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Overcoming Obstacles: Richmond School Class Encourages Creativity

  • Sam Pych, a seventh-grader, races through the obstacle course to tag a teammate during the obstacle course finals at Richmond Middle School in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Sam Pych, a seventh-grader, races through the obstacle course to tag a teammate during the obstacle course finals at Richmond Middle School in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Catherine Patch, right, the obstacle course elective teacher, holds the golden sneaker for the winning team to sign. From left: Madeleine Wallace, Natalie Smith, Daphnie Friedman and Lillian Clarke. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Catherine Patch, right, the obstacle course elective teacher, holds the golden sneaker for the winning team to sign. From left: Madeleine Wallace, Natalie Smith, Daphnie Friedman and Lillian Clarke. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Guidance counselor Liz McBain laughs as she tries to roll upside down during the staff race at the end of the obstacle course finals at Richmond Middle School in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Guidance counselor Liz McBain laughs as she tries to roll upside down during the staff race at the end of the obstacle course finals at Richmond Middle School in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sam Pych, a seventh-grader, races through the obstacle course to tag a teammate during the obstacle course finals at Richmond Middle School in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Catherine Patch, right, the obstacle course elective teacher, holds the golden sneaker for the winning team to sign. From left: Madeleine Wallace, Natalie Smith, Daphnie Friedman and Lillian Clarke. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Guidance counselor Liz McBain laughs as she tries to roll upside down during the staff race at the end of the obstacle course finals at Richmond Middle School in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Hanover — Kids have a unique way of developing new games when they play. The first rule of those games is: There are no rules.

So it was during the obstacle course elective class at the Richmond Middle School yesterday, where teacher Catherine Patch encouraged her students to introduce their own ideas in augmenting the course layout.

Thus, in the time trial championships, it was an innovative concept that changed the established rules of play and allowed the quartet of Daphnie Friedman, Lillian Clarke, Natalie Smith and Madeleine Wallace to emerge victorious.

Knowing they would need a unique approach to defeat seven other teams, Friedman, Clarke, Smith and Wallace employed a tactic never before seen in the three years of the obstacle course finals.

With four separate legs of a relay course involving everything from hula-hoop lunges to human-bridge limbo, most of the teams ran through the course in order, completing one leg as perfectly as possible before turning to the next. Along with runners-up Adam Gluek, Finn Hackett, David Seigne, Sam Pych and Clayton Pogue, the winning team noticed a wrinkle in the rules.

Since they were required to go back to obstacles where they’d committed violations and complete them correctly, Friedman, Clarke, Smith and Wallace simply ran as fast as possible through the course, picking up whatever violations they acquired. Then, they returned and attacked all four legs of the course in unison to finish with a time of 1 minute, 25 seconds.

It was five seconds faster than runners-up Gluek, Hackett, Seigne, Pych and Pogue, who approached the course in the same fashion. The fastest time of any team executing the traditional method was 1:46, run by Moises Celaya, Mikey Staiger, Jon Thoms and Chanler Miller.

“Both of the (first- and second-place teams) came up with the unique idea independently, so I told them both to keep it a secret,” said Patch, a 2003 Lebanon High graduate and former Raiders’ field hockey and lacrosse player. “It was the big surprise going into this. They both had no clue another team had thought of it and never even got to practice it, because they didn’t want other teams to copy it. So that was the first time they did it.”

Ecstatic with the result, Friedman, Clarke, Smith and Wallace said the idea came naturally while they were brainstorming strategies.

“The fastest time we had (following the traditional method) was 1:48,” said Friedman, a seventh-grader. “We knew this way was going to be faster, but we didn’t think we’d get (as quick as) 1:25. That was awesome.”

Performing in front of Richmond’s entire student body and faculty, the crowd hooted and hollered while R&B music urged competitors through the lengthy, zigzagging course.

The day began with an “iron man” individual competition, involving those who’d posted top times during class, but whose teams hadn’t qualified. Seventh-grader Alex Benton finished with the top iron-man time of 1:40.

The course began with a plunge through a mesh tube, and continued to a number of hula-hoop obstacles and a squeeze through a taught oval made of foam rollers. Later, competitors had to build a series of multicolored pails into a pyramid shape, leap over it and then deconstruct it before continuing.

Some of the obstacles required partners, such as one involving bean-bag tossing into a bucket held by teammates and another where a teammate pulled the competing runner along on a scooter via rope tow.

Each obstacle included a student judge, who raised his or her hand when there was a violation so the runner knew to revisit it after crossing the finish line.

“I was really happy with the way the judges performed,” Patch said. “They were very fair and attentive and honest about what they saw. If there was anything questionable, they looked to me, but I mostly left it up to them. It was a great example of them working well with their classmates, which is a very important part of this elective.”

Patch first taught the obstacle course elective at an elementary school in St. Albans, Vt., where she spent several years before coming to Richmond Middle School in 2010.

The class has been a huge hit at Richmond, drawing 120 students this year. Patch feels the action of navigating obstacles appeals to a visceral desire to monkey around. Even a faculty team got in on the act, with school librarian Laura Abbene and teachers Kristen Downey, Jen Haines, Liz McBain putting on an exhibition after the student champions were determined.

“When we’re little kids, we all play the game where we tell ourselves we’re not allowed to touch the floor and jump around on furniture,” Patch said. “Everyone loves to play on obstacles. This just makes it more fun.”

The course involves different obstacles every year, with student input always considered for modifications. This year’s student-conceived challenges included the pail pyramid, the scooter pull and the human bridges, among others. The classes even made their own hula hoops, with materials purchased at a hardware store through grant funding.

“They were all great kids to work with through the entire process,” Patch said. “I’m really pleased with how smoothly everything went.”

After the competition, winners used a black marker to sign a gold-painted sneaker that remains on display in the school lobby.

Friedman, Clarke, Smith and Wallace are already looking forward to defending their team title.

“This was so fun,” said Clarke, a sixth-grader. “I’m definitely doing it next year.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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Photo Gallery: Obstacle Course Finals at Richmond Middle School

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Championship competition in the obstacle course elective class at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, N.H., on January 23, 2013. Valley News — Sarah Priestap …