Staff Photo: John Bohn Riverside Elementary School first grade student Connor Pettus, age 7, standing, navigates a balance beam that is part of an adventure themed physical education class. Riverside's gymnasium features creative ways to exercise young students. Crawling on the balance beam is Jack Prewitt, age 7. Students work on a climbing wall in background.
SUWANEE -- Physical Education Teacher Mike Tontillo thinks it was pretty dull during his days as an elementary school student in gym class.
"When I was a kid, there was one rope hanging from the ceiling and a pull-up bar," said Tontillo, a staff member at Riverside Elementary School. "That was our only chance to gain upper body strength."
One might say the simplicity of the gym from Tontillo's childhood helped fuel the future of Riverside's physical education program.
He and fellow Physical Education Instructor Craig Whitten have spent more than a year constructing the type of physical fitness facility inside the school's gym that many parents would probably pay money to let their children explore.
The new-and-improved gym includes a combination of climbing walls and nets, tubes to crawl through, cosmic bowling lanes, various obstacle courses and a field goal-kicking station.
"We see it as less of a gym and more of a Disney World kind of experience," Whitten said. "I mean, just watch these kids. They're having an awesome time."
Tontillo agreed. He said that's because he and Whitten are "thinking outside the box. That's our motto we like to keep telling the kids. We wanted to be creative and turn our gym into an adventure for them."
Five-year-old Colin Baillie said during a recent class that it is indeed an adventure.
"I think I like the obstacle course the best," Baillie said.
Tyler Hahn, 6, said it's his favorite class of the day.
"I like to exercise," said Hahn as he stopped for a breather. "It feels good. It's fun."
Meanwhile, friends Liana Cooper and Jenny Thai, both kindergartners, hit the cosmic bowling lanes Wednesday morning.
Funded through a combination of parent-teacher-association and school funds, the gym is a selling point for prospective students, said school Principal Craig Barlow.
"Sometimes parents will take a tour through the facility ... if we take them through the gym they're going to buy a house in the area," Barlow said, laughing. "Especially if the kids are with them when they take the tour, then it's a done deal."
Tontillo said building the gym was a just a matter of putting forth the time and effort.
"The two of us spent a whole year every waking hour, just trying to paint it and get it ready," Tontillo said. "We just wanted to do something out of the ordinary that these kids would look forward to ... something to take them away and get their senses excited and get their imaginations going."
Added Tontillo: "It sure beats just letting them play kick ball or whatever."