Sometimes people walk into your life and turn right around and walk away out of your life. However, there are some select few special people who stay with you forever. Those are the ones who plant seeds of knowledge with you and watch it grow. You never know who these people are going to be immediately; sometimes, it takes years to realize their impact. They linger in your heart and memories. At times, they frustrated, challenged, and pushed you.
Those people are my past teachers and coaches.
With the passing of Coach Sam Andy, an iconic basketball coach and mentor to so many students, teachers, and friends in the Ohio Valley, I am reminded about all of my positive memories coming up through Ohio County Schools (WV). I was blessed to have a public school experience not saturated with standardized testing. But, instead, it was vested with teachers focusing on the whole child — building relationships, nurturing the social and emotional growth and teaching skills to be a better person.
As I think about the future for my own children, I always come back to the hope they will love and cherish their time in school as I did in Ohio County. My core group of high school friends, who I still communicate with regularly, and I always reminisce about the good times and tell our wives we would relive our school experiences instantly.
The reason was simple…the teachers and staff we interacted with transformed our lives.
I want to share in no specific order about the legendary teachers and coaches who impacted my life today:
Fran Schoolcraft: The heart of the speech and theater program for many years, but more importantly a great mentor. Simply known by last name, Schoolcraft sparked the love for theatrical productions for me while in her technical classes. I learned how to organize monumental projects, build theater sets, and work as a team with a group of people with all different sorts of skill sets. In our daily work, she allowed me to lead small groups. Schoolcraft’s mission was to make us independent as well as leaders. There were a lot of successes, but more importantly there were failures. I learned to accept failure and use it as motivation to persevere. Ms. Schoolcraft continues to be one of the most influential individuals who impacted me as a student and now as an adult. I hope to take your characteristics and pass them onto my own children.
Coach Tom Hogan: Interestingly enough, I never had Coach Hogan for class or as my athletic coach. He was retired from coaching when I entered high school, but he always managed the weight room. He often spoke to me first asking me how my mother was doing and how I did in class that day. We spoke a lot about life and my high school goals as well as life goals. His wealth of knowledge was impeccable. He often spoke about hardwork, what one has to do to get ahead, and how to treat others in your path with dignity and care. Better yet, he modeled those attributes daily.
Coach Gary Zelinski: Coach Z was my offensive line coach at Wheeling Park. I was always curious about him because he had some nontraditional mannerisms during practice, but he always made it interesting — even when it resulted in additional reps. Coach Z was an in-season and out-of-season coach, he preached in the weight room how an individual was always responsible for himself. He represents his school, his family, and his coaches when in the community. Z stated people knew who Wheeling Park football players were in the community, and we needed to uphold ourselves at all times. We needed to treat females with respect. We needed to honor the values of our parents. He was a role model father figure, whether he ever knew it.
Carmen (Wager) Heil: I loved reading the school newspaper and yearbook in high school. I honestly read every edition cover to cover. There was something special about the power of the pen that intrigued me. Ms. Wager allowed me to join the journalism staff with poor grammar skills and an inability to write a story. Thankfully, she allowed me to pursue sports writing — something I knew enough about to have a fighting chance on her staff — and play the role of photographer during a time when we were still using film. She and my classmates edited my work heavily, believe me it needed it too. She encouraged me to do the best I could with my stories and our journalism team would help me out the rest of the way. Her encouragement pushed me towards an undergraduate degree in communication, later editor-in-chief of the Bethany College newspaper, and special sections editor and sports writer at The Times Leader newspaper. Today, I still enjoy writing for educational publications and blogging thanks to Ms. Wager.
Anne Paul: Some teachers get forgotten in those middle, adolescent years. Anne Paul was a life changer as my mathematics teacher at Bridge Street Middle School. I was already good at math, but her witty comments and laughter made it possible for me to break out of my shell. She offered activities in small groups for collaboration and brought me to the chalkboard to display mastery of my skills. We spent many extra hours working on Algebra tutoring sessions and preparing for Math Counts competitions. We joked a lot and I was able to pick up on her humor where others were not mature enough yet. She taught us with tough love letting us know school was not meant to be an easy ride for any of us, but encouraged us to rise to the occasion.
