Backyard PE founder Dorian Datillo—or “Coach D,” as he’s known to his students at school—never expected his side business to take off the way that it did. Though the East Ramapo School District K-3 physical education teacher began the enterprise in 2019 to make a bit of extra cash after buying a house, business began booming the summer of 2020.
With so many indoor activities shut down due to the pandemic, parents from a summer camp Datillo previously worked for came to him to help their children stay active. Before he knew it, he and his staff were running up to 190 parties per April-to-November season.
“Once COVID hit a lot of parents from Camp Ramacoy said, ‘Hey, listen, we have a pod of kids who we want to get outside moving again,’” Datillo recalled. “‘Could you come by the house twice a week to do activities with them?’ I said that’s a great idea. It kind of blew up from there, to the point where I was overwhelmed and immediately had to bring on a couple of guys to help me out.”
Today, Datillo runs Backyard PE with the help of five other physical education teachers. Each has their own gym equipment—cones, soccer nets and tug-of-war ropes being just a few—that they bring to kids’ birthday parties and day camps, along with a host of other events. There, they lead a variety of fun activities for groups of children ages four through 13, including sports, tag games and relay races. Each game is tailored to the age and number of children involved, as well as the size of the available indoor or outdoor space.
“If I have a younger group, say seven or under, I’ll focus more on the silly stuff,” Datillo said. “As they get older, I progress into more challenging, more sports-oriented activity.”
One of these activities is a game Datillo likes to call “Noodle Hockey.” In the game, the children must use pool noodles as hockey sticks to whack a ball into a soccer net. Datillo adapts the game’s difficulty level depending on the age of the children present. He can also fulfill special requests. Recently, he ran an event at the Rockland Gaelic Athletic Association for 25 ten-year-old’s who wanted to have a football tournament. Datillo borrowed pinnies from his school and created three teams. On the rare occasion that Datillo doesn’t have what he needs in his own selection of gym equipment, he’ll borrow them from his school, returning the materials on Monday.
While Datillo’s plans for expanding Backyard PE are still in their infancy, he has begun helping other physical education teachers around the country start similar programs.
He attributes his business’ current success to his staff’s dedication to the parents and children they serve.
“I think what makes us very popular besides our activities is that as PE teachers, we’re like the entertainers,” Datillo explained. “We’re the clowns. We have great personalities and we engage with the kids and with parents. And we’re all professionals. I’m not hiring a 19-year-old kid who wants to make a summer check. We’re all passionate about what we do during the school year, so now we get to bring that with us on a weekend. So we all very, very much enjoy it.”