At 1:30 p.m. Friday, 350 Harborview Elementary School students poured into Marie Drake Gymnasium, each one carrying a hula hoop they made themselves, and prepared to engage in a hoop-off of epic proportions.
Chubby Checker’s classic “The Twist” blared on speakers as students got organized, sitting on the floor with their hoops encircling them.
“This is one of the top 100 crazy things I’ve ever seen in my life,” one teacher uttered to another, laughing, as they ushered more and more children into the gym.
When everyone was assembled by grade level, Harborview physical education teacher Zach Stenson moved to the front of the pack. At Stenson’s call of “One, two, three!” all 350 students rose and raised their hoops in unison.
That feeling of togetherness was exactly what Stenson wanted to create when he first had the idea for Harborview’s first hula hoop project at the beginning of the school year.
“I thought it would be good for all the kids to go through the whole process of making things together, the trials and tribulations of building a hula hoop,” Stenson said. “And for everybody from first grade through fifth grade to try to hula hoop together.”
And they did. With the help of teacher and parent volunteers, each grade level spent 30 minutes of class time creating a hula hoop out of tubing and tape. In two weeks, the whole school was outfitted with a handmade, personalized hoop.
Stenson has been teaching hoop techniques in class, too, and will continue to do so for two more weeks. At the end of two weeks, the kids will take their masterpieces home. The hoops were simple for kids to make, but the project encouraged students to help each other, Stenson said.
“For a lot of them, it was definitely a moment of, ‘Oh, this is not as easy as sitting and playing a video game,’” he said. “Especially for the little kids, putting the tape on them was a challenge. A big focus was the school community and the kids working together and helping each other. The bigger kids were asking if they could come in and help.”
Stenson said he hopes to repeat the hula hoop project every five years so each student gets to experience it once while at Harborview. Many community members donated time and money to this year’s project, Stenson said. Teachers, parents and supporters lined the gym’s walls on Friday as students hooped off by grade level to “What Does the Fox Say” and other songs, answered by raucous applause from the crowd. The event was scheduled to coincide with the 7th annual World Hoop Day on Saturday.
Longtime hooper Cori Stennett was at Friday’s event as an avid supporter of the activity, the kids and Stenson. She’s hula hooped for 13 years and has organized mass hooping events, called “Hoop Jams,” in Juneau before. Nothing to Friday’s extent, though, she said.
“This is the first time Juneau has seen one to this degree,” Stennett said. “They’re so fun, it’s such good exercise, and I love looking around at the energy of these kids.”
Stennett said she was excited to help realize Stenson’s idea from the start.
“He called me up and asked, ‘Cori, how would you go about making 400 hula hoops?’”
She said she provided guidance along the way, but it was truly a community effort to see the Harborview hoop project through. The end result was wonderful, she said.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said Friday. “I love it.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.