Recipient of state honor persists despite Harvey setbacks

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

Nov. 6, 2017 at 3:21 p.m.
Updated Nov. 7, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Refugio school district physical education teacher Selina Hemphill, 53, blows a whistle to start a game of disc golf. Hemphill was selected as the state's 2017 High School Physical  Education Teacher of the  Year.

Refugio school district physical education teacher Selina Hemphill, 53, blows a whistle to start a game of disc golf. Hemphill was selected as the state's 2017 High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.   Gabriella Canales for The Victoria Advocate

REFUGIO - Selina Hemphill put a neon orange whistle to her lips, took a deep breathe and blew to signal the start to a game of disc golf.

"This is our gym right now," Hemphill, 53, said, gesturing to the field behind the school. "Every day, it's something different because of the hurricane."

Red umbrellas and orange, pink and yellow flying discs soared against Friday's cloudy but clear skies.

Hemphill, teacher and coach at Refugio High School, was recently selected by the Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance as the 2017 High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.

The process was difficult, Hemphill said, and included writing eight essays and receiving several recommendations.

"It was awesome," she said. "I am humbled by it."

About 30 students, a combination of junior high and high school students, take her physical education course because a majority of the school's students participate in athletics, she said.

Hemphill's goal is to teach students that exercise is not difficult but fun so they can continue it throughout their lives, she said. To achieve this, she educates her students about games and activities they have not experienced.

Unlike traditional physical education classes, Hemphill said, her class does not include volleyball or basketball.

"If a P.E. kid wanted to play basketball, they would," she said. "Not all of them are athletic and want to play."

Instead, she creates innovative options for her students, including ultimate basketball.

Hemphill presents at other school districts and state conventions under the persona "Queen of Thrift."

As "the queen," she has a unique knack of showing her fellow teachers how to use inexpensive items and turn them into treasures, she said.

Her materials range from different types of pipes to items from Goodwill, Hemphill said. The high price of physical education equipment turned her to invention.

"I've even Dumpster-dived," she said. "I'll grab it and fix it."

One of Hemphill's favorite creations is a miniature golf course, she said.

The course is constructed of football field turf, PVC pipes and roof flashing. Obstacles include coffee cans that have had the bottoms cut out.

She credits her creativity and love of tinkering to her father, who was a meter reader, she said. He would bring home items he found, and the two would take them apart and put them together.

The next item she plans to create is a Gaga pit for a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball.

She has had to move her class outside because of Hurricane Harvey damage. Before the storm, it was her first year to have a storage space for her equipment.

The practice gym, Hemphill's teaching space for nine years, was destroyed by the hurricane, she said. Oct. 30 was the first day she was allowed back into her new space to collect her equipment.

"I have to get my equipment out and find a place to store it ... They are going to have to bulldoze or gut it," she said. "People don't understand what we are going through."

She plans to transition more of her innovative games outside, including Human Foosball, she said.

If rain is in the forecast, her classes play board games indoors, she said.

"That challenge is part of working out," she said.

In addition to P.E., she teaches health and dual credit courses. She also coaches volleyball and tennis.

Hemphill said she uses Saturdays to prepare her equipment because she cares for her mother Sundays.

She drives about 45 minutes daily from her home in Portland to do what she loves.

Going above and beyond is part of her personality, Hemphill said, and her students reap the benefits.

"That's just who I am," she said. "If I get bored easily, I know they'll get bored."

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