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School goes gaga over new ball pit

School uses donation to build gaga ball pit

Chad O’Brien did not attend Gaston County Schools, but when he and his wife moved to the Charlotte area from Pittsburgh, they wanted to continue their efforts of supporting local schools.

O’Brien is the founder of the “Give Back a Backpack” children’s charity and works directly with teachers and principals to see where the need is the greatest.  His wife, Deb, attended Art Cloth Elementary in Lowell and agreed that is where they want to continue their work of helping children.

Now known as Lowell Elementary, O’Brien reached out to principal Kristin Kiser to discuss some possibilities to support the children and staff.  The School Improvement Team met and discussed several different options and eventually decided on a gaga ball pit.

Gaga ball is a fast-paced, high-energy sport played in an octagonal pit.  Dubbed as a kinder, gentler version of dodgeball, the game is played with a soft foam ball, and it combines the skills of dodging, striking, running, and jumping while trying to hit opponents with a ball below the knees.

"The only gaga I know is Lady Gaga,” joked O’Brien when he was told of the school’s chosen project.  “Children need to have fun, and I am really happy we started with this.  My gifts are unconditional so whatever they think they need that is what we’re going to support.”

Melissa Bess, the school’s physical education teacher, said the sport allows students to be accountable for who is in and out of the game.  In addition, it provides great exercise and teaches lessons and skills about working together.

For student Joseph Wilson, he was excited to see the gaga ball pit completed, especially after he had a hand in building it. “My dad is on the PTO and agreed to build the pit to save the school money,” said Wilson.

Kiser says she is grateful for O’Brien’s generosity and hopes the two can continue the wonderful partnership. 

“He is so great to work with and willing to listen to any of our suggestions,” said Kiser, who is the current Gaston County Principal of the Year.  “I am so thankful that he approached us.  His in-laws remain in Lowell, and they wanted to give back to their community.  It was such a blessing that he reached out to us, and we look forward to working with him on future projects.”

Among the projects under consideration are additional landscaping and gardening at the front of the school and the establishment of an outdoor classroom.