The giant of gym class

— Rich Al­lo­way has taught gym at FitzPatrick Ele­ment­ary School for 38 years. Now, he's blow­ing the whistle on a 44-year ca­reer.

Re­tir­ing gym teach­er Richard Al­lo­way shows his class the prop­er way to space out dur­ing a group ex­cer­cise on his last day of work at Fitz Patrick Ele­ment­ary School, where he has worked for the past 44 years, Wed­nes­day, May 30, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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. ••


You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus