Chalkboard Champion and Olympic Athlete Alma Wilford Richards

Richards_Alma_crop-150x150[1]With so much television coverage of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi this week, it seems natural to highlight an outstanding educator who was also an Olympic champion. One such chalkboard champion was Alma Wilford Richards, a teacher from Venice, California, who won an Olympic Gold Medal in the running high jump event in 1912.

Alma was born in Parowan, Iron County, Utah, on February 20, 1890. He was the ninth of ten children born to Mormon pioneer parents. The impulsive farm boy quit school in the eighth grade to explore the world. Not long after, he met Thomas Trueblood, a Native American professor from Michigan State University, who persuaded the dropout to return to school. Alma began his track and field career while attending the Murdock Academy, a private high school located in Beaver, Utah. He later claimed that his exceptional skills at running and jumping came from chasing jackrabbits in the fields near his home on the farm.

After a successful high school athletic career, the 6’2″, 200-pound graduate enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he met Coach Eugene Roberts. One day, the older man saw the lanky teenager playing basketball, and asked him to jump over a six-foot-high bar. Alma accomplished the task easily. Believing that Alma had the potential to earn an Olympic medal, the coach raised the necessary funds to pay for his student to attend the 1912 trials in Chicago. There Alma, an unknown, defeated American champion George Horine in the final, earning himself a berth as an alternate on the American Olympic team. Later that year, at the Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden, Alma surprised the international athletic community when he won the gold. “Nothing ever will erase that memory,” Alma once recalled, “when King Gustav stepped forward to place the gold medal around my neck while the Stars and Stripes rose to the top of the highest flag pole and the band played the Star Spangled Banner.”

Alma graduated with honors from BYU the next year, and from Cornell University in 1917. Competing in the Olympics had boosted his self-confidence, and whereas he was once just a marginal student, his aptitude and attitude had skyrocketed. He thrived at Cornell, in the classroom and on the track, becoming a National AAU High Jump champion and expanding his repertoire to include competitions in the decathlon. By the time the National AAU Championships were held at the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1915, Alma had become the national decathlon champion, finishing more than 500 points ahead of Avery Brundage, who would later become the head of the International Olympic Committee. Alma was, by far, the best American decathlon competitor and the best high jumper entered in the Olympic Games in 1916. He was favored to win two gold medals, but history intervened. Those games were never held; they were canceled when World War I broke out.

images[6]Throughout his entire athletic career, Alma won more than 245 medals and trophies in track and field events worldwide. As a 29-year-old soldier in World War I, he competed at the 1919 American Expeditionary Force Games in Paris, becoming the athlete to win the highest number of points in the competition.

After graduating with honors from Cornell, Alma attended graduate school at Stanford University in California, and then he enrolled in law school at the University of Southern California. He earned his law degree and passed the bar, but decided to pursue a career in education instead. To those who knew him, this decision came as no surprise. If it hadn’t been for great teachers, he always said, he would never have found his way. Alma became a science teacher at Venice High School in Los Angeles, where he was employed for 32 years until he retired.

Alma Richards passed away on April 3, 1963, and is interred in the Parowan Cemetery in Utah. The gifted athlete and remarkable educator has since been inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame, the Helms Hall of Fame, the Brigham Young University Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.

“Great Floridian” Chloe Merrick Reed: The Chalkboard Champion Who Taught Emancipated Slaves

n035265[1]In times of social and political turbulence, it is often the teachers who help with transition. Such is the case for Chloe Merrick Reed, a teacher from the Civil War period who opened a school for newly emancipated slaves.

Chloe was born in Syracuse, New York, on April 18, 1832. She became a teacher in Syracuse public schools, where she worked from 1854 to 1856. In 1863, while the Civil War was still raging, this intrepid teacher traveled to Fernandina, Florida, where she opened a school on Amelia Island to educate fifty-five of the children of slaves who had been liberated by the Union Army. Later she opened a home for orphans there. She was one of the first teachers to work with the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency that was established to protect and assist newly-emancipated African Americans. Chloe’s work on Amelia Island is well documented. She is the only educator cited by name in Florida’s monthly education reports to the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.

On August 10, 1869, Chloe married Harrison M. Reed, who served as the governor of Florida from 1868 to 1873. Reed was the ninth governor of the state. While First Lady of Florida, Chloe campaigned for legislation that would improve education, provide aid to the poor, and address other pressing social issues. The couple had one child, a boy they named Harrison Merrick Reed.

Chloe Merrick Reed passed away on August, 5, 1897. In 2000, this remarkable teacher’s name was added to the list of “Great Floridians,” a program which recognizes men and women who served their state through philanthropy, public service, or personal or professional service, and who have enhanced the lives of Florida’s citizens.

