This year the school district where my father works awarded my very deserving dad with a lifetime achievement award for his nearly 25 years of service as a teacher and coach to the students of John Glenn High School (JGHS). In bestowing this prestigious honor upon him, I am sure that they will bring up the numerous teams he has coached, the dozens of different classes he has agreed to teach over the years, and his work to improve the school’s AP program for college bound seniors. While all of these accomplishments are worthy of praise and recognition, these types of things are by no means his greatest achievements as an educator. His most important accomplishments as a guide for his students did not occur in the classroom, on the football field, or softball diamond, and the impact that he has made is far more valuable than any tackling technique or test score. His greatest feats as a teacher are things that his students will remember and carry with them for the rest of their lives, as they mature into successful, happy adults.
One Summer several years ago, I had gone out with my father to run some errands around town, and he needed to stop by the high school to grab something out of his classroom. As he ran down to his room to grab whatever he wanted to pick up, I decided to stop in the school’s main office to say “hello” to my old guidance counselor. While I was in the office talking about my time at Notre Dame and such, the newly hired assistant principal of the school walked in. After introducing ourselves, I came to find out that even though he was now going to be my dad’s superior, he had actually been a student of my father’s years before at another high school. This was strange enough to hear, but as I was waiting on my dad to return, this young administrator told me a story about my father that I will always remember. Not only will this story forever remind me of how amazing and wise my father is, but it is a great example of the way he has made a lifelong difference in the lives of so many of his students.
When my father was just starting his career as a high school teacher, he worked at a school in a rural, farming community in Northern Indiana as the government teacher and football coach. During this time, the new assistant principal of JGHS was a senior and both a student of my father’s as well as a player on his varsity football team. He was a popular guy and a leader on the team with a bright future ahead of him, but as so often happens with hormone crazed teens however, life happened, and he and his girlfriend got pregnant. An unplanned pregnancy is something that fully grown, mature couples can barely deal with, and for a couple of high school kids, who cannot even buy a lottery ticket, this type of situation is even more impossible to manage. A few days after learning this life altering news, this young father-to-be went to speak to my dad after school one day to discuss how it may affect his ability to remain on the football team. It was this conversation with my father that this young man credits with having the greatest impact on him during this trying time in his life. He even believes that without my dad’s guidance that he would not have been able to overcome this adverse set of circumstances and create a successful life.
After hearing about his life changing situation, my father had this troubled teen take a seat in one of the student desks in his classroom, and my dad sat down in a desk right across from him. Out of everyone this adolescent had spoken to about the pregnancy, this 18 year old was being talked to and treated like a man for the first time, because that is what he had to be now that he was having a baby. My father did not talk down to him as an adult to a child, but instead like a man, an equal, advising another man. My dad basically said that the most important thing was to do right by this child, and that he would have to sacrifice some things in order to make this kid his number one priority. My wise father did not pretend to have all the answers or know what to do, but by helping this young man gain some perspective and re-prioritize his life, he got him on the right track to overcoming this difficult situation. While he did not receive any specific advice on how to move forward, the scared, 18 year old kid that entered my father’s classroom that day left that room a much more confident, mature young man, thanks to the wisdom and guidance of my incredible dad.
This emotional, inspirational story about how my father helped this distraught teenager keep his life on track was moving enough on its own, but the look on the face of the now assistant principal made it even more powerful to hear. As I listened to him recount this tale from his past, I could see the tears welling up in his eyes as he remembered how my father had made him feel that day many years ago. The look on his face and the inflection in his voice made it obvious how much that conversation meant to him, and the immense amount of gratitude and respect he had for my dad because of it. You could tell that this young administrator truly believed that if not for the guidance of my father, he would not have been able to keep his life in order, graduate from high school, raise a family with his high school sweetheart, and become a high school principal. And while you would think that this sort of life altering event would be a one time occurrence for the careers of most teachers, and for lesser men than my father that would probably be true, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for Mr. Drotar. I cannot begin to tell you the number of former students and players we have bumped into over the years who have that same look on their face when they come up and shake my dad’s hand. Even though most of these thankful individuals did not have anything as life changing as a teen pregnancy to deal with, they all had the same feelings of respect and admiration for my father and the way he treated them as adolescents. They are all grateful for the way he treated them as young, emerging adults and the life lessons and wisdom he was always willing to share.
Anyone who has worked with my father for any length of time would definitely agree that this recognition of his years of dedication and service to the students of JGHS is much deserved and long overdue. While this award may focus on his students test scores and the number of winning teams he has put on the field during his career, the people who really matter, the thousands of young men and women who have sat in his classroom, know that his greatest professional achievements have little to do with academics or athletics. His greatest accomplishments as a teacher are the happy, successful individuals that were able to grow into functioning members of society thanks to the wisdom my father passed on to them. These life lessons and guidance will never show up on any spreadsheet of test scores or in a box score of a high school football game, but that does not mean that they are not important. If anything, the fact that these words of wisdom he has shared with so many young minds were done without any recognition or acclaim makes his sage-like guidance that much more incredible. I want to say congratulations to my incredible father for this much deserved award for his life of dedication to his students. I am so extremely proud that I get to introduce you as my father, and I hope that the wisdom you have imparted on me has helped me to grow into a man that you are proud to call your son. You are a terrific teacher, an amazing coach, and most of all a phenomenal father. I love you and hope that you enjoy your time in the spotlight (although I know you will want to return to your spot behind the scenes as quickly as possible).