High School Math Teacher and Four-Sport Coach Larry Haws: Also a Member of the Minnesota House of Representatives

LarryHaws640[1]Often times talented educaters go on to become very successful politicians. Such is the case with Larry William Haws, a high school math teacher and four-sport coach who was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Larry was born January 12, 1940, in the southwestern Minnesota town of Tracy. After he graduated from Mankato Loyola High School, he enrolled at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Biology. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and another in biology from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

After his college graduation, Larry taught at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. He was also a youth coach for five sports: wrestling, track and field, cross-country, football, and soccer. He left his position at the high school to join the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, where he worked for 32 years. In his position there, Larry coached at both the high school and collegiate levels, where he took several teams to state and national championships. “My claim to fame,” Larry once remarked, “was I coached the reformatory wrestling team for three years. I said we weren’t very good, but we had a killer instinct.”

Larry was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in a 2005 special election held to replace Representative Joe Opatz, who had resigned to become the interim president of Central Lakes College in Brainerd. Larry had coached Opatz in wrestling when Opatz was a student. A Democrat, Larry represented District 15B in the north central part of the state. The former teacher was re-elected in 2006 and 2008. While in the House, one of the committees Larry worked on was the committee for higher education. He was also a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Finance for School District 742. Of his work in the legislature, Larry once remarked that he was proud of the work he accomplished with Governor Tim Pawlenty and Representative Dan Severson in 2007. The group passed a major veterans benefits bill on behalf of Viet Nam veterans. Many of these veterans, recalled Larry, had been youngsters he had coached when they were children.

This remarkable educator and politician was diagnosed with brain cancer in January, 2011. He passed away on March  27, 2012.

Besse Cooper: The Tennessee-born Chalkboard Champion Whose Longevity Set a World Record

BesseCooper120612[1]Many educators have earned notoriety for accomplishments outside the field of education. Such is the case with Besse Cooper, a retired school teacher who was famous as the oldest living person in the world until she passed away on June 21, 2011.

Besse was born on August 26, 1896, in Sullivan County, Tennessee. She was the third of eight children born to Richard Brown and Angeline Berry. When she was only five years old,  Besse used to walk from her family’s home to school in order to make sure one of her brothers got to class. Her time in  the classroom developed into a deep appreciation for school. All of her life, even at a young age, she was an avid reader.

In 1916, Besse graduated from East Tennesee State Normal School, an insitution now known as East Tennesse State University.  “Besse Cooper is one of those remarkable stories of East Tennessee State and East  Tennessee as a region,” remarked Robert Plummer, Executive Director for the East Tennessee State Universtiy Allumni Association. “She finished in 1916 and was one of those early folks that were part of an  educational revolution that was at work in Tennessee.” She wore her class ring 92 years, until it had to be removed for health reasons.

Nineteen-year-old Besse was first employed as a school teacher in Johnson  City, Tennessee. When she was told she could earn a better salary, she moved to Between, Georgia, in 1917, where she taught until 1929.

Besse married Luther Cooper in 1924, and the couple established a farm. There Besse and Luther raised their four children. After her husband died, Besse lived on the farm until 2001, when, at the age of 105, she decided to move into a nursing home. She spent her final years in Monroe, Georgia, where she passed away on December 4, 2012. At the time of her death, it was verified by the Guiness Book of World Records that Besse was the oldest living person in the world, and one of only eight people to have lived to the age of 116. Her longevity, she once remarked, was the result of “minding her own business” and avoiding junk food.

After her death, a bridge on New Hope Church Road in the town of Between was named Besse Brown Cooper Bridge in her honor.

Gwynneth Hardesty Coogan: Chalkboard Champion and Olympic Athlete

coogan[1]The Olympic Games in Sochi have dominated the news in the past week, so perhaps this is a great time to honor our nation’s educators who are also Olympic athletes. One such teacher is Gwynneth Hardesty Coogan, a talented educator who also happens to be a two-time Olympic athlete.

Gwynneth was born on August 21, 1965, in Trenton, New Jersey. As a youngster, Gwynneth attended Phillips Exeter Academy for two years, where she graduated in 1983. There she played both field hockey and squash. After her graduation from high school, she enrolled in Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, earning her bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1987, and her doctorate in math from the University of Colorado in 1999, working primarily in number theory. She did post-doctorate work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

During her years at Smith, Gwynneth took up running, and won the NCAA Division III title in the 3,000 meters two times. She qualified for the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona, Spain, where she competed in the 10,000 meter race. Four years later, she was an alternate for the women’s marathon for the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. She is married to fellow Olympian Mark Coogan.

Gwynneth’s first teaching experience was at Hood College, but she  currently teaches math at Phillips Exeter Academy. At Phillips Exeter, Gwynneth is the director of the Exeter Mathematics Institute, and serves as the Head Coach of the girls varsity cross country team, in addition to her roles as dormitory adviser and mathematics instructor. She was the first Smith Family Instructor of Mathematics from 2007 to 2013, and she received a Brown Award for her teaching in 2011.

Way to go, Gwynneth!

