Rosie Panenka, 10, left to right, Sadie Grogan, 11, and Eliza Mellon, 10, flip water bottles in an attempt to land them upright on a table. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Rosie Panenka, 10, left to right, Sadie Grogan, 11, and Eliza Mellon, 10, flip water bottles in an attempt to land them upright on a table. Joel Page/Staff Photographer Joel Page/Staff Photographer

FREEPORT — Kids were throwing half-filled plastic water bottles all over the place at Freeport Middle School on Friday – in the cafeteria, the hallways and the stairwells.

And Principal Ray Grogan couldn’t have been happier.

“It’s something they’re doing anyway, so we wanted to figure out a way to embrace it,” said Grogan, as the clunks and thuds of water bottles echoed through the halls.

Bottle-flipping – flipping a partially filled plastic water bottle so that it rotates in the air and lands on end, in increasingly complicated scenarios – became a mania among middle and high schoolers last spring. Adults have either shaken their heads wondering what kids see in it, or they’ve told the flippers to “take it outside.” So Freeport Middle School’s approach is somewhat novel, and appreciated by flipping fanatics.

Grogan’s staff and students turned their school into a flipper’s paradise Friday night. The first floor was transformed into a water-bottle golf course, where about 45 students tried to flip and land their bottles in various spots – on shelves, window ledges, tables or stairs – in the fewest tries. Like golfers, they moved from hole to hole in groups and kept score on a scorecard. And took a mulligan once in a while.

“My parents make me practice in the garage,” said Bobby Strong, 11 and in the sixth grade. “It’s fun to be able to do it in school. It’s just something I like to do when I’m bored, and when I want a challenge.”

The bottle-flipping movement began last May with Michael Senatore, an 18-year-old North Carolina high school student who did a bottle flip for his school’s talent show. The video of him on YouTube got millions of hits, and got Senatore on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS. All he did, at school and on Colbert’s show, was prance dramatically up to a table, then flip a bottle, end over end, so that it landed upright on the table. And the crowd went wild.

Soon, kids were flipping bottles in schools, summer camps, virtually everywhere. And all manner of bottle-flipping tricks – landing the bottle on a stop sign, on your own head, on a moving car – were showing up in YouTube videos.

Schools in some states have banned water-bottle flipping. Many, including schools in Maine, are simply asking students to refrain in class or where they might bop someone with a bottle. Grogan says it’s not really a problem at school, since most students bring refillable water bottles to school, and those can’t be flipped.

He noticed how fanatic flippers were this fall at the school’s first dance. More kids were flipping the water bottles they purchased than drinking from them for refreshment. So he suggested a water bottle event to capitalize on the students’ enthusiasm for such an old-school, non-electronic activity. Teacher Kate McAlaine and some of her students organized it, and students designed the course. The event was a fund raiser, with money raised to be donated to charities. Admission, including one bottle, was $5. It was open to students, friends and family.

Gabriel Silva, 12, flips a water bottle in an attempt to get it to land standing up on the floor during Family Fun Night on Oct. 28 at Freeport Middle School. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Gabriel Silva, 12, flips a water bottle in an attempt to get it to land standing up on the floor during Family Fun Night on Oct. 28 at Freeport Middle School. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Bottle-flipping’s popularity lies in its deceiving simplicity. It looks easy, but it’s not. The trick starts with a partially filled store-bought water bottle, like one from Poland Spring, not a refillable one. It has to have just enough water in it to act as ballast, to let the bottle flip and land standing up, either on its bottom or its cap. A full bottle doesn’t usually work, it just falls over.

Flippers simply flick their wrist and watch the bottle flip, end over end, as many times as it takes to get where it’s going. Flippers are always trying to outdo each other by coming up with more complicated and difficult flips, and landings.

If your bottle lands on its side and rolls away, your flip failed.

“It’s one of those things where you just can’t lose,” said Emily Roberge, 13, an eighth-grader who helped design the bottle course at Freeport Middle School. “Well, you can lose. But it’s always fun.”

Bottle-flipping is the type of thing kids used to do before smartphones and video games, like playing tic-tac-toe in the sand or hang-man on a scrap of paper, or putting baseball cards in the spokes of your bicycle. It’s an analog-activity for a digital age. All a person needs is a bottle of water, preferably 12-ounce. It can be played anywhere, anytime, for any duration.

And if a flip fails, that’s OK. You just keep trying, and trying, and trying.

“You never want to stop, it’s kind of like Rubik’s Cube,” said Halle York, 10, invoking another non-digital pastime, a toy invented in 1974.

At Freeport Middle School on Friday, the flipping “holes” ranged from simple table flips, to high flips onto window ledges. One nearly impossible hole required flippers to kneel on the ground, their back to a table. Then without looking they had to flip the bottle over their head and land the bottle upright on the table behind them. The “clunk” of water bottles landing on the floor was heard most of the night.

Down one long hallway, 10-year-old Lyman Ordway, “capped” her bottle, landing it upside down on its cap. The girls around her reacted like she had just hit a home run in the World Series.

“I don’t know if I get extra points for that or what,” said Lyman. “But I did it.”