Sandy Mauck: There were moments I thought Mrs. Mauck was one of the most strange individuals I ever met during my introduction to speech and theater class. She spoke with such a high level of word choice and so eloquently; it made me wonder whether I belonged in her class. In her class, she got me on stage in Jack and the Beanstalk as one of the requirements for the class. However, my two-line part allowed me to see I could speak in front of people comfortably and that was all that was needed for a timid, shy 13-year boy. I went on to be in two different musicals, a regular speaker as a class officer, gave numerous Young Life talks as a leader, and even preached at my church because of that one moment that I performed in that little one-act play. Later down the road, I was fortunate to come back into the teaching field and student taught with her during Mrs. Mauck’s final year at the Park. Now I publicly speak daily as a classroom teacher and feel very comfortable doing it.
Susie Whitecotton: I have been to numerous science museums as a child and parent, and I still have no grasp on much that goes on in the world of science. Find it no surprise, Mrs. Whitecotton’s eighth grade science class at Bridge Street was no different. However, I do not remember her for the content, but I remember the rapport she built with me and my fellow classmates. She had to joke and laugh at me because I knew nothing in her class. Science never came easy, so she had to break it down and scaffold it for me daily. I learned in her class how doing all the little things added up because that is what I needed to do to be successful in her class. When one has a weakness, it is necessary to over prepare. In my adult life, I thank Mrs. Whitecotton for teaching me organization, preparedness, and loving even those who struggle. I model much of my teaching at the middle school level after her.
Fred Hehr: Transitioning from elementary to middle school is difficult for many people, but I was prepared because of Fred Hehr. He had a way of making school engaging and competitive with the other Elm Grove Elementary fifth grade teacher, his wife Mrs. Hehr. Being a competitive person, I wanted to win all the time. He taught me to strive for excellence and want to win. He told me winners are those who work hard. As an adult, I realized the message of working hard was engrained into me at a young age. I cannot remember what it was like not hearing this message because it was an expectation very early on at home and school. I hope to continue this message in my own children today.
Coach Jim Noel: The community t-shirt guy, as I initially remember him, was a football coach for my brother’s YMCA flag football team. I never paid much attention to him — as I played my imaginary football game with some of the other little brothers on the side — until he became my coach at Bridge Street. I remember wanting to score a touchdown and run the ball, my size and ball handling skills said different though. Coach Noel placed me at center sharing that it was the most important position on the line and crucial for any good team. I learned not everyone made it in the spotlight, and every person plays an important role on a team. He preached if one person doesn’t do their job, the whole team breaks down. Wow, that is true in any family or business. To imagine, I was given a life lesson at 11-years old that I continually use everyday of my adult life is remarkable. Teacher or no teacher, Coach Noel offered some of the best advice and made a significant impact on my life.
Coach Bill Gooch: Only with me for one wrestling season at Bridge Street, Coach Gooch brought an energy that I never saw before. He honestly loved the sport of wrestling and all those involved. Besides building my technique, he taught me I needed to be knowledgable in all aspects of the sport and able to adapt to different opponents. Similar to life, we need to be able to adapt to difficult situations and use our depth of knowledge to persevere through our problems. Beginning my teaching and coaching career at the middle school level, I hope I have brought his same compassion and energy to my students.
As I started writing this blog post, the list of individuals continued getting longer and longer as I went backwards from high school, middle school, and elementary school. Teachers and staff members like coach John Chacalos, Joanne Taylor, Karen Seabright, trainer Pete Chacalos, Patti Naples, Bill Welker, Bill Donohew, and Stan Rogerson all had significant impact on my life as a student and adult.
I admit, if I continue much longer I am going to make a yearbook of memories. However, I attribute all the memories to a school system of individuals who genuinely, loved and cared for their students unconditionally. The path I made in my life is greatly attributed to the top shelf staff at Ohio County Schools.
I am proud of where I come from, and I am a product of Ohio County Schools. It saddens me it takes the passing of a former teacher to force me to sit back and reflect. I hope to use my reflection to springboard my own teaching this fall at Pocomoke Middle School (MD).
As coach Gerri Cappiccie once told a group of friends of mine, teaching is the greatest profession in the world. It has allowed him to have an everlasting impact on the children of the world while affording him the joy of watching his own children grow up first hand because of his presence in the school system. He would not change it for the world, and I can say the same too.
-Brian Cook, Ed.D.