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Bottle flipping becomes the rage with middle schoolers

It’s driving parents (and schools) crazy, but kids love it. 12-year-old James Tobin reflects on the ‘Bottle Flipping’ craze.
It's driving parents (and schools) crazy, but kids love it. 12-year-old James Tobin reflects on the 'Bottle Flipping' craze.

Meghan Enwright had reached her limit. Exasperated by her young sons’ maddening new habit of flipping half-filled water bottles into the air in an effort to land them upright, the Marshfield mother pecked out a quick Facebook post voicing her displeasure.

“If my kids flip a water bottle one more time. . .”

Almost immediately the responses from other parents started rolling in.

“Thought it was just my kids!”


“All. Summer. Long.’’

It’s not hard these days to find kids flipping bottles: at bus stops, at middle-school lunchroom tables, inside Little League dugouts, even on national television. At one point during last week’s Patriots broadcast, a camera cut to some kids in the Gillette Stadium stands, absent-mindedly bottle flipping as the home team rolled to victory.


“It’s an epidemic,” Alyssa Lefrancois of East Taunton said recently, as one of her four children attempted to flip a bottle into the cup-holder of her car. “My son went to the Little League World Series, and they were teaching the kids from Japan how to do it.”

For kids, the draw is simple. Even in an age of digital distractions, this diversion is quick, it’s portable, and while the science behind it is actually fairly elaborate — water, angular momentum, and gravity paving the way for a soft landing — it requires no training.

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As Nolan Barry, 13, a seventh-grader from Foxborough, earnestly explains, “It’s something you have to experience.”

For those wondering how this started — or simply in search of a target for their ire — a good place to start would be Michael Senatore, an 18-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., who could be described as the Godfather of bottle-flipping.

Last spring, finding himself without an act for his high school talent show, Senatore decided to try his hand at bottle-flipping, a hobby he and his classmates had dabbled in a year earlier. Armed with some dramatic music and a good amount of swagger, the teen strolled on stage and, with a flip of the wrist, landed a small, partly filled plastic bottle upright onto a nearby table.


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The brief performance, which sent those in the audience into hysterics, was captured on video, and you can guess what happened next: 5 million YouTube views, a trove of gushing blog posts, an appearance by Senatore on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Not least of all, it brought the previously underground art of bottle-flipping to the masses. Since then, legions of participants have pushed it forward, adding twists along the way.

No longer, for example, does a traditional flip like Senatore’s cut it. “Capping” — that is, flipping a bottle so it lands balanced on its cap — might now be the quickest path to school-yard glory. YouTube, meanwhile, is filled with videos of Senatore acolytes attempting increasingly creative and challenging flips: off trampolines, atop hoverboards, through basketball hoops.

“Across the street,” says West Roxbury resident John P. Chojnowski, whose 12-year-old son Jed has become obsessed with bottle flipping, “[one] landed on the neighbor’s cat.”

Despite the glowing reviews of adolescent flippers, parents have been far less enamored.


There’s the incessant thump thump thump of partly-filled bottles crashing through their homes. And the cost. Enwright stopped buying bottled drinks altogether, she says, after her kids began tearing through $20 or $30 worth of bottled drinks a week to facilitate their habit.

Parents complain that they find half-filled bottles cluttering the house and throw them out.

“The other day, [my son] got a brand new Poland Spring bottle and poured half of it down the drain,” says Jennifer Barry of Foxborough. “I was like, ‘Noooo!’”

Shane Bradley, 12, showed off his “bottle flipping’” skills while visiting the home of James Tobin in West Roxbury.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

And this is to say nothing of the countless bottles going airborne in middle school lunchrooms across the region.

“They flip the bottles all over the cafeteria,” says Peggy Regan, a teacher at Arlington’s Ottoson Middle School. “Food gets spilled over, [the bottles] end up on the floor. Our lunch room is busy and crowded. It doesn’t work well.”

To this, young flippers offer little more than a proverbial roll of the eyes.

“A lot of the popular trends right now my dad thinks are kind of stupid,” says James Tobin, a seventh-grader from West Roxbury who has spent the past week attempting to flip a bottle onto a wooden fence outside his family’s home. “But he doesn’t really know what they mean, and he didn’t really live them, because [he’s from] the ’80s.”

Whether bottle-flipping has the stamina to out-last the slew of other recent fads — we’re looking at you, Pokemon Go — remains to be seen.

Already, some schools have begun taking steps to temper the tossing. North Reading Middle School issued a ban on the practice at the start of the school year.


Other schools also have warned students and parents that bottle-flipping would no longer be permitted.

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In the meantime, some desperate teachers have taken matters into their own hands.

Since the flip heard ’round the world, Senatore, now a freshman at the University of South Carolina, has received a handful of messages from middle- and high-school teachers asking whether he might consider personally urging students to holster their bottles.

But while he’s sympathetic to their plight, he can’t bring himself to do it.

In a way, it would be like James Naismith coming out against basketball.

“Whenever I see a kid flipping a bottle, I know somehow I managed to influence that kid,” Senatore said.

“I get a little smile every time I see it.”


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Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com.