Originally published Oct. 29, 2021 by The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register.
By Joselyn King
Bridge Street Middle School physical education teacher Rick Thomas has again been honored for his abilities to get youths up and moving.
Thomas has been named as the West Virginia 2021 SHAPEWV (Society of Health and Physical Educators) Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
And it isn’t the first accolade for Thomas. In 2012, he was named the West Virginia Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (WVAHPERD) Middle School Teacher of the Year. And in both 2013 and 2019, he was a Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Middle School teacher of the year.
Thomas said he just tries “to get the kids moving and doing stuff.”
“I try to get things going — using grants or my own money — to buy equipment they can use to improve their wellness,” he said.
Thomas started a highly popular archery program at Bridge Street as part of his efforts.
He said the challenge for physical education teachers is to find athletic activities that engage all students, and to look past just the major sports.
“I try to find activities in which I can get all students engaged at one time, not ones where they are the center of focus and attention all at one time,” he said. “They don’t want to fail, or others to see them fail.
“There can be hurt feelings, and I’m trying to build them up.”
SHAPEWV said Thomas was selected a teacher of the year “based on his commitment to his profession and his willingness to work with other professionals and professional organizations.”
He said he would advise younger teachers to seek out and collaborate with as many other physical education teachers that they can.
“There are a lot of PE teachers on Facebook, Twitter, and in state organizations,” Thomas said. “They should join those, and get among the leaders in their profession. They will learn about new activities they can have in class, and kids like that.”
Thomas said he has students play volleyball using a beach ball and a jump rope. Tennis is also played in the gym using a foam tennis ball, he explained.
He implements throw and catch activities, using such items as yarnballs, frisbees, scarves and balloons.
“They seem to enjoy that,” Thomas said. “I try to get them to use both their left hand and right hand. This gets the brain engaged for other activities and classes they will have throughout the day. It’s about just getting them moving.
“Our brains are like a computer or a cellphone. If you don’t move the mouse or turn the phone over every so often, the screen goes black. These kids are sitting in class for 55 minutes straight. Research tells us that after 12 minutes without movement, our bodies shut down.”