Free or Cheap Physical Education Equipment

     First, let me start off by saying that you need a positive attitude, and some creativity to help acquire virtually all the equipment you could want or need.  I have been teaching in a small rural school district for 18 years.  When I started my physical education career, I had to crawl under a stage to get what equipment I had at the time.  My storage area was limited to 1 small bin, and shared with classroom supplies (chairs, etc).  I too had a hopeless attitude when it came to equipment.  "I don't have the equipment", "I don't have any money", "our district is poor", "Blah, Blah, Blah", These used to be my words, and unfortunately are the words I hear from many other physical educators.  So, before you continue reading, please approach the rest of this page with a positive "can do" attitude.  Thus far, in 18 years, the most money (other than a special request here and there) that I have received a year is 50.00.  Not to brag, but to show you just a sample of what can be accomplished, hear is a small list of what I have compiled in the last 3-5 years.  Please keep in mind that this is just a few items and the price I paid:
     500+ tennis balls          -    Free          100+ Frisbees        Free       100ft. Tug-of war rope - Free
     50 Tennis racquets        -   Free           50+ Fwim Noodles  Free      100 real bowling pins     - Free
     30+ Badminton racquets -   Free           50+ Comet Balls     Free      50 Plastic bowling pins   - Free
     100+ bean Bag Animals   -   Free           500+ clothes pins  Free       100+ hackey Sacks        -  Free 
     50+ hockey sticks     -    $1 each      100 Mini Monster balls  .40 each  50 Bouncy balls - .5 each
Now, I have not even mentioned the nerf footballs, basketballs, misc balls, bands, nets etc.  Ok, now than I am starting to creep myself out by sounding like an infomercial, lets get to how to acquire the equipment.
     Following are my sources, please try these ideas before you knock them.  But, if you decide that they won't work for you, before you ever try them, that is your prerogative.  You won't hurt my feelings, but then again, I have plenty of equipment :)
     Source #1
     Source #2
     Source #3
     Source #4
         Source # 1.  Equipment Drive - This is my number 1 way to get equipment. You see, each year I may get 50.00 for equipment ($0.00 the last 2 years).  Here is what I do:  I let all my classes know that we are starting an equipment drive.  I send home an information sheet (this is my information sheet, which is the last year I had to use the drive) with each student.  In this information sheet, I list several of the items that I am looking for, however, students are not limited to those items.  Basically, I tell students and parents that I am looking for items that they no longer use or want, maybe things they were going to put in a yard sale.  I make sure to let them know that they do not need to purchase new items.
     On the information sheet, items are given a point value.  The items that are hard to get, or of which I want more, are given a higher value (usually a scale of 1-3).  Classes now compete against each other to earn the most points by turning in items.  After 1-2 weeks, I will reward the top class with a pizza party (remember the 50.00? yeah, I could buy 1 or 2 balls, but if I spend the money on a reward, look at all the equipment I will get for the $50.00).  I know, some of you are saying "I don't get 50.00" just keep reading.  Now, the last few years I have received no money either, but I will use my own money to have the party. ($5 per pizza, and if you don't want to spend the extra .99 per 2 liter of soda, have the students bring their own drinks).  OR If you do not want to spend any money, then reward the class or classes with a free day during there class, or even better if you can arrange a special time (Lunch, etc).  Yes, it may cost you a prep or lunch period, but  look at the EQUIPMENT!  
     The past few years, I have rewarded the top class with a pizza party and free time during there lunch and noon recess.  I also give an in class free day for any classes earning a given number of points (200).  However, you could just reward the top 3 classes, but if each class has a goal, you can get better results.
     Please keep in mind that you will get some stuff that is not usable, give some points then ditch it later if necessary.  Don't try to fill your inventory in 1 year. I picked the items that were the most versatile and gave them the largest point value (swim noodles, tennis balls, large beanies).
     Do not forget to collect items that you may need to build equipment (beans, rope, blue jeans (my first drive I collected 250 old pairs of jeans) I can make bean bags forever! Well, or at least my volunteers can.
     Source # 2.  Sanitation engineer - KEEP READING!  yes, you read it correctly, the trash man.  You see, my father is a sanitation engineer, and while you may think it is above you, or degrading, I am hear to tell you that you are wrong.  By letting some of the are garbage collectors know what I am looking for, I have collected over 50 tennis racquets, Frisbees, golf clubs, golf balls, swim noodles, tennis balls, surgical tubing, etc.  No, I am not talking about broken or nasty stuff, most of this equipment is in excellent working condition, you would be surprised what people will throw away. (we have several Head tennis racquets, Ping golf clubs, etc).  If you just ask some of these folks to keep an eye out for items, I have found that they are happy to help.  Furthermore, if you get little to nothing, then what are you out?
Source # 3. Donations - I have to admit, that I have not asked for much as far as donations from local businesses.  Sometimes, I feel like, in our area at least, that local businesses are overwhelmed with donation requests.  However, I will asked for donations from small specialized businesses.  My main example for this was the donation of a 100 ft long tug-of-war rope from a local hardware store.  I simply introduced myself and asked if they had any manila rope that they could donate to our PE program.  Without hesitation, they offered this "scrap" piece of rope they had left (I have now had this rope for 17 years and it is still going strong).  Oh, by the way, the 100 real bowling pins mentioned earlier, were turned in, during the collection drive, by a student who asked the local bowling ally if they had any old pins they could donate.  I have also received feedbags, large rubber bands, logo Frisbees, and small containers from local businesses.  Just be sure to write a letter of thanks, and it might be nice to add pictures of your students enjoying the equipment.
     Source# 4. Cheap Purchases - Sometimes, I find that when I am shopping, I run across deals that I just can't pass up.  In the last 3 years I have purchased the following equipment from our local WAL-MART.  
     50+ hockey sticks for $
1 each,  Monster tennis balls for $2.50 each, Mini Monster tennis balls for .40 each, 50+ racquetball style rubber balls for .5 each, volleyball nets for $2.75 each, 5 football target sets (includes 4 balls, 4 hole target and posts) for $4.00, Rubber batting tees for $4.00, 4 softball hit-aways for $4.00 each, and more.  Yes, many times this money comes out of my pocket, but it is worth it to me to know that I have equipment that will be used for years to come.  Now the hard part, you have to find the equipment when it is on clearance.  Personally, I have had the best luck at the end of the summer, and for hockey, around January.  Please keep in mind that this is a hit and miss, so when I find items that are dirt cheap, that I know I will use, I will buy alot.  You should have seen the look on the peoples faces the day I was strolling around WAL-MART with 40 hockey sticks, or the day I had almost 100 monster balls, and the boxes of tennis balls (yes, I already have 500 tennis balls, but I could not pass them up for .80 a box of 15).  I even had a manager thank me for taking all this stuff away.
     Anyway, these are my top four ways for acquiring free or cheap equipment, I hope they work as well for you as they have for me.  Now, all you have to worry about is storage :)  If you have any suggestions not mentioned here please feel free to let me know by clicking here, and I will be happy to share your ideas.


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