Special Education Teacher David Allen Johnson: Chalkboard Champion and Olympic Athlete

Dave-Johnson640[1]Since the Olympic Games in Sochi have dominated the news the past week, now is a great time to honor our chalkboard champions who are also accomplished Olympic athletes. One such individual is David Allen Johnson, a special education teacher from Oregon who earned a bronze medal in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Dave was born on April 7, 1963, in North Dakota. He grew up in Missoula, Montana, where he attended CS Porter Elementary School, Sentinel High School, and Big Sky High School. In 1980, Dave’s family moved to Corvallis, Oregon. Dave was enrolled in Crescent Valley High School, where he graduated in 1981.

Even as a child, Dave was exceptionally fit and coordinated and lifted weights from a young age. He played Little League baseball and experimented with boxing. During his adolescence, however, Dave was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease in both knees, a condition that kept him from participating in high school sports. Despite his condition, during his junior high year, he excelled in track, touch football, and basketball.

In his years in high school, Dave admits that he made some bad choices. “Basically, I just didn’t have a lot to do. I just got into trouble,” he once said. “There were ten of us who did things together a lot. We called ourselves the West Side Gang. We didn’t know what we doing. We just wanted to call ourselves something. We had nothing to do.” With these friends, Dave was involved in a series of petty thefts, mostly stealing soda pop and beer from local distributors, but there were also some home burglaries. One of the boys was caught and informed on the rest. When Dave went to the Olympic Games in 1992, he detailed his experiences to reporters, and later used the material for his book and speaking tour as an example on how a teenager could turn his life around.

After high school, Dave enrolled at Azuza Pacific University, a private Christian college located in Azuza, California. While there, he started to compete in decathlon events. At 6’4″, he put his innate abilities and his constant physical training to use and began setting records. Dave became a four-time national champion, and competed in the Olympic trials four times. He earned a berth on the US Olympic Team twice, first in 1988, and then again in 1992. During the 1992 competition, Dave suffered a stress fracture in his left foot on the first day of events. Despite his injury, he put on shoes that were two sizes too big, laced them up tightly, and completed anyway. Astonishingly, he won a bronze medal in the pole vault. Dave retired from competitive sports in 1997.

Dave earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1986, and completed the requirements for his master’s degree in special education in 2003. He accepted his first teaching position in 1998 as a special education resource teacher at Sierra Vista Middle School in Covina, California. In his year and a half there, Dave also served as the Head Coach for track and the Assistant Coach for football. For the next six years, Dave was a special education teacher, Head Track Coach, and Assistant Football Coach at West Albany High School in Albany, Oregon. He then spent two years as an Assistant Principal and Director of Athletics at Jefferson High School in Jefferson, Oregon, followed by a two-year stint as the Athletic Director at South Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. In June 2009, Dave was named as the Athletic Director of  Corban University, a small private college in Salem.

After three and a half years at Corban, Dave left the field of education to become a motivational speaker. He also wrote the autobiographical book Aim High – An Olympic Decathlete’s Inspiring Story, with Verne Becker. This chalkboard champion and Olympic athlete was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. Currently, Dave serves on the local Salem Keizer Education Foundation Board, raising much-needed funding for schools and teachers. He also does volunteer coaching with his local Salem Track Club, a youth track and field organization.



Andre Lamar Phillips: Olympic Gold Medalist and Chalkboard Champion

bilde[1]With the Olympics in Sochi dominating the news this week, now would be a good time to remember our chalkboard champions who were also Olympic athletes. One such educator is Andre Lamar Phillips, a track and field athlete who is best known for earning a gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1988 Olympic Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Andre was born on September 5, 1959, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a teenager, he attended Silver Creek High School in San Jose, California. As a student there, the 6’2″, 185-pound athlete won the CIF California State Meet in the 300 low hurdles in 1977, the year he graduated. Andre attended first San Jose Junior College, and then the University of California at Los Angeles. While there, he won the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships in 1981, the year he graduated.

Phillips_Andre_01[1]In 1983, the intrepid Andre finished fifth in the 400-meter hurdles at the first-ever World Athletics Championships. In 1985, he won his only US National Championship title. He garnered the IAAF World Cup the same year. Despite these wins, Andre spent most of his career in the shadow of his idol, Edwin Moses, frequently coming in second during Edwin’s unparallelled winning streak. He managed to beat Edwin once, though, at the 1988 Olympic Games. There Andre ran his personal best, 47.19, to win a gold medal, beating second-place Amadou Dia Ba from Senegal by just 0.04 of a second. Although Edwin ran his fastest Olympic final in that match, he finished third. Andre’s winthat day set an Olympic record, and at the time, was considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. In 2009, this chalkboard champion was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

After he retired as an athlete, Andre pursued a career in education. He worked as a substitute teacher in Stockton while he completing the requirements for his teaching credential. Then he taught special education at Stagg High for eight years. He said he wanted to be a role model for kids, especially ninth graders, who needed help transitioning from elementary to high school. “I try to instill and motivate these kids that it’s important to get their education,” Andre once said. “Many don’t see the benefits of it their freshman and sophomore years. They get so behind with their credits that by the time they wake up their junior year, they think, ‘What can I do?’ My challenge is to motivate them early.”

Andre Lamar Phillips: Olympic gold medalist and chalkboard champion.