Last winter’s game night at Russell I. Doig Middle School started out routinely enough as an enjoyable night for families. It began with a scavenger hunt created by the principal. After that, Teresa Sawester and a few other volunteer moms, mainly newcomers to Doig, watched while families played board games in the library, basketball in the gym, and table tennis in the hallways.

But around 8 p.m. in the gym, Sawester says, the evening became “painful” to watch. That’s because of the intense belly laughs that ensued while faculty members participated in a wacky “Wheel of Misfortune” game, a spoof of the popular TV show. Six middle schoolers chosen by raffle were called up one at a time to spin an improvised game wheel. Each number on the wheel matched a “prize” listed on a poster—except in the PTO’s version of the game, students didn’t earn cash prizes or tropical island getaways. Instead, they got to choose one of six brave faculty member volunteers to perform a silly routine.

Among the prizes unveiled that evening: the school librarian slurping up gobs of green gelatin to find a hidden penny and a 5th grade teacher attempting to yodel while bouncing on a mini trampoline. Not even rookie principal Mike Hayden was spared. Without using his hands, he recalls, “I had to eat a pudding pie....It was all over the place.” Sawester, who now serves as PTO president, was too busy laughing to really care about cleanup. “Probably the absolute funniest moment, in my book, was DaLaine Walburn, the 5th grade [language arts] teacher, trying to perform ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ while wearing a pair of totally hideous fake teeth that did not want to stay in,” she says. In between the hysterics, attendees noshed on brownies, cookies, cupcakes, popcorn, and lemonade, all donated by parent volunteers and sold for 25 cents each.

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Sawester says she and fellow volunteers Ann DiPetta, Mary Proctor, and Deb Austic planned the game night to jump-start the PTO. “We just started this year to try to get our middle school PTO back up and running after several dormant years, as a few of us who were very active in the elementary PTO have new middle schoolers this year,” she explains. Thanks to their creative spin on game night, things look pretty promising for the Doig PTO. “Everyone was hysterical while watching the embarrassing performances, and even the ‘misfortunates’ had a wonderful time,” she says. “It definitely set a fun precedent, and word was out that the people who didn’t come missed out on a really good time.”

Sawester credits the faculty for being good sports and gives Hayden an A-plus for supporting the PTO’s ideas to make the night possible. For Hayden, collaborating with the PTO on game night also helped reinforce his key educational objective at Doig with students, parents, and faculty: “We have high expectations,” he says. “But we’re going to have fun along the way.”

The Group
Russell I. Doig Middle School PTO, Trumansburg, NY

School size: 330 students; grades 5-8
Annual budget: $2,000
Fundraisers: Raffle tickets sold at game night
Philosophy: We are hoping to focus our events and fund distribution on areas that lean toward charity and community-mindedness, given the growing maturity of middle school students and their ability to think beyond themselves.

Game Night
A night of fun family activities followed by “Wheel of Misfortune”

Reinventing the wheel: Doig Middle School PTO’s game night and Wheel of Misfortune segment cost only $40, which included a gift bag for the six students called up to play. For the game wheel, leaders affixed an old bicycle wheel to plywood and painted numbers on it from 1 to 24; various “mis?fortunes” were assigned to each number on the wheel.

That’s entertainment: Finding silly activities is half the fun, but Sawester suggests choosing misfortunes that don’t require physical interaction between student and teacher—eating a pie hands-free, for example, rather than getting a pie in the face.

More fun and games: Principal Mike Hayden planned a scavenger hunt before the evening’s activities; students and parents had to visit various parts of the building to find clues and answer questions. A drawing was held for students who answered all 10 clues correctly. The winner won a lunch at the Doig Diner, a portion of the cafeteria that Hayden converted to a ’50s-style diner.