⇑ VIDEO: Beech Street Elementary Unicycle Club in action
MANCHESTER, NH – One good turn deserves another, in most cases. Except for those times when a break in your concentration causes your lone wheel to spin out, dropping you off the front of your unicycle. Then, it’s back to the wall to remount, rebalance and try, try again.
This is the kind of work ethic that goes on after hours at Beech Street school every Wednesday for a small group of students. They are members of the Unicycle Club, one of several 21 Century Community Learning programs, rolling strong for the past 17 years.
With only about 30 more minutes left on the clock before quitting time on a recent Wednesday afternoon, program coaches Benita Lebow and Melanie Huberty are taking turns with each of the third-graders, all working at their own pace. Some have mastered their unicycles to the point of solo spins across the entire gymnasium floor. Others are still getting the hang of the launch.
All of them say they are having the time of their life.
“Keep pedaling, that’s it. Keep pedaling – don’t look down,” coaches Lebow, one-third of a three-person chain at the half-court point. Her outstretched right hand being clutched by a tentative but determined wobbler, who is also clenching Huberty’s left hand. She makes it all the way to the far wall, her dismount punctuated with a huge smile of accomplishment.
Over the years they’ve had as many as 22 unicyclers, says Lebow. It all depends on how many coaches are available. Right now it’s just Lebow and Huberty, with help from two SNHU student coaches, Casey Herman and Sean Keegan.
“We’d love to be able to have more kids on the team,” says Lebow. “But we need more help. We’d welcome anyone interested. No skills required – just patience and time.”
Patience is also part of the learning process for participants – success doesn’t come quickly, but persistence always pays off.
The program was launched by Lebow and her late husband, Benjie, back in 1999. Four years later, Benjie died after suffering an aneurysm while unloading the unicycles into the gymnasium for practice.
Lebow has kept the program going, as much for sentimental reasons as she does because she knows how much it means to those who participate.
“There’s no other place I know of around the city where kids can ride, and get a nice sweatshirt with a unicycle on it,” says Lebow, who loves to talk about her many club alumni, like the student who loved it so much he rode a unicycle as his means of transportation to middle school after graduating from the program.
Or Sarah Niazi, who now works as the 21st Century Community Learning Coordinator at Parker Varney.
“And her brother, Aseeb – he was the best giraffe rider we’ve ever had,” she says, a reference to the extra tall, more challenging unicycles, mastered only by the best of the best.
Her students often return to help out, like Christian Vasquez, 12, who started like everyone else, as a tentative third-grader, and is currently coming back to provide inspiration to the others by demonstrating his smooth skills to the newbies, including his little sister, Nataly, 8.
“I like it because it’s something different, besides playing video games. And it’s a lot of fun,” says Christian, who says he’s anxious for his turn to take over the floor at the end of the lesson session, for some freewheeling unicycling.
“I love everything about it,” says his sister.
Lebow, who is generally known as “The Unicycle Lady,” worked at Beech Street for years as a paraprofessional. She says the Unicycle Club has been one of the most popular after school clubs and has been invited to perform at events around the community. She is in the midst of rebuilding momentum after having to take last year off due to construction at the school.
“Enrollment was down this year because many of the kids didn’t know what a unicycle was, but we have 28 unicycles and two giraffes in storage upstairs, ready and waiting. We’d love to have them all out here on the floor,” says Lebow. “But we can’t do it without more volunteer coaches.”