Sports commentary: Atypical

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Jeff Steele is not your run-of-the-mill coach

By Mike Forster

  There's Phys Ed. and there's Phys Ed.  

One stands for physical education.  You may have called it "gym class" when you were a tyke.  Like it or loathe it, we all took it.

The other stands for physics education.  That's the area in which folks that teach physics get their advanced degrees.  Never having taken physics, I neither like nor loathe it.  I am just intimidated by it.

If you happen to watch the television program "The Big Bang Theory," you'll see what physics folks are all about.  By and large, people who dabble in physics are a mite smarter than your average bear.

Why am I droning on about science when this is the sports section?  Well, quite simply, because there is a relationship between the two.  And that relationship is right here in Bedford County.

Jeff Steele holds a master's degree from the University of Virginia in physics education.  Steele is also a coach at Liberty High School.  While there are many coaches who hold degrees  in phys(ical) ed, Steele may very well be the sole coach in these parts who holds one in phys(ics) ed.

Indeed, he's a smart cookie.  I've visited him in his classroom.  The formulae that adorn his boards are as incomprehensible to me as is Portuguese (or Klingon, for that matter).

But Steele isn't your typical Sheldon or Leonard or Raj (characters on The Big Bang Theory).  For instance, he founded the Liberty High School girls soccer program 16 years ago.  After leading the Lady Minutemen to a couple of district titles over the years, he's still at the helm.

He also spent a decade coaching the Liberty swim team.  On autumnal Friday evenings, Steele is the Voice of the Minutemen at Liberty's football contests.

Without doubt, Steele is helping Liberty's kids develop into better soccer players and fine citizens.  Where he's really leaving his mark, however, is in the classroom.  

How do I know this?  Well,  he's just made the final cut for consideration for a McGlothlin Award.

What's that?  Well, it has nothing to do with X's and O's and everything to do with excellence in the classroom.  

The McGlothlin recognizes excellence in education, leadership and technology.

Steele is one of three finalists for the award that covers southwestern Virginia and parts of Tennessee.

Steele teaches three levels of physics, as well as calculus.  Of those four courses, three are advanced placement level.

He is also the Advance Placement Lead Teacher for Sciences in Bedford County.

And, he also helps me to break my stereotypes.

I came into this job filled with presuppositions.  I expected the coaches with whom I deal to be cut from the same cloth:  gray sweat top and matching sweat pants; whistle around neck; barking at kids; living for nothing but sports.  Think of the Sid Caesar character in the movie "Grease."

I'm in my seventh year on this gig and have yet to meet a single coach that exactly fits that stereotype.

I have a hard time thinking of a coach that is as diametrically opposed to that stereotype than Steele.  (By the way, does the term "diametrically opposed" qualify as physics-speak?)

Steele told me that he didn't get into teaching so he could coach.  He got into teaching, and coaching just followed. There are many coaches out there that follow that path.

He also told me, "You need to recognize your strengths and those of people around you."

Steele certainly did just that when he had to solicit recommendations for the McGlothlin Award.  Now, one might think it best to ask a bunch of high-ranking administrators for those recommendations.

Instead, Steele turned to a former player and student for  an endorsement:   Kara Harrison, who is a second-year student at Virginia Tech.

His mantra, one you might expect from a physics guy who happens to coach:  "I hope I'm giving them more than how to calculate acceleration or how to accelerate a soccer ball."

Should he win, he'll earn a substantial grant.  What would he do with the cash prize?

He told me he'd consider going to see the CERN particle accelerator, located in Switzerland.  This site is to physics what Jerusalem is to some religions.

Me?  I'd have opted for a trip to the beaches of Hawaii, as, I suspect, would many of you.

But, we're not like Jeff Steele.  

Few of us are.