Once upon a time, he was the starting center for the UCLA Bruins. Standing six feet, four inches tall, and weighing, well, a lot, Dr. Shawn Stuart is anything but imposing today with his characteristic big grin and bigger laugh, dressed head to toe in...feathers.
It's the annual Campbell Christian Schools Turkey Pluck, a ten-year tradition that began with a room parent's request. "She came and asked if I'd dress up like a turkey for the Kindergartners Thanksgiving party that year. I agreed, and it morphed into a tradition that the entire school enjoys."
This year, with a rainy morning and a muddy lawn, Dr. Stuart took the precaution of going home to get his football cleats. "I don't want to slip in the mud and take out any of the kids!" he laughs.
Over 200 students and parents gather on the lawn, chanting and cheering as Dr. Stuart emerges in brown coveralls, a beaked cap and bright red waddle, covered in hundreds of clothespins holding feathers (enough for every child to grab two). The Kindergartners line up, jumping and yelling, wearing feathered headdresses and pilgrim hats, until the signal sounds and 50 children swarm the lawn.
It doesn't take long - Dr. Stuart makes a few slow laps - just fast enough to keep ahead of the pack, but slow enough that he loses a few feathers on the way. He stops to check on a child who has slipped and fallen, then starts running again. The race ends with everyone being allowed to grab a couple of feathers, and all the kids troop back to classrooms for class parties, treats and fun.
"The turkey pluck is a quirky rite of passage for our little Kindergarteners. We as parents come together to watch, cheer and realize that they are growing up too fast. It reminds us that each moment is to be cherished," says Lynne Holland, parent of four, who was at today's event watching her youngest nab some feathers.
For more information about Campbell Christian Schools and their quirky traditions, as well as their stellar academics and enthusiastic staff of good sports, please visit their website at CampbellChristian.org.