Lessons I Learned on the Trail

SmokiesLast winter I was talking to the mom of a Thomas Worthington student.  She was explaining that her son had signed up for several of our blended learning courses as a way to get ahead so he could graduate in December of his senior year.  He wanted to spend the spring of that year hiking the Appalachian Trail before going to college.  Not only was he working ahead in school but he was planning his hiking routes and purchasing his needed gear.  

Our conversation intrigued me. I knew a little about the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail that begins in Georgia and ends in Maine and I’d read several hiking books such as “A Walk in the Woods” and “Wild” but I’d never actually done any significant hiking.  At that time the thought of being deep in the woods without cell service was sounding very pleasant and thus I began investigating ways to do some hiking this summer.

DoreenSmokiesWith that Doreen and I just finished hiking 40 miles or so of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Because we have zero experience and were hoping not to get eaten by a bear we worked with Wildland Trekking who provided us a guide and a group to hike with.  For four days we hiked in the rugged backwoods of the Smokies (beginning on the Appalachian Trail at Clingman’s Dome and then hiking the Forney Creek, Benton MacKaye, Noland Creek and Deep Creek Trails.)  On day one we descended over 4,000 feet and promptly re-climbed it on the second day.

Let’s be honest, hiking beat us up.  It was more difficult going up and down with a full pack than I had anticipated. Others were feeling the same way. But, it was also a great learning experience and that’s what I wanted to share.  Here’s what I learned out on the trail:

I learned and re-learned that you can’t quit.  All spring I spoke to groups with that simple theme: don’t quit, keep moving forward.  But after the first night laying in our tent I said to Doreen, “What are we doing?”  It was a tough day.  On day two after about 8 miles four members of our group of seven decided they had had enough and quit.  Wildland Trekking sent a van to come get them.  We were left with just our guide, Doreen and I.  Did we want to quit too?  Yes.  Honestly a shower and the pool sounded like a good idea at this point.  We were already, sore, tired, wet, smelly and really wondering why we were doing this.  But like most things when you persevere things get better over time and each day of our hike did get better.  By putting one foot after another, uphill and downhill we saw amazing wildlife, moss covered rocks, and beautiful waterfalls.  We crossed rickety wood bridges and camped next to rushing water.  On day three we hiked 12 miles and saw no other humans. I went four days with no cell service.  I’m glad we stuck it out.

Side note that is in the TMI (too much information) category when our group members decided to quit, they left with all of the toilet paper.  I believe it was an accident but we already were having to dig a whole to create a restroom in the woods and now we were left with 20 miles to hike, two nights to camp and no toilet paper.  I told you it was TMI, but true story.

I also was reminded on this trip that it’s important to stop and look up every so often.  The Smokies are dense wooded forest and the terrain is steep and rocky.  I’m wired to want to finish the mileage and accomplish the day’s goal.  But it was when I stopped to look around that I saw small toads hiding in logs or found the markings of the yellow bellied sap sucker on a tree.  I especially enjoyed the straight tall poplar trees along our route.

Finally, I learned again that it’s O.K. to accept help. Our guide Nick Weaver was a 24 year old graduate of the University of Tennessee.  He was exceptionally competent and focused on keeping us safe while fording streams, helping us learn to hang our bear bags properly, and navigating the maps.  Without his help and guidance I would likely be lost in the park.  Age is often not related to competence in an area.  I’m 43 and Nick is 24.  I trusted Nick’s knowledge in the woods explicitly and it was a reminder that when you trust others you’re often rewarded with a better experience than if had you tried to do it alone. (Read more about what I learned from Nick on our Absolute Excellence blog.)

They say you hike to clear your mind and get focused.  For me that happened and I relearned a few lessons along the way.

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Rotary Storytellers – Father’s Day

BowersAs the Superintendent of Worthington Schools I am required to be a member of the Dublin-Worthington PM Rotary Club.  Rotary International is a service driven organization and I’m honored to have the opportunity to participate.  (Although, full disclosure while I think I’m old enough to be Superintendent of Schools, I can’t rectify in my own mind how I could possibly be old enough to be a Rotary member…)

As part of Rotary our club is scheduled to hold a storytellers event in honor of Father’s Day.  At that event I will have the chance to speak about my dad.  I’ve told many stories over the years about my dad’s commitment to our family and how he has always, always supported my sister and I.  Those stories have been absolutely true.  But, for this event I wanted to provide a different story about growing up with a father who was a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service.

