Wolfeboro’s wonderful One-Wheeled Wonders rock

  • The One-Wheeled Wonders of Crescent Lake School in Wolfeboro hold weekly practices in the school’s gym. The team is comprised of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. MARTY BASCH / Courtesy

For the Monitor
Saturday, June 03, 2017

It is 8 a.m. and the music pulsates through the gym tat Wolfeboro’s Crescent Lake School. Energetic fourth- through sixth-graders mount their steeds and wheel around the gym. In the next 45 minutes under the coaching of physical education teacher Deb Skelley and the help of an arsenal of staff and parent volunteers, they will do skillful laps around the basketball court. They will weave around in a figure-eight by mid-court. Some will link hands and spin around in groups of three and four, while some do the same holding hula hoops.

There are also spills, bumps and bruises.

But there are also confident smiles and determination’s grit.

Such is the weekly practice of the school’s One-Wheeled Wonders, a collection of 34 elementary school students riding unicycles in bright orange T-shirts with a logo designed by a couple of former students.

“Everyone is always working on something that is a challenge for them,” Skelley said. “This is always a challenge that never stops.”

The wonderful Wonders – wearing helmets, wrist guards and knee pads – are something of a Wolfeboro staple, performing at school events, halftime of Kingswood High School basketball game and the town’s Fourth of July parade.

They ride regular unicycles. Many own their own rigs. Some have been inspired to ride by older siblings who have done the same. Some want to teach the skill to younger siblings.

The club was started in the early 2000s by now-retired elementary physical education teacher Bette Frazier after she saw a Maine unicycle troupe’s demo and workshop. She thought that was a fit for the school. So they started unicycling in gym class.

“After four 45-minute PE classes, about one-third of the school could ride,” she said.

Now Skelley’s in charge.

The students are first introduced to unicycling during a monthlong fourth-grade PE segment, though many have seen the older students ride during their early-morning practices. When those fourth graders can do three laps around the gym, they are invited to join the team.

The invitation is rarely refused for the club that tends to start its practices in early October.

It’s sort of a revolving feeder system as Skelley loses the sixth-graders to graduation every year.

“A lot of them think it’s easy, just as easy as getting on their bikes,” she said. “But they learn very quickly that it’s very cerebral, that it takes their brains, core and balance.”

The kids go through a process while learning to ride. They start on the padded gym wall to mount the rigs. Then they do a wall walk, using the wall like a railing. After they do that, they ride with someone’s assistance before finally venturing on their own.

Eventually, they might do maneuvers like riding without a seat (they drag it behind them), the bunny hop where they stop, idle and hop, those spins and even jump rope where they pedal through the rotating rope. They might even play basketball and polo on the unicycles.

To ride the 5-foot-tall giraffe, they first must first be able to mount, idle and pedal backwards for about 15 feet.

“Honestly, I think that, with some kids doing this, helps make them who they are because they have mastered something that is really hard to master,” Skelley said. “There also is a lot of camaraderie.”

A 3D video on YouTube allows families of the students see the club.

It’s also fulfilling for Skelley. She once got a call from a mother about her daughter who couldn’t ride her bike. Can she try the unicycle? She did and now rides it well.

“The difference between a bike and unicycle is balance and posture,” she said. “They all have good posture.”

There’s also self-esteem and coordination.

Talk to some of those graduating sixth-graders and you’ll get a sense that they love unicycling, doing it with their friends and using it to make new ones. The tricks have been fun, challenging and continuing to ride is as good thing. It’s also a great way to start the day before they head to the classroom.

“I really enjoy riding with my friends and I think this can help with agility in other sports,” said Marcella De Nitto, a unicycling sixth-grader as practice ended and the official school day began.