Eighth-grader leads ‘gaga ball’ installation at Williston Central
By Jason Starr
On a small swath of grass behind Williston Central School, between a tree and an inverted-mushroom-shaped basketball goal, a new arena is on pace for spring construction.
Eighth-grader Evan Forrest is spearheading an effort to build an octagonal court with artificial turf for “gaga ball” as part of his eighth-grade challenge.
Each member of the school’s eighth-grade class is working on a challenge project — a capstone to their Williston School District careers before heading off to high school. Of the roughly 130 projects, Forrest’s will be among the most indelible, a permanent playground feature enticing participation in an inclusive new game.
Gaga ball is played with multiple players and at least one ball inside a walled octagon. Players hit the ball with their hands aiming at other players’ legs while trying to avoid being hit by the ball. Players whose legs are hit must leave the arena. The last player remaining wins.
“Some people already know what gaga ball is, but the majority of people don’t,” Forrest said. “It’s a simple game so I think people will pick up on it fast.”
The game will be an antidote to the hurt feelings that can arise at recess when kids pick teams in traditional sports like soccer or football, he said.
“If you’re the last one picked, it always stinks because you feel like, ‘I’m not really wanted.’”
Forrest expanded on the sentiment in a letter to the Observer.
“Gaga ball is a game with no teams, which means nobody is left out of the game,” he wrote. “This also means kids can play many times in a short period of time because the process of picking teams is not involved.”
While Forrest has gained an appreciation for the benefits the game will bring to the playground — he envisions it being popular not only at recess, but also during after-school hours and weekends — building a gaga ball court was not on his radar when he was first looking for an eighth-grade challenge project.
Forrest originally applied to be a legislative page in the Vermont Statehouse. But when his application was denied, he was introduced to the opportunity through local parent connections.
Nicole Morris is a parent of school-age children who serves on the Town of Williston’s Recreation Committee. Last August, after seeing her children take to the game of gaga ball at Girl Scout camp in Richmond, Morris approached Williston Recreation and Parks Director Todd Goodwin about installing a court somewhere in town.
“My kids are just in love with it,” Morris said. “The infrastructure is pretty simple, and I thought our community could really benefit from it.”
Goodwin worked with Williston School District Principal Greg Marino to site the court on school grounds – the playground is owned by the school district but leased and managed by the town.
The project then needed a champion, and Forrest took the challenge.
“Evan is working really hard to put this together,” Morris said. “He is learning project management, marketing and fundraising. He’s done a really great job so far.
“I love this idea of eighth-grade challenges leaving an impact in the school community and the greater community.”
WCS Principal Jacqueline Parks said administrators made a renewed effort at the beginning of the school year to re-center the eighth-grade challenge program on community impact.
“We felt like it needed a shot in the arm in terms of the types of projects kids were picking, so they would go beyond themselves and look at things that would help the community,” Parks said.
Each challenge involves research, written reflections, community service hours and a formal presentation.
For Forrest, the gaga ball court also involves fundraising. A webpage at www.gofundme.com dedicated to the project has so far garnered about $1,500 of the $2,500 goal needed to build the court.
Forrest planned to make a pitch to Williston’s Home Depot store to donate the lumber required, and he’s hoping to organize a community build day this spring once the materials are in place.
He envisions a time when he returns to the playground as a high school student to teach the game to younger kids.
“I’m hoping it’s not just an afterschool and recess thing, but gym classes can use it, and people can come not even during school hours and play,” Forrest said.