My first real memory of my dad’s job was in Connie Ball’s fourth grade class at Worthington Hills Elementary.  It was a career day and my dad had come to the class to talk about his job as a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service.  He was dressed in his typical dark suit and starched white shirt.  He wore a tan full length overcoat and aviator sunglasses.  He looked exactly like he did walking along side of President Carter on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Dad showed the class his badge, his gun, etc… He passed around real money, and samples of counterfeit money, and explained how to spot the difference.  My classmates were into it and immediately and as a fourth grade boy I had some suburban street cred.  “What’s your dad do?  Is he a lawyer, a doctor, nope, he’s a Secret Service Agent.”  That was pretty cool!

But, like everything else there are two sides to the coin.  My dad was a Secret Service Agent and you just don’t turn that off.  When I turned 16 years old and earned my driver’s license I was allowed to access our families Toyota Corona sedan.  I would drive it to and from school and in those days all students at Worthington High School had “open lunch” and I would drive the Toyota to and from lunch.  In the late 80’s there were no restrictions on young drivers like there are today and the only real rule we had in our family was that I could only take as many kids in the car as we had seatbelts and everyone needed to wear the seatbelt.  In this car that meant that I could take four friends plus myself.

It was a cool fall day I and I was heading to lunch with Jeff Hooper, Scott Todd, Garrett Begeman and Chad Reynolds.  They were the normal lunch crew.  On this day a group of girls wanted to go with us to lunch.  We didn’t exactly have space in the Toyota, but seriously, we weren’t going to say no to these girls, and so everyone piled in.  Girls were sitting on laps, across the gear shift, etc..  I’d say there were nine or ten of us in the car and we headed out from Worthington High School and south on High Street to what is now Donatos but at the time was Kentucky Fried Chicken.  We were young, there were girls going to lunch with us, all was right with the world!

But, it wasn’t….When I got home from school that afternoon my dad was home.  That was odd.  He just looked at me for what seemed like a full minute but what was likely 10 seconds and then he said to me “Trent, what did you do wrong today?”  That was his question.  Seriously, “what did you do wrong today?”  Now, I wasn’t the smartest 16 year old but I was smart enough not to answer that question.  There were a fair number of possible answers and I didn’t need to provide the wrong one.  As I stood quietly my dad’s voice raised and he proceeded to tell me what I had done wrong….

“You had ten people in your car!  People were not wearing seatbelts!  Sir Mix-A-Lot was very loud coming from your radio!  When you stopped at lunch the rear left window was not raised up and the front right door was not locked!  What were you thinking?”

Um….

See my dad was a Secret Service Agent, but he wasn’t that good.  Plus we lived in Worthington Hills not close to Worthington High School.  As luck, bad luck, would have it somewhere driving south on High street with my full car I passed my dad who was also driving south on High street.  What are the odds of that?  I never noticed my dad, but he noticed me.  He then followed my car, parked in the Playboy Club parking lot next to the KFC and took notes on our actions.  Then he followed us back to Worthington High School, went home and waited for me to arrive.  Yep, that really happened.

It was a long, long time before I was able to drive anywhere again.  

That’s my dad.  He sprung the trap.  “What did you do wrong today?”  But, he already knew the answer.  

Happy Father’s Day dad!

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Graduation Speeches

photoI graduated from Worthington High School in 1991.  I tell people that I was an average student in high school but statistically that’s not accurate.  When you graduate in the bottom half of your high school class like I did, technically that’s below average.  (In my mind I was above average and I was also faster, could jump higher, and had much cooler hair than may be accurate.  But memory is a funny thing as you age….)  The point is as a student I never dreamed of the opportunity to speak at graduation.  

That’s what made today special  As a graduate of Worthington Schools the opportunity to speak to the students graduating from Worthington Schools was an incredible honor.  I was humbled to have the unique opportunity.  

As I thought about what I wanted to say to the graduates I watched several current graduation speeches.  That’s not a good strategy.  Trying to live up to John Green and Sheryl Sandberg’s recent graduation speeches was a lost cause.  Then I thought maybe I should just give Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech.  These students were seven when it was given and maybe they’d never know.  That idea soon passed as well.

