NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Every year since 1993, the week leading up to Thanksgiving break has meant one thing at Wickford Middle School: it’s time for the Turkey Trot.
The annual tradition which first began as a simple food and donation drive for the North Kingstown Food Pantry has turned into highly-anticipated contest among both staff and students to see who can raise the most money and be given the honor of Head Turkey, with one teacher and one student receiving the title and then leading the school on a trot around Wickford.
First held in 1990 before becoming an annual event in 1993, the Turkey Trot has raised $71,143.34 for the North Kingstown Food Pantry since its inception.
“It’s a great event,” Wickford Middle School Principal Brian Lally said. “Ultimately it’s giving back to our community, all the money goes to the food pantry, so I think really (it’s about) teaching the students the importance of giving back, especially around this time of year, but we’re also able to have a lot of fun while doing that so it’s a great event.”
Lally was in the running this year for the position of staff Head Turkey, his second run after finishing a close second in 2017, along with math teacher Monica Braney and physical education teacher Kevin Littlefield.
For the students, sixth graders Olivia Cole, Victoria Cormier and Andrew Cannon, seventh graders Emma Whitney, Stephen Balcirek and Camden Smith and eighth graders MaryKate Hanus, Julianna Brennan and Andrew Stafford all ran for Student Head Turkey.
Once a staff member or student wins Head Turkey, they cannot run again but are welcomed and encouraged to help others going for the title.
The Turkey Trot always kicks off the Thursday before Thanksgiving, when those in the running begin competing to collect the most money. As the friendly competition has heated up over the years, participants have raised the stakes by creating new skits and games and contests for students to attract prospective donors.
This past Friday, Lally looked to boost his case with a one-on-one basketball challenge before school, where students could donate a dollar for a chance to compete against his basketball alter ego, Larry Bird Lally.
“That was great,” Lally said. “I came in my Larry Bird getup, had a lot of fun with that and then we did a little skit with a mini Fisher Price hoop and some foam basketballs at lunch, kind of ran around and had the students shoot on that, so it was a lot of fun.”
On Monday, one of the Trot’s marquee events took place in the presentation of skits at lunch time. Students performed their skits during their regular lunch block, while the teachers performed theirs during each of the respective blocks. Assistant Principal Allison Palladino served as emcee for the event.
“I’m always amazed at what the teachers are willing to do in order to raise money and how excited the kids get,” Palladino said. “The kids’ skits are fantastic too, and I think everybody puts a lot of heart and soul behind this and it’s for such a great cause.”
While performing, helpers for the different participants go around the lunch room and collect donations, often as part of the skit itself, while others create contests.
Lally went the contest route, giving students a minute to see who could spray him with the most Silly String while he sat in a chair. Lally said the idea for the Silly String showdown was a joint effort between his student helpers and himself.
“I had two of my helpers just send me a list of ideas and one of them just said ‘Somehow use Silly String’ and from there I kind of said ‘What are kids going to like to do? Let’s cover me with Silly String, let’s see who can cover me the most,’” Lally said.
As for the experience of being covered in Silly String?
“It was interesting,” Lally said laughing. “At the end of it I couldn’t quite see, I think I still have some of that in my ears, but a quick shower should take care of that.”
For Lally, staying current and tapping into the interests of the students is a recipe for Turkey Trot success.
“One thing I did this year was ask my student helpers what’s something I could do that kids nowadays are going to be into, TikTok (a video-sharing social media app popular among middle schoolers and teens) was a big one,” Lally said. “I asked for song recommendations, so it’s always a challenge to stay relevant and (have) something the kids are going to be into, so I always find relying on the students for ideas is an easy way to solve that.”
Braney enlisted the help of nearly half of the staff in creating a TikTok dance video set to the “Old Town Road” remix by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, complete with a live rendition of the dance in the lunch room alongside fellow math teacher Kayla Brimlow, while Littlefield dressed as Olaf the snowman from the Disney film “Frozen” and danced around the lunch room with fellow teachers and students to the song “Let It Go.”
Among the students, Balcerik followed Lally’s lead by going the contest route, seeing which student volunteer could throw a paper airplane the farthest, while Whitney and some friends danced around the lunch room dressed as Christmas characters to Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and Smith and two friends did the Macarena while dressed as a t-rex, gorilla and flamingo respectively.
At the sixth grade level, Cole and multiple friends did a dance number while collecting donations. Her and her family also donated a pair of Patriots tickets to be raffled off, however she decided to have the money raised for the raffle go directly to the Food Pantry rather than count towards her total.
“That’s just being donated to the food pantry just in the name of Wickford Middle School, so that’s a really generous donation,” Lally said.
Cormier did a sketch playing a veterinarian trying to take care of a sick but difficult cat set to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen while Cannon did a Simpsons-inspired sketch featuring himself as Homer driving Bart and Lisa around the cafeteria.
The TV and movie influences continued into the eighth grade lunch with Hanus and Brennan recreating scenes from the shows “Brooklyn 99” and “Victorious” respectively while Stafford and friends dressed in pink as the titular mean girls from the 2004 movie “Mean Girls.”
“I always love the student performances, they get really into it and they’re able to come up with ideas that we really don’t think about,” Lally said. “They’re inventive every single year and there’s usually always something different. I think every year I’ve been here, I haven’t seen two students do the same skit, so it’s always something new and fresh and they have a lot of fun with it.”
The grand finale was held Tuesday, with Littlefield being named Head Turkey among the staff and Cole being named Head Turkey for their grades before embarking on the Turkey Trot itself around Wickford to close out the school day.
This year’s trot raised $7,174.05 for the North Kingstown Food Pantry, bringing the all time total up to $78,317.39.