I teach physical education at Second Street Elementary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. On August 29, 2005 Katrina ripped the heart out of this area of the Gulf Coast. Our school now consist of eighteen portable classrooms provided by F.E.M.A. My outside PE area is a 95’x70’ mud yard that was all that remained after the classrooms stopped, and I share a portable classroom with the music teacher and that is where this story begins.
On a rainy day in December 2005, one of my 4th grade classes came to my room for PE. I planned to teach them how to do situps and pushups that day. After showing the class how to properly do the exercises and letting them all have their turn, we had a few minutes left so I thought I would have some fun and show them how to do a one arm pushup. A few kids tried without success and then a quiet student, short in stature but thick-chested, dropped into position, spread his feet, placed one had behind his back and proceeded to knock out 10 in near perfect form! Along with the kids, I watched this feat in awe. When he finished, everyone erupted! He got to his knees and I looked into his face - not much expression, no beating his chest or throwing his arms in the air. It was almost like he wasn’t sure what he had just done – but I was!
As the class was leaving, I pulled Joe Fontenot over and told him how proud I was of him and that I wanted him to practice at home because I know he can do more.
After our Christmas vacation, I announced to all our students that I am going to have a one-arm pushup contest. Prizes will be given to the top three winners for boys and girls. They will have a month to practice.
They were allowed to do their pushups when they thought they were ready since they only had one try. With about a week to the deadline, I had 3 boys that had done more than 10 but the most was 14. I had two girls do 10 and 11 but they were allowed to touch their knees to the floor (still a difficult exercise for 4th & 5th graders). When Joe came to me and said he was ready, so was I. He got into position and in Marine form he began, repping one after the other. As he touched his chest on number 26 I saw that he was struggling so in my ‘coaches voice’ I told him to keep going. Without losing his form he did 4 more….30 one arm pushups! Joe Fontenot just became a legend at Second Street!
Joe’s nickname is “Tiger”. He is 10 years old and is the 6th of seven children. He has played football for 3 years and says he will be in the N.F.L. on day. When he was a baby, his dad would unwrap him to show off his big chest. His home was damaged by Katrina and he has been a big help to his family with the rebuilding process. He has helped move hundreds of 2x4’s and 2x12’s. His parents are very proud of him for many reasons, mainly because he is a great kid with a big heart and God comes first in his life.
I look forward to having Joe as a student for one more year and I have a feeling we will be reading more about this young man in the future.