Photo: Karl L. Moore Duncan Creek tumbler Javon Walton looks to stick his landing during warmups in practice this week at Duncan Creek Elementary School.
HOSCHTON -- Outside any random grade school in America, it's not uncommon to observe young children attempting cartwheels and flips.
Acrobatics are a playground rite of passage for many youngsters, and the average physical education teacher might never think anything of it.
Duncan Creek Elementary's Dayna Alkire-Barry, however, is not the average teacher.
Over the past 10 years in Gwinnett County Public Schools, she's fostered the natural gymnastic tendencies of her students by running the district's only tumbling team: a group of students who perform at halftime during local basketball games.
On Friday night, they'll perform during a 7:30 p.m. game at Hebron Christian Academy, one of several gigs throughout the school year.
Alkire-Barry said the performances are "mainly about entertaining the audience and having fun."
Before she came to Gwinnett County Public Schools, Alkire-Barry taught in DeKalb County. One day while watching the students at recess, she noticed the passion and excitement young boys exuded as they flipped and tumbled during recess.
"I just noticed they were doing flips outside in their socks out on the playground," she said. From there -- almost 25 years ago -- she started her first elementary school tumbling team, and she's had a new group every year since.
"It gives some of these kids something to be proud of," she said. "I take a team picture every year. To go back and look at how many kids have been in this program, it's amazing. This year, we've got our biggest group yet. There's 21 of them."
Among those on the current team is Kelsey Artman, 9.
"I love my coaches, and I love tumbling," Artman said.
Fellow tumbler Blake Rodgers, also 9, said he likes it because "you get to do stuff like run around a lot. You get to be flexible and you get to go to school early and see all your friends."
Added Rodgers: "the best part about it is you just get to tumble."
His mom, Alyza Rodgers, said she thinks "it's great that elementary school aged kids have something like this."
Alkire-Barry said her team is made up of "talented hard workers who are proud to be a part of this."
Students on the team start out with the basics: cartwheels and round-offs. But as they master harder skills, she said they'll try tricks like the round off back handspring or the back tuck. "I have three or four students who can do that. That's a hard one."
She said that the students are well-behaved when they're practicing.
"They just love to tumble, so there's not any behavior problems," she said. "Overall, they would rather be here practicing, because it's what they love, and we just let them have fun with it."