Folks, it's been a rough, rough week for me at Woodberry. On Thursday the school announced that my great friend and the school's head football coach, Clint Alexander, would not be returning after this season.
What's that got to do with a physics teaching blog?
Know that Clint has been the best academic mentor I've ever known. He helped me understand how to build relationships with students I hadn't previously connected with. His willingness to involve me in his program -- as coach for a few years, and as broadcaster for a decade -- gave me the basis for relationships with countless boys who took my class.
When I have a problem with a student in physics, I go to Clint for help in figuring it out. He knows nothing of physics. But he knows everything about teaching.
Below is the short halftime segment I did during the audio broadcast of today's football game. I will miss him.
Under Clint Alexander’s reign as coach, football here at Woodberry has become the epicenter for positive leadership in the school. Our football players are the embodiment of the Woodberry mandate to work hard, build character, and take care of each other.
That wasn’t always true. I remember, years ago, pushing a baby stroller (with my baby in it) past the field before a practice. Some players whom I didn’t even know loudly catcalled from afar. They succeeded in making me uncomfortable at my own school, my own home. I questioned my place here. If *I’m* being treated this way, how would I feel as a new boy? Especially a new boy who didn’t play football?
That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. I proudly now live at a kinder, gentler Woodberry.
Clint’s influence began with the football team, of course. He convinced them that the depth of their commitment and love for each other would translate both into success on the field, and to lasting friendships. He was right, as seven graduated classes would attest. He sold his vision to parents, telling them famously that their boys “will be husbands and fathers far longer than they’ll be football players.”
But his message of inclusive values permeated the campus, not just the football team.
I have always known that I’m an outsider here at Woodberry. I don’t share an ethnic, religious, or cultural background with anyone. Physicists aren’t generally known for their ability to fit in socially. Yet, Clint welcomed me, made me feel like I belonged. Clint has reached out to everyone, not merely the popular, athletic, and large. He sponsored the Korean barbecue team. He worked with the smallest of freshmen, and even faculty spouses, in the weight room. He was the one who took Keith Johnson and Abbie Ryan seriously about coaching football - even though 15 years ago, appointing a grounds staff member or a woman as a football coach simply was Not Done.
“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” I’ve heard us read that verse in chapel; I’ve never seen anyone who lives those words more authentically than Clint Alexander.
I’ll end with a note from Pete Cashwell, longtime play-by-play man for the Woodberry Forest Sports Network -- another of the many outsiders, non-”football people” whom Clint has welcomed as part of his program. “In the last decade,” Pete says, “no member of the Woodberry faculty or staff has done more than Clint Alexander to help strengthen the school's community on campus and enhance its reputation off campus. I'm saddened that his efforts will not be continuing after this season's end and wish him the best of luck wherever he goes from here.”
Pete -- word.