Area Newspaper Publishes Story About Terry Lee Marzell

COM_W_PEOPLE_0208c[1]A very nice article as published today in the Press Enterprise about my work in the school library.  I am thrilled with this very flattering story written by reporter Stephen Wall, since I take every opportunity I can to praise our nation’s hardworking and dedicated teachers. The article mentions my book, Chalkboard Champions, published by Wheatmark in 2012. If you would like to check it out, here is the link: Inland Area Press Enterprise.

Torin Nathaniel Smith: The New York Giants Player Who Became a Junior High School Geography Teacher

1dallas cowboys games giants[1]Many chalkboard champions have made a name for themselves in professions other than education. Such is the case with Torin Nathaniel Smith, a junior high school geography teacher who is also a former professional football player.

Torin was born on September 30, 1961. He attended Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona. In 1985, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology from Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. While in college, Torin played for the Hampton Pirates as a defensive end, defensive tackle, and linebacker. One year he played for the Pensacola Stars, a semi-pro team that no longer exists. In 1987, Torin made his professional debut in the National Football League as a defensive end with the New York Giants. It makes sense that he would play that position, as he is a hefty man, measuring 6’4″ in height and weighing in at 230 pounds. Torin played for the Giants for one year.

Before becoming a school teacher, Torin worked extensively mentoring juvenile delinquents and emotionally disturbed teenagers. He did a stint as a substitute high school teacher and worked as a body guard at rock concerts, but then accepted a position as a geography and civics teacher at J. H. Workman Middle School in Pensacola, Florida. He also served as the Head Coach for the Workman Middle School Lady Jags Basketball Team and Track Club. During the 2011-2012 school year, the Lady Jags Basketball Team went undefeated (10-0) and won the Escambia County Middle School Basketball Championship. That same year, the Lady Jags Track Club won the Escambia County Middle School Track Championship.

Well done, Torin!

The Adventurous Teacher Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne

ajaxhelper[1]Alaska’s history abounds in stories about lionhearted pioneers who were also chalkboard champions. One such teacher was Crystal Brilliant Snow Jenne.

Crystal Jenne was born on May 30, 1884, in Sonora, California. In 1887, when only three years old, she emigrated to the Alaska Territory with her parents, who worked as a troupe of actors who entertained Alaska’s gold miners. When her father joined the Klondike Gold Rush, the family moved to Circle City, where her father built an opera house. At one point, Crystal’s father discovered gold, so the family moved to Seattle, Washington. Unfortunately, her father lost his investments, and so the Snows returned to the Alaska Territory.

For a number of years, Crystal’s mother tutored her, but the child was ten years old before she was enrolled in school for the first time. She attended an Alaskan mission school, where she learned “singing, praying, and knitting.” When the family moved to Juneau, Crystal was sixteen. Despite her age, she was placed in a fifth grade class. Being behind in formal education did not stop Crystal from achieving,  however. She graduated from Juneau High School in 1905 at the age of twenty-one, the only member of her class.

Following her high school graduation, Crystal enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in music. She also earned a teaching certificate. After her college graduation, Crystal taught in Paso Robles, California. From 1907 to 1908, Crystal taught school in Douglas, Alaska. A talented musician, Crystal performed creekside concerts for gold miners in the Alaska and Yukon Territories when she was not in the classroom.

Always thirsty for knowledge, the venturesome teacher attended the Spencerian Commercial School in Cleveland, Ohio, where she studied business and shorthand. Following her graduation from business school, Crystal returned to Alaska, where she continued her career in education, teaching in Skagway, Sitka, and the Mendenhall Valley, and also at her alma mater, Juneau High School.

In 1916, Crystal married Dr. Charles Percival Jenne, a Juneau dentist, and the couple had three children. Their daughter, Corrine Bertha, was born in 1918; their second child, Charles Jacob, was born in 1919; and their daughter, Phyllis Mae, was born in 1921. Even after she started her family, Crystal continued to teach and give concerts. In 1923, she performed her mother’s composition, Alaska and the U.S.A., for President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding, during their visit to Juneau.

Charles Jenne passed away in 1938. The next year, Crystal published a volume of historical poetry.Meanwhile, she pursued community activities, participating in church choirs, running a flower shop, and continuing with her teaching career. In 1940, this remarkable educator was elected to the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives on the Democratic ticket. She was the first woman to run for representative in the Alaska Legislature. She served several terms representing the First District of Southeast Alaska.

During her lifetime, Crystal was a member of the Alaska Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Democratic Women’s Club, the Juneau Women’s Club, and the National Business and Professional Women’s Club. She passed away on June 5, 1969, at the Sitka Pioneer Home.