At work, Michael Piccolotti is known as the vice president of operations. But from 7:30 to 8 a.m. every Thursday during the Hatch Elementary school year, he is known as the kickball dad, the father who leads dozens of children in playing the game before the school bell rings.
Piccolotti has relished this role for the past 11 years. With his youngest child moving on to middle school after this week, he will be handing over the duties to another father.
“I’m going to miss the smiles when I arrive,” Piccolotti says. “When I arrive they’re already lined up. I round the corner and I hear them say, ‘He’s here, he’s here!’”
The idea behind the weekly kickball game started when his oldest child, Nina, now 15, was in kindergarten. Piccolotti took her to the playground one morning and noticed there was an adult supervising the playground and some children playing. But many were by themselves because they were too shy to interact with one another.
“I felt bad, so I brought a kickball,” he said. “I would roll the ball to Nina and she would kick it. All of a sudden, more kids would start playing.”
That same kickball has remained in the back of his truck ever since, seeing him through the growth of Nina, Anna and Ryan. His three children have all attended Hatch.
Nina remembers the large turnout for the games.
“I feel like half the school was there,” she says. “I made so many new friends through it. Boys in my class would think I was so cool because my dad would play kickball with us.”
The game of kickball is played by baseball rules, except instead of making contact with the ball using a bat, a player uses his or her foot.
Piccolotti jumps up from the table to demonstrate how he implements the fair-foul rule of baseball, in which spectators who grab a ball still in play are ejected from their seats. Piccolotti is an energetic man who has the look of a Silicon Valley tech employee, donning wire-rimmed glasses, a T-shirt and blue jeans.
In his game of kickball, a child who touches a kickball that is still fair has to go to the end of the line to kick.
“If the ball is in fair territory heading towards them, they’ll jump back (so they don’t interfere),” he says as he jumps away from the line where students stand, waiting their turn to kick the ball.
Piccolotti also does not allow swearing, pushing or other inappropriate behavior, but says in 11 years he has only had one child scrape up a knee and only one push a fellow student.
The most important rule, Piccolotti says, is that there are no teams.
“They’ve learned they can work together as a giant team,” he says. “That was the preface behind this – that it would be win-win.”
Nina says she understands the decision behind her dad leaving his kickball post, but says it’s still “a little saddening.”
Though there will be a new parent running kickball next year on a new day (Tuesdays), Piccolotti believes Hatch students will continue teaching each other the style of play he instilled in them over the years.
“Watching the older kids help the younger kids means I’ve accomplished something,” he said. “They’re giving back and that means a lot.”