If 20 minutes of exercise three times a week keeps you fit, what would seven hours of exercise five times a week —surrounded by hundreds of hyper grade school kids — do for you?
Would it make you insane?
A.L. FitzPatrick Elementary School gym teacher Rich “Mister A” Alloway has been doing precisely that for more than four decades, but he doesn’t seem crazy. In fact, he’s more like the eye of the hurricane, cool and calm as all heck swirls around him.
It’s a tightly organized and orchestrated chaos, however, and perhaps the reason why Alloway has become such a popular, influential and revered educator at FitzPatrick, where’s he spent the last 38 of his 44 years in the city’s public school system.
That’s also why he will be missed so much when he retires this month at the school year’s conclusion, just shy of his 66th birthday.
Alloway has directly impacted the lives of thousands of children during his tenure, including many former students’ children, nieces and nephews.
“Here’s a guy who’s like everybody’s granddad,” said FitzPatrick Principal Cheryl Glaser. “This would be very stressful for me, 33 kids hopping around on a concrete floor. But he does it like they’re all his kids.”
He has yet to see a third-generation student walk into his gym, however.
“I always said I’d quit if the ‘you taught my grandparent’ thing came up,” Alloway said. “Fortunately, no one ever said that to me, but it is time to go.”
A former college wrestler, Alloway has been slowed by a couple of medical issues in recent months, including a knee replacement. But more than that, he recognizes it’s finally time for him to pass the torch and spend more time with his family, especially his five grandchildren.
He plans to do a lot of gardening, fishing, hunting (although he can’t picture himself shooting a deer) and volunteering at school and at the Northeast YMCA.
Ironically, Alloway’s teaching career almost ended before it ever really began.
“I almost quit in my first year,” he said, recalling his first teaching assignment at Duckrey Elementary, 15th and Diamond streets.
The York, Pa., native enrolled at Temple University to be close to his future wife, Maureen. They were married in August 1968. Rich Alloway began teaching one month later.
“I was at Duckrey and I went in and tried to be (students’) friend, not their teacher,” Alloway said.
It didn’t go well. Students were bouncing off the walls. He needed some direction.
“There was one class that listened to me. (Their teacher) was this little old lady,” Alloway said. “She said to me, ‘I don’t know if you’ll be back next year. But you’ll have to come back and tell them you’re in charge. You can’t be their friend.’”
That was all the advice he would need. Alloway changed his persona, becoming fair but firm, enthusiastic and encouraging yet purposefully critical.
His expressed his love for his work in his energy and smile. Kids picked up the vibe and liked him more because of it. He loves working with younger children.
“(That’s) because they appreciate it more,” he said. “They’re always enthusiastic. They always want to work. (Gym class) is the highlight of their day. They make me charged up. I never have any trouble with them trying different things. They haven’t been spoiled by our world.”
Alloway spent three years as a full-time substitute at Duckery, filling in for teacher absentees, before getting his own classes at M.H. Stanton Elementary, 22nd and Cumberland streets.
He stayed there for more than two years, and then moved to FitzPatrick during a district-wide period of teacher shuffling.
“I wanted to go back to Duckery, but my wife said, ‘Why don’t you put in for a school closer to home?’” he said.
The couple has lived in Walton Park, blocks from FitzPatrick, for the last 36 years. They sent their sons, Tim and Greg, and daughter, Karen, to the school.
FitzPatrick, at 11061 Knights Road, has about 880 students in grades K through 8. It was a K to 5 school until 2005 when the school district under then-Superintendent Paul Vallas added the upper three grades.
Alloway is among about 40 teachers in the building. The second highest in seniority has 32 years on the job. Alloway is the only teacher who gets to work with every student on a regular basis. That’s the way he likes it.
“I ask for it,” he said. “I say, ‘Fill me up.’ I want to teach every kid in the building. I like all of them and I think my field is important. We need to get our kids active and (teach them) it’s good to sweat.”
In the past, he’s turned down offers for more prep periods on his daily schedule. He spends his lunch periods in the gym, too, helping kids learn gymnastics and supervising pick-up basketball games.
“During the time he’s supposed to have a duty-free period, he meets kids who are interested in being in gymnastics and he helps kids who are interested in being on the basketball team,” Glaser said.
In some of his spare time, Alloway has coached the gymnastics team and taught youth classes at the Northeast YMCA for more than 30 years.
At FitzPatrick, he’s known as the creator of the school’s popular Playday, when students are divided into the Blue and Gold teams and compete in a dozen gym-class games. The competition always happens near the end of the school year, but students spend months preparing, learning and practicing the “crab game, ” the “parachute game” and other activities.
Students may not realize it, but the crab game — in which kids lie on their backs and kick a balloon-style ball —– is a variation on the old bicycle exercise. And the parachute game — where kids flap a parachute hoping to launch a ball into the air — is a lot like jumping jacks.
They have nothing to do with video games.
“(Kids) have got very good thumbs,” Glaser said. “The thing is to get them hooked into (exercise) now so they enjoy it as much as the thumb stuff.”
Alloway seamlessly weaves good nutrition, good citizenship and safe play messages into his lessons.
In the crab game, it’s up to the kids to officiate themselves and declare themselves “out.” In the parachute game, he warns them not to step on the synthetic cloth because it’s slippery and could cause a fall.
“And they listen to him, the first time — that’s significant,” said Glaser, who will conduct a search for Alloway’s permanent replacement.
Alloway wants to see a greater emphasis on gym classes.
“The ideal would be three days a week. I think there would be major improvements in (children’s) health, their wellbeing and their social skills,” he said. ••EndFragment