So, my speech was simple.  My hope was to convey that the people you grow-up with are always with you in your memory.  That’s really unique, but so true, and I also wanted to prepare our students in a small way for inevitable adversity that we all face in life.  I’m not sure I accomplished either but I count the opportunity to try as a unique professional opportunity.

In Worthington we hold two formal graduations, one for Worthington Kilbourne High School, and one for Thomas Worthington High School.  I gave essentially the same speech twice only changing out the names of the elementary schools that feed the high school.

Here’s what I said:

“Congratulations!  Today is a BIG day!  Graduates, Parents, Grandparents, Today is your day! Graduates, to be sitting here this afternoon you’ve satisfied the requirements set forth by the State of Ohio and the Worthington Board of Education.  You’ve earned the right to be here this afternoon.  Today is a day of celebration but also a day of transition.  Today you move from one phase of your life and on to another.

Graduates as you look to your right and to your left you see your classmates.  Many of these same classmates began school with you at Bluffsview, Brookside, Granby, Liberty or Worthington Hills.  When I grew-up, I grew-up living next door to Craig Schindler.  Craig and I were in class together at Worthington Hills, we shared birthdays in the month of April and we spent many hours together as kids.  Craig could build or fix anything.  I remember one day he took the family lawn mower apart and built a go cart that we rode up and down Ashler Court.  Craig had also built a tree fort in the woods near our house.  The fort was our own hiding place and on that fort Craig had built a wood box where we could store the things we didn’t want our mom’s to know about.  Craig and I grew up together but we only spoken several times since the time of our high school graduation 25 years ago.  See, that’s the thing, the people you’re sitting with today some will remain life-long friends.  Others you will move on from, but your memories of those you grew-up with will remain strong.  As you look to your right and to your left again you’ll never forget the people you’re sitting with and your time in Worthington will always remain vivid in your memory.  By the way…I believe Craig Schindler is here today as his son Caleb is graduating in this class!  Congratulations Caleb.  As I’m sure you know your dad could build and/or fix anything.

As you move on from Worthington you will be provided many opportunities.  The world is waiting for you and you have been well prepared by this school district and this community to compete in the global workforce.  There will be no shortage of opportunity for you but, it will be up to you on whether you seize that opportunity.  The last 13 years of formal education have prepared you for your future.  But, they guarantee you nothing.  From this day forward you’ll need to earn your way.  You will go on to great success of that I have no doubt.  You will graduate from universities, start businesses, do important research, you will indeed change the world.  But what I want you to know is that while I truly believe all of those things will happen, it will be much more difficult than you currently believe.  Nothing is as easy as it looks.  No one succeeds overnight.  In life the only thing we can really count on….is that there’s bound to come some trouble on this earth.  At some point, at some time, for everyone in this room, life is going to reach up and kick you in the teeth.  I wish what I was telling you was not true.  But it is.  Graduates, your life will be more difficult than you believe.  Your friends lives will be much more difficult than they look on their Instagram feeds.  What will define your success in life is not your IQ, not your high school or college grade point average, not even the career path you ultimately choose.  What will separate those who succeed from others, is how you respond when things are difficult.  And, they will be difficult.  

So my challenge to you is this:  Go out and make your mark on the world!  Strive for greatness!  Take a risk!  Live your life!  Constantly adapt and embrace the inevitable change.  But understand that you’ll have to work harder for success than you currently believe is possible and when life does get hard….Don’t quit.  Keep moving forward.  Left foot, right foot.  Your persistence in the face of challenges will ultimately define your success.  As Winston Churchill famously said, Never give in, never give in, never, never, never never!  Hollywood producer Aaron Sorkin said “The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”

And know this…we in Worthington will be here to support you.  We will be here watching and after you have found your great success I’d ask that you remember Worthington.  It’s important to give back to the community that has given so much to you.  

Graduates today you join the over 40,000 living alumni of Worthington Schools.  Welcome to our club!  

I’ll leave you with this: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, and even dangerous, but leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

Congratulations Graduates!”

