Zach Leitner took to the track on wheels, his skateboard gaining speed as he neared a turn. Nearby, classmate Jake Grady soared along with two feet firmly planted on his board before taking a tumble. He laughed and brushed off his pants. At Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, this is what teacher Terry Crigger calls advanced physical education class – an elective course open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. Sure, they may shoot hoops or toss a football from time to time. But the point of this course is for students to experience nontraditional activities during the school day.
Take last month. The 12 students – all boys, all sophomores – learned how to mountain bike on the small slopes behind the school. It was muddy at times, Crigger said. They loved it. Already completed back in September: fishing in a pond on Nansemond-Suffolk’s 100 or so acres of land. One boy caught and released 10 bream, bass and perch in one class period. “I think they would have fished all year if I would have let them,” Crigger said.
The longtime teacher tried offering a similar class 10 to 15 years ago. It didn’t go as well, he said, because the campus was much smaller. The school now has about 40 acres of undeveloped land available for athletics and other activities. Most of the equipment Crigger uses for alternative sports and games comes from his home or is on loan from parents and students. For skateboarding, he’ll bring in a rail that sits low to the ground so students can jump and slide.
As for what’s next, Crigger isn’t sure. Maybe disc golf, paintball or kite flying. He’s considered them all. Even tinikling – a Philippine dance – although Crigger figured his all-boy class wouldn’t go for that one. Skateboarding, on the other hand, appeared to be a hit. On a brisk but sunny afternoon, Daniel Hotte looked confident as he leaned into his board. Only two days earlier, the 16-year-old was unsteady on wheels.
Meanwhile, two boys steered small, race-style bikes close to a set of bleachers, testing Crigger’s nerves. One of the same students later hovered near several picnic tables as if deciding whether to try out a jump. Some of the activities are the kind that make public school officials shudder, for fear of liability if someone gets hurt. Crigger keeps an eye out for students who are about to try something risky, though he admits it’s a challenge. “They think they’re bulletproof.”