HOMER — A group of50 Homer High School juniors and seniors in canoes, kayaks and on paddle boards floated leisurely Monday afternoon atop the still pond at the Albert J. Durkee Memorial Park.
Until potential disaster arose.
A forceful gust of wind blew through the park, causing an already tilted canoe to roll over, throwing its two passengers in the water.
But there was no panic. Not by the other students or the two girls in the water. They all worked together in a methodical, step-by-step process — called a T-rescue — to flip the boat back over as if they were trained rescuers.
In a way, they are.
The 42-minute-long session is a special outdoor gym class elective juniors and seniors at the Homer High School can take part in. They have the opportunity to canoe with a friend, kayak solo, ride a paddle board or go fishing.
It is an eight-class course where students spend the first four classes learning proper boating techniques, what to do in an emergency, how to fish and general safety tips in the classroom. Then the final four classes were spent at Durkee Park doing all of the activities, said Homer High School gym teacher, Geoff Sorenson, who helped establish the programs.
Grant funds classes
With an interest in introducing students to outdoor activities, Sorenson wrote a grant to the Future Fisherman Foundation — dedicated to introducing America’s youths to angling and the outdoors — in 2006 to fund his idea. He said he was awarded a $6,000 grant and the opportunity to go to Michigan to be trained on how to teach and train students on the fishing and boating units.
“Getting that grant was huge,” Sorenson said. “Along with the support of the administrators (previous Physical Education Director Evelyn Sammons and current Director Mike Carbone).”
The outdoor gym classes began in the spring of 2007.
“You think of the typical gym class, someone playing basketball or going out and playing kickball, that’s not the kind of things these guys are going to do as they leave high school,” Sorenson said.
And the students appreciate and enjoy that aspect of theprogram.
“I really like it,” said Meghan McGrath, a senior at the high school who spent the afternoon kayaking. “It’s my favorite unit. It is stuff I can actually do in real life.”
Sorenson said he tries to get the students to take part in all of the activities so they can discover what they like now, rather than purchasing a fishing rod or canoe in the future and realizing they don’t like it.
“We’re just trying to give them exposure to real-life activities,” Sorenson said.
During their time at the park, the students were all smiles.
“It’s relaxing,” junior Stone Tanner said as he fished. “It is nice to get outside and have fresh air, rather than sitting at a desk all day.”
The outdoor activities are not limited to boating and fishing, either. Throughout the year, Sorenson provides courses on mountain biking, ice fishing, fly fishing, snowshoeing and GPS Geocaching. He said Homer High School is the only school in the area that provides these types of programs.
But for the 2016-17 school year they will be significantly scaled back, as one of thepart-time gym teacher positions is being cut, he said. Although disappointing, Sorenson said he plans to fight to have the program back in its entirety for the 2017-18 school year.
For now, Sorenson is trying to keep the students as active as he can with the programs and he has a paddling expedition planned for Wednesday morning.
“It’s going to be a paddling with the sunrise,” Sorenson said.
The kids who sign up for the expedition will meet him at Durkee Park at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, get in a paddle boat and paddle from the park to the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES building at Port Watson Street in Cortland. There are a couple of small rapids along the way, so the kids will get experience on what to do in a white-water situation, Sorenson said.
“By no means would I say we are making people professionals at it, but we’re giving them the exposure,” Sorenson said.
Some of his previous students used their experience to avert a possible real life disaster.
Sorenson told a story of how five years ago, two girls who took his class were canoeing at Cranberry Lake in southeastern St. Lawrence County and came across a couple who had tipped over their canoe. The girls knew exactly what to do. They performed a T-rescue and possibly saved the couple’s lives, Sorenson said.