Mr. DiPaulo brings new sports to high school physical education, for a reason

Blink and you’d miss it, but Vikings didn’t. That was a frisbee flying high in our gym earlier in the year as part of a physical education unit featuring what’s commonly called Ultimate Frisbee.  This non-contact team sport is played by an estimated 5.1 million in the United States, and now some in South Otselic. It was part of the mix of mainstream sports and new opportunities brought to high school classes by Mr. Matt DiPaulo, now in his first year teaching at O V.

His intention is to teach skills, habits, and ways of thinking that can inspire a lifetime of fitness for every student, he told us, not just the athletes who compete in organized team sports. “I want these kids to live long, healthy lives.”

Mr. DiPaulo’s approach is to use a wide variety of sports and activities to teach physical education in ways that benefit the whole student, not just the physical aspect of the student. Class goals include:

--Strength, movement achieved by tiny muscles (fine motor) and larger ones, agility, balance, heart and lung health, and the ability to use bodies with confident energy
--Content knowledge and understanding, decision-making, and developing ways of thinking that help students excel in activities  (“What are the rules again?”)
--Working and playing with peers, taking responsibility for choices, problem-solving, attitudes, and learning the value of health, wellness, and friendly competition

It’s good to move, it’s good to play, and it’s good to be part of a team. Mr. DiPaulo hopes earning to love activity will pay big dividends as our students become adults. His toolkit of approaches can help support growing and continued health for all Vikings.

The class focus he mentions first is commitment to a positive learning environment.  “Students should not be afraid to fail. Through teaching them the new skills needed to be successful within the unit, hopefully they’ll become confident enough to try new activities,” he said recently.  "'Competence leads to confidence' helps set the framework of each unit."

He also chooses progressive skill-based units so each new class builds on what has come before. “I want students to say, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good at this, maybe i’ll try to do it more often,’ thus leading them to a more active lifestyle than before.”

Being in the first decade of teaching has its advantages, too. “Part of what I love about working here is that I get to teach more than physical education. I hope I’m relatable because I was in their shoes not so long ago. When I was at Liverpool I had 200 kids in a unit, and when someone was having a bad day they’d just blend in and we’d rarely see it. At O V when a kid comes in and is having a bad day or a good day, I know that right off the bat. I know every student’s name, and I am thinking about what I can do as a phys ed teacher to make them feel comfortable, confident, and strong.”

By choosing a variety of activities that build on strengths and lessons practiced in preceding classes, Mr. DiPaulo aims to make physical education accessible for everyone, no matter what their involvement in competitive sports.

Just being part of small teams within a regular phys ed class helps students appreciate the importance of being part of something bigger than themselves. And, Mr. DiPaulo and our other physical education teachers and coaches hope, this will carry over into more students taking a chance on team sports. “Sports hold students accountable,” he said, “because students don’t want to let down their teammates.”

In addition to teaching, Mr. DiPaulo is part of the new Athletics Council at O V that includes physical education teachers, coaches, and representatives from youth sports in the community. He also coached Boys’ Modified basketball and will be co-coaching Boys’ Varsity baseball with Mr. Wentworth in the spring.

“I’m trying to tie physical education to sports, sure. Learning proper skills to be successful at a sport will be presented in class, but not exclusively. It’s also important for me teach the high school students lifetime activities. The goal with this is to increase activity outside of the gym and help lead students to a more healthy and active lifestyle. 

“Students don’t roll out onto the basketball court and immediately shoot successfully,” Mr. DiPaulo explained. “They learn dribbling, crossovers, passing, shooting, and defense. On the other side of things are our upcoming Badminton and Pickleball units as well as the Ultimate Frisbee unit that students already learned. We might not have a school team in those sports, but ten years from now students might choose to set up a badminton net in the back yard and remember that they feel better when they are more active.”

To learn more about Pickleball, click here:

To learn more about Ultimate (more commonly known as Ultimate Frisbee), click here:

YouTube videos teaching more about both sports are available online too.

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