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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Special sendoff for Sacajawea’s ‘Queen of Rubber Thunder’ on last day of school

Eight-grade Sacajawea Middle School students raise the roof as they cheer during the Rubber Thunderbird celebration, Thursday, June 13, 2019, in the gym. Surfing was the dress theme for the eight-grade class and the seventh-grade students came attired as lumberjacks for the traditional end-of-school event. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

They could have played hooky.

But on a beautiful Thursday morning, the kids at Sacajawea Middle School preferred to get sweaty in their old gymnasium and scream their guts out for three hours.

You had to be there, and almost everyone was.

“It’s the best-attended day of the year,” Principal Jeremy Ochse said with a smile.

The occasion was the annual Rubber Thunderbird celebration, a 23-year tradition that’s less about saying hello to summer and more about saying goodbye to friends – hundreds of them.

They said it with music and dancing and zany costumes, with eighth-graders dressed for the beach and seventh-graders as lumberjacks.

The cheers were loud enough to be heard on the corner of 29th Avenue and Grand Boulevard.

Coincidentally or not, a few members of the public walked in, took a seat and took in the scene. Even as the 60-year-old gym heated up like a sauna, no one left.

Why would they? Lessons were done for the year, and teachers were dressed in tropical gear. Some carried signs urging kids to be quiet when the moment demanded it.

Those moments were few during this where-are-my-earplugs event. The fun and games lasted three hours, until buses arrived shortly before noon.

“That’s what we really talk about, making this the best last day ever,” Ochse said. “The kids love it and the staff loves it. Every kid and staff member leaves this school with a win.”

The biggest winner: retiring teacher Sue Eggart, whom Ochse described as “one the most professional teachers I’ve ever met, and who really cares for kids.”

Clearly they care for her. So does the staff, which was skeptical when Eggart brought up the idea of an end-of-the-year party in 1997.

Twenty-two years later in her final day on the job, Eggart entered the old gym to rapturous applause and an introduction as the “Queen of Rubber Thunder.”

She expected that much. As a Rubber Thunderbird judge, she expected a certain amount of sucking up from prize-hungry students.

“I’m one of those who just tends to just get my job done,” said Eggart, a computer applications teacher who is retiring after 33 years.

“But today was … oh, my goodness, this is nuts,” she said.

The students and staff saved the tear-jerker moments for the end. They gave Eggart a crystal sculpture and sang her a tribute.

“That just blew me away,” Eggart said.

They weren’t done. Beginning next year, Sacajawea will award the Sue Eggart Thunderbird Award to the student “who shows the most determination and goodness.”

“That’s what blew me away,” Eggart said as she prepared to drive back home to Cheney.

Then again, she was leaving another home behind for good.

“Sac has been my home since 1989,” she said. “The culture of professionalism … that’s why our kids are inspired to be great human beings. I’m touched to be a part of that community.”