It’s an hour before school starts and the gym at Sagebrush Elementary is already busy. Two dozen students, both boys and girls, are practicing basketball basics: dribbling, passing, catching. Simultaneously, the students are counting, keeping time.
“One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.”
As the students bounce, pass and catch in unison, it becomes clear that this isn’t an ordinary basketball practice and the songs playing on the sound system aren’t just background music. This is a melding of music and motion, art and athletics. This is Sagebrush Fusion.
“We’re bouncing to beats… 16th notes, 8th notes, quarter notes, half notes,” explained fifth-grader Gabriel John, who loves Sagebrush Fusion as much as he loves competitive basketball. “Sometimes we do bounce passes on the beat and chest passes on the beat.”
Sagebrush Fusion was created four years ago by music teacher Bethany Thaemert and physical education teacher Dave Willsea, who wanted to give fourth- and fifth-grade students a unique way to have fun, make friends, be active and learn the fundamentals of both basketball and music.
"At first it was very basic but we started building on it and I think we’ve just totally taken off,” Thaemert said.
The team of 12 boys and 12 girls has been practicing for an hour before school, twice a week, since January. They can now dribble equally well with either hand, running, walking, standing or kneeling. They can execute intricate series of bounce passes and chest passes while changing formations. They can perform complicated choreography to songs including Michael Jackson’s “Wanna be Starting Something.” The secret to their success?
"It’s really communicating with each other, making sure we’re on the right beat,” said fifth-grader Sofia Rivera, who’s been on the team for two years. “If somebody goes on three and we’re supposed to go on two, it kind of complicates things.”
Thaemert and Willsea say that in addition to learning how to work with others, the students learn leadership skills and develop positive self-esteem.
“It’s a real confidence builder for our students,” Willsea said. “I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve talked to who say this is just a great thing for their kids.”
And the kids agree that there’s something special about Sagebrush Fusion.
“It’s fun because if you’re having a bad day you can have some fun with some other kids and make new friends,” Gabriel John explained.
“It’s having fun and listening to music while you’re doing a great thing,” Rivera added.