Students in all grades at Birdwell Elementary learn forward rolls, backward rolls, cartwheels, one-handed cartwheels, aerial cartwheels, flips, twists, pirouettes and other tricks during a tumbling unit in physical education classes.

The exercises require strength, flexibility and balance. The tumblers work hard at it and are good, said Tom Matteucci, physical education teacher.

Every year, he invites about 90 students in the third through fifth grades who received an "E," or excellent, grade to be members of the Birdwell tumbling team. Of those, about 45 to 50 perform in the annual Tyler ISD Physical Education Showcase.

This year's show, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Caldwell Auditorium, brings together Tyler ISD elementary schools to show off to the community a variety of physical education endeavors and skills.

"This allows students to observe PE programs and see fun activities that other students from other campuses are doing. It also gives the students a performance opportunity in a non-competitive atmosphere," said Dyann Kemp, co-founder of the event in about 2000 with Jill Steigman.

"It gets kids performing in front of people, which is a good esteem-builder," Matteucci said.

The Birdwell tumbling team began rehearsals last November on Wednesdays and Fridays after school. They first learned the tricks during a three- or four-week unit on tumbling during physical educations classes during the regular school day.

"The kids learn some cool things. We put together a show and the kids memorize the show so they can perform it on stage," Matteucci said.

"Very few kids in other schools do one-handed cartwheels or no-handed cartwheels. Very few kids do backbends, kick-overs, backhand springs and front handsprings. These are things we do that are a little bit more than the average PE class does," he said.

Fourth-grader Christen Johnson, 10, said: "It helps me improve my gymnastics skills, which is why after tumbling is over, my mom will enroll me in gymnastics. I like that we get to tumble on mats so if we fall, we don't have a fall crash. We just have a fall like we need to try this again and next time we could probably do better."

Classmate Cristy Perez, 11, a fifth-grader, said, "I've learned that you have to work with your team so it can all be one masterpiece."

Tumbling can help with getting over stage fright since students are performing on stage, Addie Sartor, 10, a fourth-grader, said.

Tumblers will be dressed in blue shirts, blue jeans and bandanas, but be barefoot, for this year's Tyler ISD Showcase. Their performance to the music of "Cotton-Eye Joe" will have a Texas theme.

They will line up at the back of the stage in two or three lines. When the music starts, about four will do an old square dance, stop, toss their hats and rejoin the lineup.

Formed in three groups, tumblers will do back bends, starting by reaching up then back to the floor in a bridge shape and walk in the bridge formation, called the spider walk. "It's really hard to do, but the kids are good at it," Matteucci said.

Next, a group will perform cartwheels, followed by one-handed cartwheels and a girl doing an aerial cartwheel. That will be followed by handstands, back bends and back walkovers. One girl will walk across the stage on her hands.

In rehearsing and performing, Matteucci said the tumblers learn how to be a team, how to work together, how to perform and how to take their turn.

"I think for kids in elementary school, getting on a stage and doing things in front of people is important," he said.

"There's many benefits of tumbling," Matteucci said. "Tumbling makes students stronger. It makes them more flexible. It gives them coordination. They have to control their body in different planes in different balancing positions - upside down, sideways, forward and backward. Rolling and spinning helps the part of the brain that has to do with balancing."



If You Go

Tyler ISD PE Showcase

Where: Caldwell Auditorium

Time: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Admission: free


Order of Show

Bonner Elementary: Ball and bucket routine

Birdwell Elementary: Gymnastics to Cotton-Eye Joe

Caldwell Academy: Basketball

Rice Elementary: Pom pom routine to fight song

Ramey Elementary: Jump rope

Griffin Elementary: Whip It Nae Nae

Douglas Elementary: Step routine

Woods Elementary: Mix tape

Owens Elementary: Timber

Jones Elementary: Hit the Quan

Bell Elementary: Jammies

Jack Elementary: The Body Rock

Peete Elementary: Pom pom

Dixie Elementary: Hit the Quan

Orr Elementary: Hawaii Five-O theme song

Clarkston Elementary: Thriller

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