Family: Wife Emily
Occupation: 7th Grade Science and Social Studies Teacher & Assistant Baseball Coach, Arndt Middle School
Did you grow up in Catawba County?
It’s kind of interesting how I got here. I grew up near Grandfather Mountain in a very rural area, so this was kind of the hub for us. We used to come here to go to Sam’s Club, to go to the movies, to go to Crawdads games. I went to college at Lenoir-Rhyne University, so that’s my connection to living here. I met my wife in college, and regardless of that, I really do love this city and I love this area. There were things to do, and yet it felt really homey as well. LR felt like a really cool community, but so did Hickory, and so did Catawba County. We decided upon graduation that we wanted to stay here and lay some roots here.
What made you choose Lenoir-Rhyne?
Two reasons. Number one was the teaching fellows program, and number two was the opportunity to play baseball.
I have loved baseball from the time that I was a small child. I was born missing my left hand, and my parents were great about encouraging me from a young age. They would say, experiment, try, we’ll be here to love and support you but we can’t necessarily show you how to do things without a hand. When it came time for t-ball sign ups, they weren’t sure what I was going to do. They gave me the opportunity and I said, well, that sounds okay. So my dad comes home from work one day and tells my mom we had an opportunity to go to Winston-Salem that night to watch Jim Abbott pitch and he thought I would like it. [Jim Abbott was a major league pitcher who was born without a right hand.] If he doesn’t, we’ll have a fun night anyway. So I went and watched him pitch when the Winston-Salem team was still the Warthogs, and I was enamored by him. Here’s a guy who looks like me and is playing a sport at a really high level that I was thinking about playing, and I knew I wanted to try it. I was in middle school before I became more serious about playing in college. Watching Jim Abbott play kind of started it all.
Having the opportunity to play at Lenoir-Rhyne brought me there, and the teaching fellows scholarship. With the teaching fellows program, I only had to pay about 50% of my tuition which made it much more affordable for me. And I really liked the feel of attending a small university where I could know my professors a little more personally. They all had experience in the field. Every one of my professors had a doctorate degree. So that’s what brought me here.
What position did you play?
I pitched and did first base and DH’d [played as a designated hitter] for a little bit.
You met your wife at LRU. Is she a teacher too?
Yes, she’s a teaching fellow too. She teaches in Lenoir. She’s a middle school teacher as well, so we’re kind of gluttons for punishment. It is nice to be able to talk shop with your spouse, because you know what each other’s talking about instead of having to re-explain things. And if we don’t want to talk about school, we don’t have to.
The teaching fellows program does a pre-orientation before you do your freshman orientation. We moved onto campus three or four days before other freshmen did. And we met each other there. Now, my wife and I tell this story differently. The first time I asked her on a date, I say that she said no and she claims that she said maybe. It doesn’t matter now. I still kind of rib her about it. We met through that opportunity and then we had a ton of classes together. At a school like that, you get to know most people on campus pretty quickly.
What drew you to teaching?
I grew up with a mother who was a teacher, and I always enjoyed school. When I got to be about 17 I thought wow, I like a lot of different things, I enjoy working with people, I enjoy learning, I enjoy helping people accomplish their goals in life – I want to try the teaching thing out. As I have done it, I have realized that teaching and coaching is a really unique opportunity to invest in the present and invest in the future. It’s certainly a cliché, but kids definitely are our future. But at the same time, for various reasons like the breakdown of the family we see in our country, this is a really good time to stand in the gap for these kids and really help them not only get practical skills so they can be productive citizens but also develop character. I tell the kids all the time one of Abraham Lincoln’s quotes, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” And I add to it, be a person of character as well. I think we can define success that way.
I really enjoy the interaction with the kids and all those kinds of conversations, although sometimes they make me want to pull my hair out. It’s a really unique opportunity, because I think teachers and coaches might be some of the last roles in our society that are kind of seen as kind of a respectful authority. Parents kind of give you that social authority with their kid. And to be able to serve in that role for kids who don’t have that support at home, it’s a really unique opportunity.
How does teaching in the classroom compare to coaching?
I think the biggest similarity is that you can’t be afraid to say that you’re sorry and that you messed up. I think the kids really respond well to that kind of leadership – that I don’t know it all, I’m not an expert because I’m older than them. Coaching is a little different, because I can talk to my team a little differently than I can in class. Blunt is the word that comes to mind, and I can be a little more loud and a little more hands-on with baseball. Teaching a science or teaching social studies lesson, it’s harder to give on-one-one attention to 32 kids at one time. But on the baseball field, we tend to really invite them to work on specific skills. I think kids for the most part also respond really well to coaches, they want to please their coaches and play hard.
What do you like to do when you’re not teaching and coaching?
My wife and I both enjoy the outdoors a lot. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten into disc golf. We love the local parks here. We enjoy hiking, getting in the hammock and reading. And we’re also really involved in our church. We belong to Corinth Reformed Church. That was a big reason that helped plant us in this area. The church community loved on us really well. They’re just the kind of people you want to be around.
Do you feel like there are fun things to do in this community?
I know Catawba County certainly isn’t Charlotte, but as far as the things I like to do, we’re not far from a lot of outdoor recreation. In the city of Hickory and all over the county, there are options. We have any restaurant you could ever want to eat, whether it’s local restaurants or chain places.
Growing up in a super rural place, Hickory was the big city. I certainly found out there were bigger places later on, but I think geographically Catawba County is in a unique location. Because you’re not far from Boone, Asheville or Charlotte. We’re not always traveling to those places, but if we want to go to a professional sporting event or a larger brewery, there’s an opportunity to do that within a day.
If you could pick one thing you like best about living here, what would it be?
The sense of community. This is a place where my wife and I hope to raise our family. It’s big enough where we’re not going to be bored, and at the same time too it still feels very connected and homey. There’s still a ton of people we don’t know – we meet new people all the time, but there’s a great sense of community around whatever you’re involved in.
What does “Making Living Better” mean to you?
I think my response is colored by my faith and my profession as a teacher. Regardless of economic means, what it would mean to make a life better is providing the opportunity to anyone who grows up in this community to be mentored and loved well by adults. It doesn’t necessarily have to be immediate parents, but that would be something I would love to see.
Do you feel that in some small way that’s what you’re doing as a teacher and a coach?
I hope so. I have to keep perspective on it, because it’s hard to see immediate results when you’re working with 12 to 14 year olds. Thinking of coaches like John Wooden, knowing it’s possible and it does happen, it helps me keep perspective on it. Just because it’s a bad day, I need to not lose sight of the forest just because of one tree.
Anything else about the community you’d like to share?
I think there’s a lot more here than people expect. My wife and I really like craft beer and craft breweries, and there are some unique opportunities around here for that. There are some really cool places in Hickory and across the county that are really fun and local, they’re kind of homey, they’re unique. There are some hipster culture things to do here too, like the bike shop off downtown. I don’t ride a bike but it would be cool to go and see what they’ve got. Downtown Hickory with the sails and the orchestra, I think we have a lot of cool things that people don’t realize.
When I first came to Hickory, my first impression was of Highway 70 between Hickory and Newton. That’s what Hickory was to me then. And within two or three years of going to LR, I realized that wasn’t even scratching the surface. If you’re going to come to Catawba County, talk to people who actually live in the county.
My wife and I were talking about this the other day. We likened Hickory to a champion welterweight boxer. When you think about boxing, you think about someone like Muhammad Ali. Hickory might not be as big, but if you start digging in under the surface, it definitely packs a good punch.
Interviewed January 26, 2018