ALLIANCE — For the last month, the circus has come to Alliance Middle School every Tuesday afternoon.

Well, not an actual circus, but the Alliance-Sebring Unicycle & Juggling Club is close.

For seven weeks in the fall, and again in the spring, the club teaches students in an after-school program how to walk on stilts, juggle and, of course, unicycle.

The ringmaster

Impossible to miss amid the ruckus on a recent Tuesday was 86-year-old Dr. Paul Getty in his red turtleneck, screaming multicolored pants and full head of gray hair.

Getty is a retired surgeon who spent 15 years of his career treating patients for leprosy and other ailments as a medical missionary in Liberia. He’s also a clown who plays the accordion.

“I started off early in life with gymnastics and trapeze and that sort of led from one thing to another,” Getty said. “I really didn’t get into unicycling until I was 40.”

He still rides, but said balance trouble kept him from jumping rope with a unicycle or pedaling across a tightrope like he used to.

The club

The club started soon after Getty moved in 2006 to Copeland Oaks, a Sebring retirement community, where a fellow resident asked him to teach some boys how to ride unicycles.

The Alliance-Sebring Unicycle & Juggling Club has a handful of members. You can spot them at local and regional events, such as the Sebring Fireman’s Festival, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Carnation Festival parades in Alliance and Parade the Circle in Cleveland.

For a few years the club met regularly at a community center in Sebring, but it has put those meetings on hold to do after-school programs in Alliance.

The junior high students aren’t as advanced as older riders, but they’re learning, Getty said.

“It takes a certain amount of discipline and that spills over into their schoolwork,” he said. “Their grades generally go up.”

A riding session earlier this month started with the students unloading pogo sticks, stilts, balance boards and several unicycles from a small trailer.

The club usually meets outdoors, but blue-gray clouds threatened rain, and Getty and the students moved inside the school.

Down one hallway, students balanced on their unicycles against a wall, a skill that takes core strength and coordination. More advanced riders pedaled with support from Getty or his assistants or balanced themselves with short wooden poles.

In another hallway, one boy rode a high-wheeled penny-farthing bicycle. Another boy spun a plate on a stick like a true vaudevillian.

“I walk away five minutes and he’s got it down,” club member Betsy Cornell remarked on the plate spinner.

Getty taught Cornell to ride a unicycle 11 years ago. Now, the retired school district employee is teaching another generation of riders.

“We’re hoping to get more kids involved,” Cornell said.

Riding on

Aquasia Board and Delaina Threat represent the club’s next generation.

Board, 19, held Threat’s hands and coached the eighth-grader, who teetered precariously on the unicycle.

“Breathe in. Close your eyes. Don’t be scared. Hold my hand the right way.”

It was Threat’s second week learning to ride.

“Don’t be scared, you’re fine,” Board assured her.

Like these kids, Board learned to ride in middle school and stayed in the club. She now rides a 5-foot-tall unicycle in parades.

Her friends look at her like she’s weird, she confessed, “because I can barely ride a bike. I’m very wobbly on a bike.”

Except for a penny-farthing. She can ride one of those perfectly.

“You just have to be confident in yourself,” Board said.