One parent keeps tradition alive amid difficult economic times

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Brian Toye helps Pauline board her 4-foot-tall giraffe.For his sons and all of the children who love rolling on one wheel, Brian Toye stepped up to save the Hallinan Unicycle Club.

Elementary school physical education teachers have for years volunteered to run the club before school. Cuts to address budget shortfalls in the Lake Oswego School District changed that. Three elementary schools shuttered in two years, one now houses sixth-graders. An elementary school P.E. teacher left to teach junior high when sixth grade transferred to junior high.

Serving three elementary schools each, the remaining two elementary school P.E. teachers had no time to spare. The Hallinan Unicycle Club almost folded last fall.

Toye, the club’s coach, wouldn’t let that happen because the club, which is now the last one for elementary students, is important to many children, he said. Not all students are athletic, but, although it takes time to master, most can learn to balance on a unicycle, Toye REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Calvin Gregory, 7, dribbles the basketball while riding his unicycle.

“This really gives a lot of kids an alternative thing to shine in and an opportunity to do something unique,” he said.

The club is thriving with members appearing as usual in the Portland Rose Festival Junior Parade in May. They will again participate in Lake Oswego’s annual Fourth of July Star Spangled Parade.

“You need a parent like Brian who’s willing to take something on and be here and help everybody, not just his own kids,” said Molly Mattson Stephan, whose daughter is in the club.

It has 33 members, including Hallinan fourth-grader-to-be Pauline Petersen. Pauline learned to ride a 4-foot-tall unicycle, called a giraffe, because she likes the challenge. Giraffes can get taller, but regular unicycles are about 16 to 24 inches high.

A giraffe is “expanded, so if you fall it could really hurt you,” Pauline said. “So you have to be more careful.”

Toye got involved with the club eight years ago when his oldest son, Corbin — now an incoming Lakeridge High School freshman — joined in first grade. Toye’s youngest, Dominic, a fifth-grader next year, joined as a kindergartner. Dominic said he pursued the skill to keep up with REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Pauline Petersen shows off her unicycling skills.

“In the first two years I was learning it, it was really hard, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it,” Dominic said.

Dominic’s dad began not only coaching but also running the club himself last year. District officials told Toye in March that, for liability reasons, the club must go through the Community School, which offers extracurricular programs. The club is no longer free, costing $30 per student per year.

To buoy the club, the Hallinan Parent Teacher Organization provided $500. Funds supported transportation to the Junior Parade, unicycle maintenance and club scholarships.

Toye has asked the school board to consider waiving the fee.

School board chairwoman Patti Zebrowski said Community School programs require tuition to pay for background checks and fingerprinting for teachers and expenses to use school facilities.

“We have to make sure we follow protocol for every program,” Zebrowski said.

Two of her three children participated in a unicycle club and loved it. Zebrowski said teachers kept the program alive for a long time “out of the kindness of their hearts.”by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Nisa Rivera, 9, on left, and her sister Dea Rivera, 11, ride together hand in hand.

The history

When Westridge Elementary School P.E. teacher Steve Arnold got the club whirling in 1981, there were three participants. Clubs soon cropped up in other schools and at the activity’s apex in the 1990s, there were hundreds of students involved. Arnold taught more than 500 at Westridge and Hallinan elementary schools himself.

“I imagine there’s a lot of garages in Lake Oswego where people have a unicycle hanging,” Arnold said.

A new teacher to Lake Oswego in 1980, he wanted to explore new ideas, so he trekked to a Seattle school offering fresh forms of exercise, including unicycling. He brought the idea home.

Arnold taught elementary school for 31 years, 27 years in Lake Oswego, and the long-time teacher said he’s excited his creation isn’t gone, though it’s changed.

“I’m glad it still has some legs — or should we says wheels?” Arnold said.

He offered to keep local students spinning

“I’d be glad to visit and give them some tips,” he said.