A Tradition Worth Saving

The Disappearance of One of Johnston’s Most Prized Homecoming Activities

The+class+of+2022+and+the+class+of+2023+face+off+in+the+most+recent+game+of+Powderpuff.

Grace Anderson

The class of 2022 and the class of 2023 face off in the most recent game of Powderpuff.

Abigail Wharton, Online Editor

Johnston High School students have always participated in powderpuff during homecoming week – that is, of course, until this year. The long-lasting tradition generated school spirit and allowed girls to showcase their athletic abilities in a male-dominated sport. But only girls are invited to play, and to further enforce gender roles, their male peers are cheerleaders, referees, and coaches. 

Our community has assumed that these gender stereotypes are the reason powderpuff was discontinued this year, but is that truly the case? Not exactly.

Let’s back up a little. Student council is responsible for all homecoming week activities and has hosted powderpuff for longer than anyone can remember. The tradition began nationwide during World War II when men traveled overseas to fight and women became actors in societal events such as baseball games and a version of flag football nicknamed powderpuff.

Powderpuff is defined by Merriam Dictionary as “of, relating to, or being a traditionally male activity or event done or played by women,” and the term originates from a flimsy makeup sponge. So, why would we want to reinforce these outdated gender roles? We shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of a decades-long tradition that fosters school spirit. Instead, we can reform it to be an inclusive and safe game for students to show their school spirit and participate in another fun homecoming activity.

Lindy Kramer ‘23 has participated in powderpuff in the past and believes it to be an exciting event.

“The origin of it sucks, but I don’t feel like it’s that deep anymore,” Kramer said. 

Students should be able to acknowledge its past implications while moving forward and embracing what powderpuff is to so many now: an opportunity to embrace athleticism and school spirit.

Football player Jashua Anglo ‘25 takes “coaching” his powderpuff team very seriously. He enjoys helping others compete in the sport he loves and is completely open to newcomers, regardless of their gender identity.

“As a coach, I want to build a team. The more the merrier,” Anglo said.

Caryn Helgeson, the mother of three Johnston students and one graduate, is an active supporter of Johnston athletics. She was also under the impression that powderpuff was discontinued because of gender stereotypes; however, when Helgeson and other moms met with High School Principal Ryan Woods, he didn’t even mention that as one of the possible reasons for its discontinuation.

I sat down with Principal Woods hoping to get a more clear answer than Helgeson did. He explained that the only complaints of gender discrimination took place a few years ago when boys wore cheerleading uniforms to the sideline of the game. That was shutdown very quickly when the boys were told they could continue cheering as long as they wore shorts and t-shirts. 

Woods indicated that one of the major problems was that not everyone who signed up was getting playing time.

“A homecoming event is different than a varsity sport,” Woods said.

The expectation is that all students are welcome, and all students actually get to participate. However, that wasn’t happening, and it was causing chaos.

Regardless of the reasoning for powderpuff’s discontinuation, the lack of transparency with students and parents is disappointing. 

“I’m not quite sure what the real answer is,” Helgeson said.

Student council sponsor and science teacher Rachel Jensen declined to comment but directed inquiries toward administration. Principal Woods expressed his support for whatever decisions the student council makes, but the student council didn’t make this decision. District officials and a few staff members did– behind closed doors. 

“Jensen and the school board decided not to do it,” Student Council President Maggie Miner ‘23 said.

Miner is disappointed that not even the student council executive board was included in the decision to remove powderpuff from the lineup of homecoming activities. Instead, they were told to find an alternative event to fill the slot. 

 “There was just a lot of backlash, and honestly, from me too . . . It’s a fun tradition,” Miner said.

Kramer is one of the many students upset by powerpuff’s absence this year.

“Why even have student council if teachers are just gonna overrule what the students want anyway,” Kramer said.

But hope isn’t lost. Miner said that we can still bring powderpuff back in the future. It may take a little reform, but the administration is by no means opposed.

“If they come to me with a new plan, as long as it’s legal, safe, and good for students, we’ll try things,” Woods said.

Kramer suggested that the event be held on Wednesday after service day instead of after the parade on Thursday. This would allow the event to be much longer so that more teams can play. Instead of just a sophomore, junior and senior team, there could be two or three of each. Or maybe a new combination entirely.

Students and parents agree that this established tradition is worth salvaging. Helgeson explained that they are willing and able to help organize students and make sure that things run smoothly. Her husband, Jeff Helgeson, is one of the varsity football coaches and is happy to help oversee the coaching aspect of the event. 

Making sure that all students are invited, included, and participating is essential to the success of powderpuff in the future. Approaching the event with its past implications in mind is necessary to change what it means moving forward. It is an opportunity for athletes to display their abilities in a fun and welcoming environment, and parental oversight may be necessary to ensure the respectful and positive atmosphere is maintained.

“We think there is a solution other than just removing it. . . Let’s put our heads together and figure out how to do that,” Caryn Helgeson said.