It may not have felt much like autumn (temperatures rose to the low 90s by Saturday afternoon), but it was fall enough for Family Weekend. And as usual, “family” included enough kin of all ages to fill the campus to overflowing. Some folks made it to Thacher in time to watch the afternoon riding drill practices out on the gymkhana field; more arrived for a Santa Maria-style barbecue dinner that spread from the Pergola down to the Forest Cooke Lawn and gathered parents, siblings, and extended family by class. After that, it was into the Milligan Center for the Performing Arts for a brief talk by Head of School Michael K. Mulligan, followed by eighteen students opening a small window on their lives at Thacher by sharing short personal stories.
They’d barely sat down when on came the music (jazz and classical instrumental ensembles, as well as choral), the dance, and the drama—performances all the more astonishing for being works-in-progress of just five weeks’ rehearsal time. Afterwards, it was back out to the Pergola—through the Commons Gallery where student work from various levels of studio art was hung—to desserts al fresco and more conversation. Some parents gathered with Michael for an informal Town Hall Meeting in The Thacher Room.
Saturday morning was all about the academic life of the School, each teacher presenting a short class, often with student and mom-and-pop participation. (“Trust me,” one freshman was heard to assert. “It’s only like camp the first week!”) From these it was on to advisor meetings, various parent group meetings, and—all afternoon—athletic contests. JV Footballers fought hard in a close game against Winward, this year's top-ranked program in the CIF Southern Section. Though the opposition scored in the final minutes of the game to stretch their lead, the 27-38 loss was a great contest from beginning to end for the young Toad gridironers. The varsity team took the field for what proved to be their second decisive Condor League victory of the year, a 56-0 win over Laguna Blanca. Meanwhile, just up the hill on the tennis courts, the varsity girls team earned a similarly commanding win, taking all 18 sets in their match vs league rival, Dunn. Meanwhile, inside the gym, Thacher’s JV and varsity girls' volleyball teams gave their all against perennial powerhouse, Laguna Blanca. The first scoreboard showed both teams coming up a bit short—but the varsity's close 22-25 loss in the first game of their match was proof positive of the heart that all of the girls and, in fact, all of our athletes poured into their respective games throughout the day. All through the weekend, on our field and courts, the Toads lit up the second scoreboard with inspiring effort, teamwork, and sportsmanship.
For the record, the day before, at Mt. San Antonio College, several of Thacher’s top cross country runners tested their mettle in the nation's largest cross country invitational, which draws the very best harriers from Southern California and beyond. ("Running in the Mt. SAC Invitational is a thrill in and of itself," says Director of Athletics Rich Mazzola.) The girls ran well and got crucial preparation for the upcoming Condor League Finals Meet. The boys absolutely seized the day, winning their heat and gaining confidence that should serve them well: as they go into the final meets of the season, they'll have their eyes on another berth into the CIF State Championship meet.
For Saturday night’s dinner, proving that Bon Appetit is not just desserts, Richard Maxwell and the crew cooked up another epicurean smorgasbord. Some families headed downhill to dine and spend the night away, but those on campus popped in at the Mulligans’ Open House scene to wield whatever kitchen utensil they prefered: spatulas (cookie-baking), knives (pumpkin-carving), swords (The Princess Bride, playing on the big screen), or marshmallow forks (s’mores down at the fire pit). There was also the usual reconnecting and new friend-making—across the kitchen counter or dining room table, and across the generations.
Big blue skies opened the view for Sunday morning’s chapel service that featured the music of Stevie Wonder and and our own Music Director Greg Haggard (accompanied, as anything performed in the Outdoor Chapel is, by one horse’s insistent whinny), a traditional Navajo prayer, a poem by Rainer Maria von Rilke, a bit of Alice in Wonderland, and a talk by Helen Frykman, a Thacher mom who was celebrating, with her husband Karl, her 13th year on the parent roster. (Their children: Claire 2010, Mark CdeP 2007, Katie CdeP 2004, and Peter CdeP 2001) Her message was brief but unequivocally affirming of what began in the late 19th century as a serendipitous educational experiment in The Ojai and is continuing, more powerfully than ever, into the 21st.
As we all well know, that experiment started out with horses as part of the School’s fabric. And so on this weekend of look-what-I-can-do-now!, the grand finale focused everyone’s attention on riders and their mounts. Down through the boulder fields and out of the hills they came, flag-bearers leading the way to the field where six drill teams and four other pairs or small groups would strut their stuff over the next two hours. There was the usual—walk, trot, lope; Western and English—and the daring: full-out charging, standing on saddles to take a bow, back-flip dismounts, equestrian archery, and bareback-and-bridleless riding. Hard to imagine that these newbies have less than 1.5 months of riding under their belts.
Well, that—and a whole lot more. It’s a wonder they can even get them buckled.
Contributor: Rich Mazzola, Director of Athletics