Back to School, Back in the Day: The Knockout Pit

Some first day of school images in New Canaan persist through the years: bright new outfits, embarrassing photo shoots at the bus stop, tearful kindergarten farewells, nervous classroom energy, locker combinations, crisp notebooks, teacher introductions, excited and awkward classmate reunions. The playground equipment and areas have been double-checked—for example, the New Canaan Department of Public Works last month diligently crack-sealed parts of playgrounds at East and West. Yet for many years, and for scores of nostalgic New Canaanites who attended Center School—demolished after the 1982-83 academic year to make way for the Center School Parking Lot ($120 per year for a permit) opposite Maple Street from New Canaan Library—the centerpiece of the playground was a narrow, long, recessed, cement “pit” around the back of the school itself. A place of physicality, perhaps even violence, as well as fierce competition and glory—and, of course, wholly unfathomable at an elementary school today—the Knockout Pit at Center School remains a singular touchstone for alumni more than three decades later, despite no official historical record of it and at a school far better known and remembered among educators for its innovations in student learning and curriculum. “My best memory of the school, other than some friends, is the Knockout Pit,” said Bill Taylor, a 1981 New Canaan High School graduate who attended Center in the early-‘70s.