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Newton South Principal Joel Stembridge sent this letter to school families…

Dear Newton South Families,

The school year is well underway here at South:  Students are smiling, cheerful, and engaged, and teachers are happy to be back in the classroom.  It’s been a great start!

I am writing to share with you a difficult decision, and to ask for your assistance.

For many years, South has had a tradition of hosting a girls’ football game between the seniors and the juniors (also known as the “powderpuff” game) in November prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.   In previous years, I’ve written about my concerns for this game and the negative consequences for our school climate.  In the past two years in particular, we have worked very closely with the junior and senior classes to try to ensure that the game – and the accompanying activities – had a positive impact on our school culture.

I want to be clear that, in general, the student behavior during the past two years has been acceptable. However, there are aspects of the negative impact of this tradition on our school culture that cannot be mitigated by better behaved students.

In short, I’ve decided that we will discontinue hosting the girls’ football game.  I make this decision primarily to safeguard our students and out of concern for our school climate.

There are several specific points that inform my decision:

  1. The game itself is dangerous.  Last year alone there were three concussions and one serious knee injury.  A couple of years ago there were broken bones.  In my four years as principal, we have yet to have an injury-free game.
  2. The game, and the lead-up to the game, destabilizes our normally supportive, welcoming, intimidation-free school environment.  From groups of students marching through the halls chanting slogans to destruction of decorations to vandalism of personal property — this school-sponsored activity leads to incidents that we would otherwise describe as “bullying.”
  3. We have heard in previous years that for some of the girls the pressure to participate borders on coercion and creates a stressful environment in which they must choose between disappointing classmates and engaging in inauthentic and dangerous behavior.
  4. The event does not include the whole school.  It does not celebrate the diversity of the interests of our students, nor does it encourage appreciation for skills and/or expertise developed here at South.
  5. And in terms of gender politics, the name “powderpuff,” which most students still call the game, inadvertently serves to mock the hard-fought struggles of female athletes to be taken seriously and, we think, perpetuates negative stereotypes about femininity and female athletes. Our young women’s athletic achievements deserve to be taken more seriously.

I am keenly aware that this decision will be very sad for many, and perhaps especially for some members of the class of 2014 who were looking forward to staking claim to the school through the girls’ performance on the football field.  I’ve asked our housemasters to work with both our junior and senior classes to develop new traditions that will both bring each class together and also contribute to a positive school culture.

We’ve also been developing an idea to promote school spirit by creating a house-based Olympic-style competition that celebrates the full diversity of our wonderful, talented student body. We invite your son or daughter to help contribute to this process by sharing their ideas on this or other potential new traditions.

Traditions are important.  I want to ensure that the traditions we maintain contribute to the wonderful, unique experience that is Newton South.  Please join me in helping our students find the positive in this (perhaps) difficult decision, and continue to help us create the school we want and deserve.

Thank you for your support.

Best regards,
Joel Stembridge

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