At the time, the Sparks School District consisted of Robert H. Mitchell, Mary Lee Nichols and Kate Smith elementary schools, in addition to Sparks Junior High and Sparks High School. All schools decided to take part in Jack’s Carnival, reducing the number of individual efforts for fundraising.
Originally, Jack’s Carnival carried out the theme representing “Jacks” from Mother Goose nursery rhymes. The original Jack’s Carnival Parade of costumed children was held on a Friday afternoon in late September. Jack’s Carnival was held the following day at Sparks High School with admission being 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for children.
Individual booths were set up around the theme, such as Little Jack Horner (a pie booth); Jack Frost (ice cream); Jack and Jill (apple cider booth); Queen of Hearts (cake booth); Jack-a-Dandy (candy) and Jack Straws (soft drinks). A spaghetti feed was provided by the middle school students and vaudeville skits were provided by the high school students.
Over the years, as Sparks grew, more schools joined in Jack’s Carnival every fall. Each year, representatives from the schools would meet to decide on a theme and choose which carnival booths and activities their schools would provide.
Each year, on a Saturday morning in the fall, students dressed in costumes representing the theme, would meet at the Robert Mitchell School playground and parade down Prater Way to Deer Park for Jack’s Carnival. The Sparks mayor would always lead the parade of school marching bands, drill teams, ROTC units, Sparks Fire Department and Sparks Police Department vehicles, and even Bertha the Elephant from the Sparks Nugget. Families from all over Sparks then enjoyed a day of food, carnival games and shows from local volunteer entertainers. Proceeds from the event were divided equally among the schools.
By the end of the century, most the schools had found it necessary to withdraw from Jack’s Carnival because of time constraints. Schools took advantage of other opportunities for fundraising offered by commercial fundraisers.
Today, Robert Mitchell School is the only school to keep the Jack’s Carnival tradition alive. In 2000, Jack’s Carnival gained new dimension as “Jack’s Carnival of Arts.” Teachers Marilyn Naylor, Kathe Murders and Lynn Humphreys joined efforts to write a grant to bring artists to the school. For the next four years, through the support of Nevada Arts Council, Mervyn’s, Sparks Rotary Club, Mt. Rose Lions Club and First Independent Bank, students at Robert Mitchell and Kate Smith schools enjoyed special experiences in the arts. All students enjoyed classes in painting by Ann O’Lear; clay by Marta Magistrali; dance by Mary Bennett; Native American Arts by Norma Smokey; and Native Nevada photography by Mark Vollmer.
In 2005, the original Jack’s Carnival concept was revived to a carnival held in the fall. In 2006, Principal Eileen Rountree led the first parade of the century by leading students in Halloween costumes around the school playground.
This year, Jack’s Carnival will be celebrated today, Oct. 24. Thanks to the efforts of Robert Mitchell teacher Tod Cieszko and Sparks High School band instructor Andrew Patrick, students will parade again to the marching band on the Robert Mitchell School playground at 2:15 p.m.
Jack’s Carnival will begin at 4:30 p.m. Teachers and parents have volunteered to run carnival games. A band formed by teachers and members of the Northern Nevada Bluegrass Association will entertain and invite students to join in rhythm and song. Dinner will be provided by the Mount Rose Lions Club. The school library will be open for a book fair.
Let’s all enjoy the tradition and celebrate the “Spirit of Sparks” by joining the fun at Jack’s Carnival.
Marilyn Naylor teaches third grade at Robert Mitchell Elementary School in Sparks. For more information, call the school at 353-5590