AVALON — Often, games learned in gym class are played there and nowhere else.
This is especially true at Avalon Elementary School, where for the past month students in grades 5 to 8 have been playing an obscure sport called tchoukball.
“I don’t think anybody else around here plays this,” gym teacher Patti Fottrell said. “It’s something totally different, and it’s great for this weather.”
The object of the game is to bounce a medium-sized ball off a net in such a way that a member of the opposing team can’t catch the rebound. If the opposing team fails to make a catch, a point is scored. Teams alternate possession each time a score is made or a shot misses the net or strikes its rim. Teams are allowed up to three passes before they must hit the net.
While it may not sound so different from other sports, tchoukball is unique in that it allows no defense whatsoever. If a player attempts to impede an opposing player’s path to the ball or net, a penalty is called and possession changes.
This was a bit of a change for the students, who had to unlearn many of the strategies they’ve used in other sports.
“It’s hard to adjust, because it was kind of awkward playing with no defense,” said eighth-grader Chase Deegan, who plays lacrosse, soccer and basketball. “But overall, it’s a fun game.”
Tchoukball was created in 1970 by Swiss biologist Hermann Brandt as an injury-free alternative to traditional sports. The game has developed a foothold in Europe and even has an international organizing federation and championships, but it is little known in the U.S.
It was brought to Avalon by Fottrell, who was taught the game by a Rowan University professor when she earned her master’s degree there. Coincidentally, Fottrell was joined this semester by Rowan student teacher Fabio Pawlus, who also learned it in school.
Pawlus said he wasn’t sure at first whether the students would enjoy the game, but they quickly came to like it.
“We went over the rules, started with drills, and it’s escalated into just a big craze here,” he said.
Fottrell said she’s planning to make tchoukball a permanent addition to the school curriculum.
If the response from the current group of students is any indication, it will be a hit next year as well.
“I just like how different it is from most games we play, and all the teamwork that goes into it,” eighth-grader Emma Stanford said. “It’s really fun.”
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