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Comments to Retiring Teachers

photo13As part of my job as Superintendent I get to do a fair amount of public speaking.  In the month of May a fair amount turns into almost every night. That said, it’s a part of my job that I really enjoy because I often get to tell stories and share my gratitude.  Last week I was able to speak to our retiring teachers in Worthington.  It’s a group that I have have immense respect for and I hope my comments reflected that.  Here is what I said:

“Good Evening.  In my first year as Superintendent of Worthington Schools this event is one that I have looked forward to.  It’s an opportunity to show sincere appreciation to those of you that give selflessly of yourself everyday to help our children and our community.

I’ve written my comments this evening to our retiring teachers but I think they are in many ways applicable to our friends of education as well.  One of our timeless goals in Worthington Schools is that every child should have a trusted adult that they know cares about them and believes in them.  Earlier this year I talked to our staff about the lifelong effect that former Worthington High School English teacher Jan Fish had on my life.  Because I knew she cared about me and believed in me I performed academically for her at a much higher level than I did in other classes.  Performing at that higher level for Mrs. Fish gave me the needed confidence to perform at a higher level for other teachers and eventually that snowballed. I believe she literally changed the direction of my life.

But, what I haven’t shared is the many little things that teachers do daily that sometimes have equal effect and are never forgotten by their students.  And it’s in these little things that happen throughout a school day or a school year that I believe add up for a child.  Like it was just yesterday, I remember sitting in the gymnasium as a student at Worthington Hills Elementary School.  Kyle Lucas sat to my left and Jeff Brown sat to my right.  We were supposed to be sitting with our legs criss-cross which in the 80’s we still called “Indian Style” and we were supposed to be waiting patiently for a performance of some kind to begin.  Now I have no memory of what was going on in the gym or why we were actually there but I know that we were supposed to sitting quietly and we were not.  We were being quite rambunctious and someone came up from behind me and put his or her hand on my shoulder.  Instead of turning nicely to see who it was I loudly blurted out “Who the (insert the very bad F-word here) has their hand on me?”  When I did turn around to my surprise the hand was not Kyle Lucas’ hand nor was it Jeff Brown’s hand.  Instead the hand was our teacher’s hand, Mr. Bill Wolford.  I was in big trouble.  Trouble with a capital “T.”  Mr. Wolford had a choice to make.  He could rightfully drag me to the office.  I had earned it.  He could call my parents (I was thinking maybe I could live with my grandparents if I had to), he had options.  But what Mr. Wolford actually did was neither of those things.  He looked at me in the eye and bent down and whispered in my ear.  He simply said, “Trent, you’re better than that.”  That was it.  He never spoke of it again, he never told my parents and actually I’m 43 years old and I’ve never told my parents that story.  But at that moment Mr. Wolford made a choice in how to handle a situation and he chose mercy.  And I’ve never forgotten it.

Throughout your career in education I imagine you’ve seen it all.  You’ve inspired some students to do things they never thought was possible and you’ve likely had to make choices on whether discipline or mercy would best motivate a student.  I simply want to say a sincere thank you!  There is nothing more important than working hard every day to make a positive difference in the life of a child.  You’ve spent your career paying forward and helping others.  You’ve been asked to sometimes do the impossible and rarely could you have seen the immediate fruits of your efforts.  But, your efforts made a difference.  Your efforts helped make Worthington Schools one of the best school districts in Ohio.  Your efforts set up students for future success that will pay off for generations.

There is no way to adequately show the necessary appreciation.  My hope is that you are able to look back on your career with a sense of satisfaction.  My hope is that as you move on to the next phase of your life you’ll look at your time with Worthington Schools with fondness and have strong positive memories of the students you’ve worked with and the friends you’ve made.  My hope is that someday you’ll be on the beach or the golf course, or in a book store and someone you taught will remember you and thank you for changing their life.

On behalf of a grateful Worthington community I’d like to a sincere say thank you for your service. And best wishes for your future!”

 

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Tell Your Parents You Love Them

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Back in the fall of 1998 I was working as the Dean of Students at McCord Middle School.  After school I would work as an assistant football coach at McCord for then head coach Tom Lichtenberg.  Tom was a fascinating man who was once the head football coach at Ohio University and was previously the Offensive Coordinator at Ohio State and Notre Dame.  Thus, he was a little overqualified to be coaching our middle school team.  (We did routinely beat Perry in those years.  Just Sayin!)

