Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


April 16, 2009

Kids Do the Darnedest Things in Chocolate Syrup

How teenage girls wrestling in the sticky stuff heralded the media apocalypse.

Sarah Raymond

It was the photo spread that simultaneously titillated and puzzled the masses on the internet recently (for a few minutes, anyway): female high-school volleyball players in sports bras, wrestling each other in a kiddie pool full of chocolate syrup. "The girls team, egged on by the boys team, were just having fun to mark the end of the girls season and the start of the boys season. They used 27 bottles of the syrup," explained the caption on, the Tribune Co. site where the gallery originally ran, and on the websites of Newsday, the Hartford Courant, the Baltimore Sun, and other Tribune papers, where it was syndicated.

Jessica Steffan. Photo by <a href=',0,6018420.photogallery'>Joe Cavaretta</a>.
"I guess it was pretty weird to see it up there above all the headlines. I guess maybe they had nothing better to talk about."—Jessica Steffan

Jessica Steffan. Photo by Joe Cavaretta.

"I hope this isn't the recipe that will save the tribune from bankruptcy," one commenter replied to Gawker's post, "Future of Newspapers: High-School Girls Bathing in Hershey's."

Gawker and its commenters might, for once, have been on to something with their critique of these bizarre images. But photographer Joe Cavaretta says the gallery was simply a result of being in the right place at the right time. Cavaretta tells Gelf he stumbled onto the scene as the girls frolicked in his neighbor's backyard. He scoffs at the overheated reactions to the shots, saying of the volleyball players, "They were wearing sports bras and volleyball pants, and it wasn't like they were tearing each others' clothes off or anything."

The photos' subjects were surprised by the attention. Jessica Steffan, a senior at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., says the chocolate-flavored bouts began with a joking comment from one of the players on the boys team that she would be a champion some day—of what, he didn't know. A few days later, he decided Jessica should syrup-wrestle her teammates for a mythical title. The players took to the idea, Caveratta came over, got permission to take photos, and "about a half hour later it was on the website."

And the photo gallery very quickly became part of internet-fameball history, to Steffan's surprise. "I guess it was pretty weird to see it up there above all the headlines," Steffan says of the Sun-Sentinel gallery. "I guess maybe they had nothing better to talk about."

Caveretta disagrees with any suggestion that his "Chocolate Kids" photos were somehow symptomatic of local newspapers' slow demise. Instead, he categorizes the photos with other standard local fare, such as stupid crime stories or pictures of adorable animals doing the darnedest things. These features have long been popular syndication material, Caveretta points out: He recalls a syndicated photo he snapped when working for the Associated Press in Las Vegas in the 1980s, which depicted a police dog apparently mourning over the coffin at a comrade K9's funeral.

Caveretta stresses that local newspapers still offer much more to readers, such as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's current investigation of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's misuse of corporate jets. (He didn't mention some of the other subjects of sports-photo galleries that are fixtures on the Sun-Sentinel's website, including attractive sideline reporters, Danica Patrick and Dara Torres in bikinis, and Florida's sexist [sic] cheerleaders.)

"I think if local papers go away its just going to be a horrible loss," he said. "Chocolate kids fighting is not the greatest example of that, but [local papers are] important."

Sarah Raymond

Sarah Raymond is a writer in Boston.

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Article by Sarah Raymond

Sarah Raymond is a writer in Boston.

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