ORINDA -- It's official: 402 Del Rey Elementary School students are Guinness World Record champions.
On March 25, rows and rows of tightly organized K-5th graders swiveled their hips as Chris Brown's "Let's Go" blasted across the blacktop. Although it was not certifiably official until April 16, the previous "Largest Hula Hoop Workout" record, held since May 21, 2012, by 290 students at Allen Elementary School in Hutchinson, Kan. came crashing down.
Appropriately, for an academic exploit, the entire episode began with a book.
"During the holidays, while reading a Guinness book I had bought for my daughter (Peyton, a third grader at Del Rey), we came across a record held by an elementary school," says Eric Menke, the father and parent volunteer whose idea spread like wildfire ... with a little prompting.
Menke decided the "nothing's impossible" mantra that enabled him to be a retired 46-year-old would propagate miracles if planted in the imaginative, fertile minds of kids.
After meeting with Principal Kirsten Theurer -- possibly the first time a parent-administrator conference involved a sparkly, brightly-colored hula hoop -- Menke went on a hula ambassadorship.
"I went to each class with my hoop," he recalls. "From adults to children alike, the reaction was disbelief. No one raised their hands when I asked, 'Who here thinks they can break a world record?' "
But the idea grew from crazy to very possible. Soon, physical education teacher Cheryl Collins was choreographing and kids were rehearsing in the hallways.
Meanwhile, Menke and other parent volunteers were handling a mountain of rules and regulations. The Guinness people, Menke said, are thorough.
"They don't sanction just any record you want to go after," he said. "You have to submit an application and an essay about what you are doing and why you want to do it."
Even after receiving approval, a three-page list of requirements had to be met.
"We couldn't just get a bunch of kids out and have them swing hoops," Menke laughs.
Instead, the routine had to involve distinct elements and be led by a third-party workout professional. The formations had to be contained within a one-entry, roped-off area. All 402 participants had to be filmed, photographed and double-clicked by two officials with hand-held counters.
Compared to Guinness' stringent regulations, finding the hoops was a cinch.
"I ordered them from a warehouse out East," Menke says.
Principal Theurer wrote in an email that she likes to take on big projects, especially ones involving the whole school working toward a common goal.
"The sky is the limit," she says, about her day-to-day approach and the future possibilities for the young champions. "Any time we work on a whole school project we see our community grow stronger. We see sparkling eyes and smiles as they (reach) a goal. We see cooperation, understanding and empathy. We see the joy of success."
Menke sees exactly what he hoped for, on that wintry day when a book led he, Peyton and her brother Asher, a first-grader, to dream of miracles.
"Before the event, there was anticipation. Afterwards, I noticed a dramatic change; a rising self-esteem. Now, I see the kids on Orinda streets, throwing their hands in the air and shouting, "World Champions!" We achieved our goal: we planted a seed of possibility."
Perhaps that "seed" will germinate at another school; one with a larger population capable of hula-hooping Del Rey out of circulation.
But Menke is not concerned. The hula hoops will be donated to Community Education Partners and will go to underserved schoolchildren in the Bay Area. The Del Rey Dolphins are moving on, speculating about other hoop records -- duration (an eight-year-old once held the 10 hours, 47 minutes endurance record) and circumference (70 hoopers spun a 13.1 mile wide hoop in 2010). After all, these are world champions and for them, the unlimited sky is their playground.