In late May of this year, Griffin Kasson constructed a Gaga ball pit in the back playground of Elk Lake Elementary school for his Eagle Scout Project.
“When it was first presented to the school board, they were confused. They didn’t know what it was, so we explained it was a variance of dodgeball played in a pit,” said Elk Lake Elementary School Principal Marc Weisgold.
“I believe that the addition of the Gaga ball pit has impacted the students greatly. The Gaga ball pit has opened up a new fun and exciting activity to students at the school,” said Kasson.
Gaga ball, or “the great playground equalizer,” is an outdoor game that has been played in the U.S. since the 1970s, but is only recently gaining legs.
“During the school year, I was able to see the pit in action. The kids absolutely love it, and it is pretty cool. There are about 15-20 kids inside the pit during the game, with about 10 on the outside,” said Weisgold.
Weisgold added that even though about 90 percent of its usage comes during the recess periods at school, the pit is open throughout the summer to community members. He recommends bringing your own ball, as the school does not provide outdoor sporting equipment.
“The Gaga ball pit is just what our playground needed,” said fourth grade teacher Aimee Sample.
She continued, “There are anywhere from 20-30 students in there at a time. That’s about a third of a grade involved in an activity together. It’s fun to watch them work out the rules and play together. “
As with all the fields and playgrounds at Elk Lake, usage is limited to daylight hours and close at dusk.
“Griffin also added two benches and a Foursquare court for more activities,” added Weisgold.
Sample explained, “Next up we need to start working in the Foursquare rules. That’s a fun game, too.”
Weisgold continued, “That area of the grounds really wasn’t being used. Now the students are actively engaged, and the area is nice. The teachers are happy to have an extra ‘thing’ for their students to do.”
“Gaga ball involves all the kids, not just the athletic ones. They do argue about who should be out, but most will problem solve. The pit is full every recess,” said fifth grade teacher Angie Valvano.
Heralded by administration for giving back to the Elementary school, the project went beyond cleaning up a desolate area of the campus.
Kasson explained, “As I walked by the doors leading to the playground, I saw kids lined up around the outside of the pit waiting for the turn to participate in the new addition to the playground. It gave me a sense of joy and pride. Not only did I prove to myself I had what it took to earn my rank of Eagle Scout, but I also was able to improve the students experience and to further increase the enjoyment of getting outside and interacting with other students.”
“The game has been teaching the students about sportsmanship, rules, and respecting each other,” said Weisgold.
Kasson also said, “Gaga ball is a very social game. I believe this Gaga ball pit will impact the lives of students for years to come.”
According to the Chicago Times, the rules are quite basic. Players start with one hand touching a wall. A kickball-type ball is dropped in the center. Ga-ga, which means “touch,touch” in Hebrew, is chanted as the ball is dropped in the center of the pit and the game. Then a player hits the ball underhand, trying to hit the other players on or below the knee to eliminate them from the pit.
The last player in the pit wins, but the game is more than that. Players cannot hold or throw the ball. If someone hits the ball out of the pit without it touching a person, they’re out. If someone outside the pit catches that ball, he or she is back in. So being outside the pit doesn’t completely exclude you from the game.
The games move quickly...after a few short minutes, the action heats up with a second ball, sure to get even the best players out within minutes. Once the game ends, everyone is back in for the next round, explains the website of the Gaga Center in New York City. They go one to laud the game as, “Fast, sweaty and really addictive,” with games usually lasting around five minutes.
Kasson, along with friends and fellow members of the Class of 2018- Caleb Ely, Griffin Arnold, and Joe Swart,-made the pit moveable and collapsible so that it would be easier to move in the future.
“His forward thinking allows the school to move the pit if we need to,”said Weisgold.
The pit has certainly gotten its usage and the school board has witnessed the students being active and competitive in the tight quarters.
“On one of the last days of senior year, my senior class was able to hop into the ring and get a chance to feel the rush as you dodge around avoiding the ball,” remembered Kasson
“It adds a unique twist to the playground, and we are thrilled to have the facilities to host it,” concluded Wesigold.