EAST COBB — Randy Watts, a physical education teacher at Simpson Middle School, has always liked inventing games, and now he’s making money off of one of them.
His money-making venture began when his bosses in the Cobb County School District said at a January 2017 PE teacher conference that each school would need to come up with and present a new game.
So Watts, who has been a PE teacher at the middle school for 27 years, invented a game he said is like a hybrid between ultimate Frisbee and disc golf.
The object of the game he dubbed “aerodisc,” is to help a team advance a flying disc down the field and score in a disc golf goal, which is essentially a metal basket with chains designed to catch the disc. The game quickly became a hit, Watts said.
“(Teachers) kept asking me, ‘Hey, can you send me the lesson plans? Can you send me the rules?’” he said. “I sent it out to about five different schools here in Cobb. And then I started thinking, ‘If they like it that much, and our kids like it that much ... maybe it has enough momentum to go a little further.”
Watts said he brought his game to Gopher Sport, one of the sports equipment providers with which the Cobb County School District contracts. With a few alterations, including the ousting of the disc golf goal for paddle-like flippable targets mounted to a horizontal bar, Watts said the company agreed to purchase the rights to the game and pay him royalties.
“Every time that sells, I get a percentage,” he said. “They said one of the things they were going to do was they were going to change the name. ... So they came up with Target Duel. And they wanted to ... own the target, so that any time somebody wants to play Target Duel, there’s one place to go.”
Players in the newly named game must start on opposite sides of play area, with the targets in the middle and color-coded discs lying at the foot of the targets, until the game begins and players can run to retrieve their team’s color discs.
They then must run back to the starting line and begin advancing the discs toward the targets, which have red paddles on one end and blue on the other, taking shots at the paddles to try to flip their color to the top.
Like aerodisc, which Watts said remains one of the school’s most popular games, Target Duel has also been a hit with students.
While Watts said it’s nice to get paid by one of his inventions, coming up with games isn’t really about the money. He said the games he’s created over the years have aimed to increase student participation and build confidence in the students who feel they can’t stack up against talented athletes.
“In middle school, a lot of times, kids have already distinguished, ‘Oh, I’m on the travel team,’ or, ‘I’m on this all-star team for whatever sport.’ When you come into Target Duel, it kind of levels the playing field,” Watts said. “Because you can imagine the student that hasn’t hit the growth spurt ... playing against the one that has in basketball that’s already over 6-foot. It just doesn’t become as fun for either one of them.”
He also said group games relieve pressure of missing shots or letting down the team for many students.
Watts said Cobb schools PE program offers students a choice to participate in a team sport like basketball or a more inclusive large-group game like Target Duel on a day-to-day basis. Students eventually participate in each sport, he said.
Eighth-grader Jonathan Swann says Target Duel takes some skill. You have to be able to pinpoint the targets if you take a shot from far away, he said. But he agreed there’s far less pressure than in team sports and, typically, far more participation.
“It’s really fun to play,” he said. “And it’s not just a one-player game. If you try to just do it by yourself, it would be almost impossible.”
Swann also said Watts is always inventing, and the PE coach’s games are usually his favorite.
Alan Aumann, now in his second year as a PE teacher at Simpson, said he’d attended the middle school in the late ’90s. Aumann said, just like today, Watts was “the guy” in PE then.
“My buddies and I ... still talk about him. We loved PE,” Aumann said, adding that Watts used to take them to sporting events outside of school. “I can’t remember my middle school or elementary school classes, but I remember PE.”
Aumann said he’s learned how to better interact with the students and organize his classes from Watts. And creating a game is no easy task, he said.
“Coming up with the idea, how to get kids involved, how to get the equipment, how the equipment can be unique to your game — it’s something that’s hard to do,” Aumann said, adding that Watts’ innovation has gotten kids active who might otherwise choose just to observe.
Watts said that’s the goal. Athletes will come and go, he said, but the students who come to PE and give 100 percent, “that’s who we design our classes for.”
“Our goal is to get you active, and if we can create a game that gets that with so many students, that’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”