Back in 1998 we had over 100 boys playing football at McCord which was a huge number because we only had 450 total students in the school.  Tom would walk the halls and tell every boy he saw that he should come out and play football.  Many did.  Some had no business being on a football field, but they didn’t realize that.  They were told by the coach that they would be good at it, and they believed it.  From Tom I learned the simple power of an encouraging word.  Many times in life all someone needs is to know that a trusted adult believes in them and they will do things because of that belief that they never previously considered.  This has become a pillar in what I believe about leadership and in working with students and I learned it from watching Coach Lichtenberg.

I learned something else really important from Coach Lichtenberg.  Everyday after practice the team would gather around coach.  Everyone took a knee in front of coach (never behind coach as he would explain that Jesse James was shot in the back…not sure if that’s true, but I’ve repeated it hundreds of times since.)  Coaches like myself, Greg Ross, Dave Murphy, Mark Gallagher, Jeff Todd and Bill Wolford would take a knee in front of Coach Lichtenberg too.  He would talk to the team about the day’s practice and everyday he would remind the kids to tell their parents that they loved them.  Everyday.

That year was special for me for another reason.  My dad had recently retired from his job as a U.S. Secret Service agent and he was also working as an assistant coach on this team. So each day we would take a knee together and listen to Coach Lichtenberg remind the players to tell their parents they loved them.

As a 26 year old man at the time my dad and I had an excellent relationship.  He was the best man in my wedding and I would have considered him my closest male friend.  But, we were men.  We didn’t hug or tell each other we loved one another.  Men just didn’t do that.  We likely both believed it to be true but we certainly didn’t tell each other!

Sometime in the fall of 1998 that changed.  We’d heard Coach Lichtenberg remind us everyday and I don’t remember when exactly but we began telling one another we loved each other.  That’s continued for the past 18 years and with a stroke of school calendar luck Worthington’s spring break last week coincided with my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.  Like many midwesterners their age my parents spend their winter (and fall and spring) in Ft. Myers, Florida.  Thus with Coach Lichtenberg’s words in my ears we piled the family into the Honda Odyssey (official family car of Columbus, Ohio) and drove the 1,167 miles to Ft. Myers, Florida.

We were able to spend last week with my parents, my sister, my nephew, my cousin, her family, and many dear old friends.  We celebrated 50 years of marriage for my parents and spent good family time together.  When we left Saturday morning to begin the long drive home, I told my parents I loved them.  I learned that from Coach Lichtenberg and he was right.  As a middle aged man I no longer take that time together for granted.  Neither should you.

 

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TEDxWorthingtonED

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Today I have the opportunity to speak at TEDxWorthingtonED  The theme of this event is resolve and when I heard the theme I immediately knew what I wanted to talk about.  I learned resolve from one man.  A man who needs no actual name.  A man we call CG.  I’m forever grateful to CG for teaching me to work harder than I thought was possible and for teaching me to never quit in life.  He’s taught those same lessons to thousands of other kids while coaching the game of lacrosse.  My talk is is titled “Why Kids Need Co-Curriculars”  But it’s really designed to pay homage to my friend and mentor:  Chris Gallagher.  Here is what I plan to say:

“According to the U.S. News and World Report’s Annual High School Athletics participation report 55% of all high school students, almost 7.6 million kids, participate in at least one high school sport.  Is this just another example of our sports crazed culture or are there some real life long benefits to participation in high school sports?

In Worthington, Ohio we desire to see every one of our students connected to a co-curricular activity.  Longitudinal studies have shown that children and youth participating in sport, when compared to peers who do not play sport, exhibit: higher grades, greater personal confidence and self-esteem; greater connections with school and even stronger peer relationships.

In addition to these formal studies I believe participation is important because students need to learn to work hard.  They need to get knocked down and learn to get back up.  They need to build a resolve to never, never, never give in.

The date was Monday, February 19th, 1990.  It was only nine days after Columbus, Ohio’s own James Buster Douglas shocked the world by knocking out the previously undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World, Mike Tyson.  It was only nine days but it felt like an eternity.  On this February day there was an inch or two of white snow that covered the grass in Worthington.  It was the first day of the spring lacrosse season for the Worthington Cardinals 1990 squad.  The spring season in Ohio often begins with temperatures well below freezing and this day was no different.

