The school bell rings at 12:36 p.m. on a recent Tuesday at Thurston Middle School.
Teenage boys run into the gymnasium, and the sound of yelling and sneakers screeching on the wood floors envelops the room. It’s only a couple minutes until the first dodgeball game starts. The boys run to their teams and line up the balls.
Physical education teacher Michael Bair pops a student-made CD titled “Dodgeball” into the sound system.
Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” and other songs play in the background as a game commences, balls flying across the gymnasium. Students sit along the padded walls on the side and watch, yelling support or whining in defeat.
Noon Sports has begun.
Bair and former Principal Joanne Culverhouse started the program in 2005 after Bair noticed its success at his previous school, Washington Middle School, in La Habra.
The school tries to stage one sporting event every other month aimed at students of every physical fitness level — from pingpong to basketball to hockey. This month, the sport is dodgeball.
Next week, the winning dodgeball team will play a group of 10 teachers. Last year was the first year the students won.
Bair said he’s noticed that kids have been motivated behaviorally and academically so that they can compete in Noon Sports.
Students may participate in Noon Sports if they’re in “Mandatorial,” but not until later in lunch. Mandatorial is a 15-minute study session during lunchtime for students who are struggling academically or behaviorally.
“Kids who can’t sign up are deeply bummed about not being able to play,” Bair said with a laugh.
The Leadership Class at Thurston not only makes posters and announcements but also referees the games and manages the scoreboard.
On Tuesday, it was Josh Hernandez’ time behind the scoreboard keypad. The 13-year-old is a fan of Noon Sports.
“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “It’s a better way to spend your lunch than out on the field walking around.”
He also heard that it “feels really good” to beat the teachers at the end of the tournament.
“It gives students a purpose during lunch,” said Principal Jennifer Salberg. “They enjoy thinking about it, what their strategy will be, and they like the friendly competition.”
Lor Scott, 12, is in the Leadership Class and observed the game from a table on the sidelines.
She agreed that Noon Sports motivates students — “especially the boys,” she said.
Pete Obradovich, 13, took a breather after his game, which his team won.
He said he was looking forward to next week, excited for the teachers’ game.
The students played three dodgeball games each day, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Although the teacher game is usually a yearly event, Bair said they plan to do it twice this year, with another scheduled for May.