super psyched,” she said of her children.

Rineer agreed.

“The reason we have been so successful with [the Winter Games] is that it really has been a true community effort,” she said, adding that “some of the best things that happen are the things that happen most spontaneously.”

For instance, at a celebration during the first week of the games, two members of the Topsham Fire Department improvised to film the ceremony, climbing a ladder attached to a town truck. Both are Williams-Cone parents.

Martin, when asked to explain why the program was beneficial for her students, put it simply: “Listen to the laughter, listen to the kids.”

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