I was there that day dressed in my black cotton Worthington lacrosse sweatpants that dragged in the snow.   The team that was returning that year was the two-time defending Ohio Lacrosse Champions.  There were high expectations for this season and nothing less than winning the Midwest Lacrosse Championship would be tolerated.  With that in mind pre-season conditioning would be a brutal exercise.

The team gathered in full lacrosse gear.  The old boxy lacrosse helmets, shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves and cleats.  Everyone wore the same black sweatpants on their legs but the guys had a myriad of other long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts that each wore on their upper body to try and stay warm.  Everything worn was cotton and everything was boxy.  There were no moisture wicking fabrics, no Under Armour or Nike Combat Gear back in 1990.  Once we were wet, we would stay wet.  If you didn’t want hypothermia you better keep moving.TheGuys

The task for February 19th and for each day that first week of conditioning was to start at the field house building and run down the hill, across the grass we call the flats in Worthington and onto the Olentangy bike path.  From there the team would run down the asphalt bike path until reaching Antrim Lake.  Each player would then do 50 push-ups before beginning to run around the 1.2 mile lake and 50 push-ups upon finishing the run around the lake.  From there the players would repeat their steps back down the trail, across the flats and eventually up the long winding hill to the field house.  The total run would take place in the cold wind and on snow covered ground, wearing athletic cleats and full lacrosse gear.  It was around a 3.5 mile run.

This morning before this event I ran farther than 3.5 miles and I go for a run most everyday as an adult.  But in 1990 I had not run one step since the November end to football season and throughout football season sprints never consisted of more that 50 yards.  3.5 miles was a virtual marathon to me at 17 years old and these conditions were brutal.

To make matters worse there is always someone on every team who actually prepared for what they knew was coming.  On this team that was Scott Cebul.  Scott had run each day throughout the winter of 1989-1990 and he was ready to set a fast pace for the team.  When the run began Scott took off.  He was like a rabbit and I struggled to keep up with Keith Poss, Raif Webster and Jon Mackey.  Each step was like pure torture.  The air was cold on my lunges.  I had no pattern to my breathing at all, and running in my black Nike high tops cleats was like running in hiking boots.

When we got to the lake assistant coach Tim Cave was waiting for us.  Tim barked orders to hit the ground and begin push-ups.  When he didn’t think our push-ups were being done with the proper form (we were wearing lacrosse gloves and holding a stick) he got down on the ground and demonstrated proper form. Eventually we were running again and then eventually we were doing push-ups again.  The last half mile of this run would begin near the ice covered Olentangy river.  From there it’s uphill all the way to the field house.

I thought I was going to die.  Really I wasn’t certain I would even be able to crawl up the hill let alone run up the hill.  And, that’s when it began.  Sitting on the open tailgate of his black Ford Bronco was head lacrosse coach Chris Gallagher, CG as he is known to everyone in Worthington.  CG was wearing shorts, dirty brown work boots and a well-worn hooded sweatshirt.  It was under 30 degrees and he looked like he was sitting on the tailgate of his truck in an early fall day.  If he didn’t acknowledge it was cold, it wasn’t cold.

As I got close to CG I heard his bellowing voice.  From somewhere hidden behind his rough brown beard I heard one word:  FINISH.  Then the Ford Bronco began to move.  The truck stayed in front of me by about 25 yards as I slugged forward.  I wanted to quit.  And then it happened again, I heard his voice:  BOWERS, DON’T YOU DARE QUIT.  DON’T YOU DARE WALK!  FINISH!  F-I-N-I-S-H!  I had no choice.  I had to finish.  I had to, and so I did.

That day was February 19th, 1990.  Just nine days after Buster Douglas had knocked out Mike Tyson.  The scene repeated itself on February 20th, February 21st, February 22nd and February 23rd.  I think on the 24th we were actually allowed to practice lacrosse for the first time.  I finished each run that week.  Each run hurt.  Each run hurt a lot.  And each day I heard that same booming voice: FINISH!

On February 19th, 1990 a lesson was cemented into my head that I’ve never forgotten.  When I went off to college to play college football I didn’t yet understand the level of work and effort that would be required.  In those early August practices of two a days several of my classmates quit the team and left.  I couldn’t do that.  I wanted to though.  But I couldn’t.  CG’s voice was stuck in my head. “Bowers, don’t you dare quit!”

