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Balance, then move forward

(L-R) Fourth-graders Harrison Berdan, Corey Dunn and Dylan Fritz hold hands and unicycle after school during extra gym class with physical education teacher Dave Walker at Ordway Elementary School. Unicycling was added to the P.E. program this year. - JULIE BUSCH photo
(L-R) Fourth-graders Harrison Berdan, Corey Dunn and Dylan Fritz hold hands and unicycle after school during extra gym class with physical education teacher Dave Walker at Ordway Elementary School. Unicycling was added to the P.E. program this year.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

The playing field is level (if a bit jerky) for young unicyclists.

Cycling past with hands linked, three boys on unicycles jerkily swoop past another lad who’s juggling. Still others jump rope atop a Saturn-shaped pogo ball.

David Walker, Ordway Elementary School gym teacher, is the circus ringleader.

“Mr. Walker has gotten them all excited about non-typical P.E.,” said parent Tara Hausman, of the after-school unicycling program. “It’s so diverse so everyone can do something, but it’s something which you have to work toward.”

Walker, who started full time at Ordway last September, introduced unicycling to third- and fourth-grade gym classes, as an unconventional, but fun way to get exercise.

All grades can participate in extra gym classes held four mornings and three afternoons a week. Parents come help spot.

The 16 unicycles were funded through a PTO grant.

Unlike most sports, unicycling is new to all of the students, so the playing field is level whether a child is usually good at athletics or tends to “sit out,” Walker said.

“Out of these kids, some are a little timid at the beginning, but once they start to see a little success here, it’s like they can try anything,” Walker said. “So it really builds self-confidence and esteem.

“P.E. should be fun anyway. I don’t have too many kids that sit out.”

The confidence gained in unicycling can be contagious and make a child more willing to try other sports, too.

Susan Berdan watches her fourth-grade son Harrison boost himself up onto a unicycle by stopping the tire against the wall, the step before learning to “freemount.”

“This has been so good. Of all the different things (Harrison) has tried, I’ve never seen him so determined. He wanted to be here,” Berdan said. “As one of the first on the wall, he was so proud of that.”

Berdan refers to the “Ordway Wall of Fame,” where those who manage to cycle across the length of the gym get their name under the “unicycle” heading.

There are also lists for pogo ball, rock climbing, juggling and stilt walking.

Little colored stars and checks next to the name show other accomplishments, such as learning to freemount or jump rope on a pogo ball backwards.

Some unicyclists spill off their wheels, but come up laughing. Others lose balance and slide off, but are back up with nary a break in the flow.

“It’s really fun, much better than a bike. A bike’s too boring, too easy,” said fourth-grader Jacqueline Hutchins, who describes unicycling as “you’re not really sitting, you’re in the air.”

“I like it better than most sports because I’m really good at it,” fourth-grader Corey Dunn said. “At the start, going to the blue line (4 feet from the wall) was hard.”

But now wheeling and weaving around with his friends. “It feels like you’re flying because you’re only on one wheel,” Dunn added.

The kids begin by learning to sit on the unicycle, tire pushed up still against the wall. Then with a spotter on either side, they make their first turns, then they go to one spotter, none and then freemount without using the wall.

“At the start of the year, none had unicycling experience,” Walker said. “They’re just fast learners.”

As for his own skill on one wheel, Walker says he can “sort of” ride it. He picked it up while teaching in North Kitsap, which has a unicycle team.

“But I’m not as good as the kids,” Walker said. “Every time I want to learn all the unicycles are taken.”

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