For 22 years Jack Ball held class at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley from a bicycle seat. His students rave about how the physical education teacher would take them on bicycle rides to such exciting destinations as Tilden Park, the Berkeley Marina, Point Isabella or Emeryville Market.
He will be retiring from King this June after more than 36 years teaching middle school students. Former students, friends, faculty and parents are invited to a retirement dinner for Ball scheduled for June 13 at Tilden Park's Brazil Room at 5 p.m. Advanced reservations are required.
“He will be deeply missed,” says former King P.E. instructor Ron Nielson.
“You can't teach somewhere for over 30 years and not become part of that place. They will hire someone else, but they won't get anyone like Jack. He was the kind of guy who helped others. There's a fellow he used to run with who developed terminal brain cancer. He would pick him up, bring him swimming and help him get dressed. Recently he's been taking a man in a wheelchair to swim in the pool for disabled at Berkeley High School.”
“He's a sort of institution,” says Terri Gerritz, a colleague at King. “He inspired a lot of kids to triathlons and he inspired safe bike riding.”
Why did he take about 30 thirteen-year-olds on six mile bicycle trips?”I did it because it's something I love to do,” says the veteran teacher. “I just enjoy riding a bike. I enjoy going at a speed where you can still see things, smell things and enjoy your surroundings.”
His goal was to develop his students’ love for cycling “so they would carry it on for many years” and to teach his 1,300 students safe cycling.
“I had them wear helmets before it was the law. I taught them how to ride in a group, how to communicate signals to one another.”
“It was my favorite class at King,” says Berkeley High sophomore Brett Wagner. “I thought it was a lot more fun than other P.E. classes. He is a good person. Mr. Ball gets along well with all the kids, which led to me like his class even more.”
“The stuff we did was unbelievable,” says Berkeley High sophomore Carly Boland. “He took us all over the place. It was an amazing experience to get ourselves everywhere on a bicycle. He was wonderful. He made you want to be able to ride faster and go further.”
“When I saw him on his bike with his students he was really happy. He always had fun with them. He was always an advocate for the students,” says former King Science Teacher Warner Freeman.
“ I found my niche,” says Ball of teaching P.E. “It's something I love to do.”
Ball, who earned a black belt in Karate, also taught self defense classes as well as swimming and gymnastics. He worked summers at King pool.
“Teachers don't get paid much, but when I teach a kid to float and I tell him to use his arms and he realizes he is swimming, he gets such a look on his face. The look on his face is payment enough.”
Ball is equally comfortable in the in the water and running on a trail. As UC Berkeley's Triathlon Coach his students won third place in the national collegiate division triathlon championship in 2001. This year he sent eight UCB students back to the national championships. He still does Olympic distance triathlons himself, which include a 40 kilometer bike ride, a ten kilometer run and a 1.5 kilometer swim. He swam the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon through the bay's rough water.
He was a participant in the first triathlon in San Francisco. “That was back before wet suits. It was at Aquatic Park. We had to swim in the bay, and bicycle and run.” Last year the marathon runner coached a group of Berkeley High seniors to run the 22 mile marathon in Rome, Italy. The students and Ball recruited sponsors and raised almost $30,000 for a recreation room at Children's Hospital.
They chose Children's Hospital because when they visited Gabe Califano, a Berkeley High School student who died of leukemia there was no recreation room for youth. They decided as a group to raise money to build one.
Ball is retiring in June after 37 years of teaching. He taught at King Middle School for more than 33 years and at Portola Middle School in El Cerrito for 4 1/2 years.
Reservations for his June 13 retirement dinner are required. Tickets for the meal cost $48 and can be bought from Teri Gerritz at (510) 644-6377 at King or at 526-4778 at home. Or send Gerritz an email at email@example.com. Dessert tickets cost $20.
Former students can join Mr. Ball for a bike ride. Call Teri Gerritz at for more information.
Ball was only 12 when he started teaching swimming, gymnastics and basketball at the Richmond YMCA where his recreation director encouraged Ball to go to school to become a P .E. coach.
The athlete won diving awards at Richmond High School and later at San Francisco State. He graduated from Contra Costa College then went to San Francisco State College where he majored in physical education.
“When I went to San Francisco State they said you have to have a major. I said, ‘What's the easiest major?’ They said ‘P.E.’”
“I was trying to dodge the draft so I stayed in school and got a degree. I graduated and was still trying to dodge the draft so I got a secondary administration credential. Ball lived in the San Francisco during his college days and took part in the peace movent.