Fast forward a few years and I was a first year teacher at Potomac Elementary School in Dahlgren, Virginia.  I was teaching 26 fifth graders and I was totally overwhelmed.  I was at school each day from 6:30 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. and the kids were winning this battle.  I wasn’t sure I was cut out to be an educator.  I wasn’t sure I really wanted to work in a public school.  I wasn’t sure I even had what it took to be successful as a teacher.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to go into law enforcement, or maybe go back to school, or maybe do anything but this.  Some statistics show that 50% of all new teachers quit within their first five years.  But, I couldn’t be one of them.  What would I tell CG?95-96

Fast Forward a few more years and I’m at Ashland University working on my doctorate in Educational Leadership.  All I needed to do was complete my dissertation and I would earn the degree.  The dissertation is a research study and it’s judged by a committee of professors.  Anyone who has been through the process can tell you how maddening it can be.  Turn in a draft of chapter one and receive feedback from three different readers.  Often the feedback is contradictory.  You make the changes and receive feedback again.  One reader liked the changes and gives approval.  Unfortunately another reader doesn’t approve and wants you to go back to the wording from the draft before.  For two years I repeated this process month after month.  I was beginning to lose hope.  I finally understood why people end up ABD (all but dissertation.)  I could never figure that out before.  Why would you ever work that hard and not finish, but two years into the dissertation process I understood.  At times this was an effort in futility (on a side note, it is very good training for working with a board of education.)  But here I was, I’m 35 years old, I’m working a full-time job as a school principal and I have three little kids at home.  I’m really questioning if finishing my dissertation would ever happen.  I wanted to quit.  I was tired, I was busy, and it just didn’t seem worth it.  But, I didn’t quit.  I couldn’t.  I’d drive from Columbus to Ashland after work and I’d drive home late in the evening.  On those drives on I-71 I could hear CG’s voice in my head “Bowers, FINISH!  Don’t you dare quit!”  I could see CG sitting on the back of that black Ford Bronco.  It’s like he was there with me.  I had to finish.  I had to.

In life there are many, many times when quitting would be easier.  Winston Churchill famously said Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never” There’s times where it’s best to cut your loses and move on.  But in my life had I quit when I wanted to things would have turned out very differently.

The thing is, I think I probably would have quit somewhere along the line.  Obviously I don’t know if that’s true but on February 19th, 1990 I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.  I learned it from a man who pushed me to work harder than I thought was possible but also cared about me as much as anyone I have ever known.  As a high school athlete I learned to never quit.  And that’s why kids today need co-curricular activities.

We’re soft in America today.  You know it’s true.  Our kids are spoiled.  My own kids are spoiled.  They spend their time indoors in climate controlled air, they wear soft moisture wicking fabrics and their education is personalized to their interests and their pace.  For this generation perseverance is defined by looking for the fastest video game hacks.

But, throughout every person’s life they will be faced with decision points.  Forks in the road where a choice must be made.  What will guide that choice?  What have we taught our kids about finishing what they started?  What have we taught our kids about working harder than they thought was possible and about setting a goal and doing whatever is necessary to make it happen?

Life is never as easy as we think it’s going to be.  We must prepare our students for that reality and provide them the skills they need to overcome adversity with persevere.  In our current educational system co-curricular participation is the best way to teach those skills.  And with that in mind it’s critical that we involve our students in these opportunities and we support them and view them as the key learning opportunity that they are.

Finish.  Don’t you dare quit!  I learned those lessons in high school athletics and they will carry with me throughout my life.  My hope is that this year there are 7.6 million kids learning that same lesson.  Thanks Coach!”

1991

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2015 Comes to an End

IMG_9071.JPGAs we end 2015 I’m sitting in a quiet office on a gray day in Worthington, Ohio.  My coffee is dark and hot and there is some space in my day to reflect on the past year.  What a year it has been!   It’s hard to distill my favorite memories of this year into just a few, but here goes….

Living in Worthington, Ohio my oldest daughter is attending the same middle school building that I attended in seventh grade.  While the school name has shifted from Perry Middle School to Phoenix Middle School the same maroon lockers remain from when I was a student there in 1985.  In August my daughter and I were at the school and she was practicing opening her locker.  The combination lock is always a bit tricky and it’s made trickier with years of use and wear.  As I sat on the floor while she practiced over and over again I was taken back in time to those very same lockers.  Back in 1985 as a 7th grade student at Perry I asked Katie Worden to the Valentine’s Dance.  She said yes and we were to meet at the school.  As a suave 7th grader I went to Kroger at the Worthington Square and purchased  a heart shaped box of candy to give to Katie.  Unfortunately, that’s where my courage ended and I decided to stash the box of candy in my locker until the right time presented itself to give Katie the candy.  That time never came and so it’s possible that there is a locker somewhere at Phoenix Middle School that still houses a heart shaped box of candy that I purchased for Katie Worden but that I never had the courage to give her.  On a side note, my daughter has become very proficient at opening her locker.  If she would only become proficient at bringing things home from her locker we would be O.K.

IMG_9063In 2015 I was able to officiate my first graduation as Superintendent of Worthington Schools. It’s a bittersweet memory but one that will resonate with me for a long time.  A student at Linworth Alternative, Chris Chia’s, mother was in hospice at the Kobacker House in Columbus.  It was very important to her to get to see Chris graduate and thus our team at Linworth set-up a personal graduation for Chris and three friends at the Kobacker House.  The students wore their blue graduation gowns, the school got their diplomas ready, and a cake and a number of family members came to the Kobacker House.  We held a ceremony.  I was able to speak for a few minutes and our Teacher/Director at Linworth, Chris Hasbrook, spoke as well.  The boys graduated together in the presence of Chris’ mom who passed just a few days later.  I hope to have the great privilege of presiding over many graduations in the coming years, but I am doubtful many will hold the memory of this one.  I’ll remember with gratitude the work of the staff at Linworth Alternative who made certain this day happened and I’ll remember four friends who graduated together and supported one another in a very difficult time.  When things work well this is how they work.  A synergy between the school lending support and a community coming together.  This was a community of young men but it was a true honor to be a part of.

IMG_9065.JPGIn 2015 I ran my first cross country race at our Worthington Schools Eisenhart Invitational.  Having grown up in Worthington I used to watch Jenni Beymer, Jen Hamdorf, Chris Szabo and many others run the cross country course each day in the fall.  Frankly, I thought they were crazy!  Why would anyone run if they didn’t have to?  But as an adult I’ve become a runner.  Mostly because I have to do something to stay active.  I’m not a good runner.  I’m an every day, left foot, right foot runner.  But when I realized there was an adult Eisenhart race I signed up.  It sounded like a good idea at the time. But when I got to the starting line there were only about 30 of us.  And, it was obvious to me that there were 29 real runners and then there was me.  This was not good.  I really didn’t want to be the Superintendent who finished last, but I was going to have to run this race at a very uncomfortable pace and likely I was going to finish last anyway.  And so I ran like my hair was on fire and just barely I didn’t finish last.  Next year I’ll likely volunteer to help at the event, but I’ll always remember my one and only run on the Thomas Worthington Cross Country Course.

IMG_9064Finally, in 2015 I was totally blessed to be able to speak to every employee of Worthington Schools at our opening convocation.  For me this opportunity was unique and special.  It was made even more special because my parents and my wife and kids were able to be in attendance to share the day.  On this day I was able to share our six expectations for all Worthington staff bracketed by “Be Kind to Kids.”  The expectation is that everyone who chooses this profession understands that this being kind to kids is our number one job.  To nurture our students, to treat them with respect, to make sure they know we care about them and will do everything possible to help them see success.  We’re in the kid business.  Learning only occurs at high levels when it is in relationship.  The rigor of our courses is irrelevant without really getting to know our students on a personal level and helping them through this portion of their life.  Kids challenge us everyday.  They do things that make us laugh, that make us cry, and that often make us shake our head.  That just makes them kids.  But if we want them to grow and learn and be successful far beyond what we may believe is possible, if we want to produce students who will go off and make a positive difference and literally change the world, it begins simply with “Be Kind to Kids!”

2015 has been a very cool year for me and I hope it has been for you as well.  The end of this year comes with a touch of sadness but more so it comes with excitement.  2016 will bring many new challenges and many new moments.  Some will be awesome, some not so much.  Time to start running again!

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