Roddy Lee: High school teacher, coach, and Olympic athlete

9621f166a4fe0cfccc89befff881d2a6In American history there are many examples of talented athletes who later became successful teachers and coaches. One such example is Roderick (Roddy) Lee, a retired high school business teacher and coach who represented the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the 1972 Munich Olympic games.

Roddy was born in the United States, but his family originally came from Taiwan. He grew up in Kensington, Contra Costa County, California, where he attended Kensington Hilltop Elementary, Portola Junior High, and nearby El Cerrito High School. This gifted athlete began running track while a student at El Cerrito. As a high school athlete, “I liked the hurdles best,” he once said. “It was a little more exciting and the races were a little faster.”

Following his high school graduation in 1967, Roddy enrolled in UC Berkeley, where he was a business major and member of the track team. In 1970, he was approached by a Taiwanese official who invited him to compete for Taiwan at the Asian Games in Bangkok. At the time, Roddy, whose Chinese name is Lee Chung-Ping, had dual citizenship with the United States and the Republic of China. Roddy agreed to represent Taiwan. “I hit a hurdle in the highs — I was the favorite there going in,” he said. “In the intermediates, I lost on a lean. But that’s how it goes. I can say that now.” Despite this setback, by the time the games were over, Roddy had won two silver medals.

Roddy also represented Taiwan in the 1972 Olympics, finishing 35th overall in the 110 hurdles. “There were only four guys on the track team,” Roddy said. “A long jumper, a triple jumper, a sprinter, and me. And that was our relay team.” The 1972 Olympics are best remembered for the Palestinian terrorist attack that left eleven Israeli athletes and coaches dead. The games were halted for one day for a memorial service. The rest of the Taiwanese team returned home on its scheduled flight. The one-day delay meant that Roddy was the last Taiwanese athlete left in Munich to carry the national flag for the closing ceremonies.

During his senior year of college, Roddy decided to become a track coach. He earned his degree and teaching credential, then coached track at Kennedy High School for ten years. Then Roddy transferred to his alma mater, El Cerrito High School, where he coached track and golf, taught computer science and physical education, and led his school’s IT team until his retirement.

In his retirement, Roddy is still very much a part of his school. He is actively working on the El Cerrito High School Archiving Project, an effort to preserve the school’s history. The effort is fitting and proper, because he is part of that history. Lee holds a spot in the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Teacher Charmaine Tavares: She Became a Maui Mayor

mayor_soc_cropped_164[1]Many talented educators earn recognition in fields other than education, and Hawaiian politician Charmaine Tavares is a perfect example of this. For fifteen years Charmaine was employed as a teacher, coach, counselor, and athletic director in public schools on Maui. She also served as the mayor of Maui from 2007 to 2011.

Charmaine was born in 1943 in the town of Hana, on the island of Maui. She is one of three children born to Hannibal and Harriet Tavares, and is descended from Japanese and Portuguese immigrants who settled in the islands. As a youngster, Charmaine attended Kaunoa Elementary School and Maul High School, but she graduated from St. Anthony High School. After she finished high school, she enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii system.  The campus is located in Manoa, an affluent neighborhood of Honolulu. There Charmaine earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1967 and completed the requirements for her teaching credential in 1970.

Charmaine’s career in education spanned from 1967 to 1982, when she accepted a position as the program director of the Upward Bound program for Maui Community College. She worked in this capacity from 1983 to 1989. The hardworking teacher served as the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation for Maui County from 1989 to 1995. While there, she was instrumental in initiating the Pals program, an educational and recreational program for local children of working families.

The former educator was elected to the Maui County Council in 1996, and served on the Council until 2006. She was elected Mayor of Maui in 2006, and served in this capacity from 2007 to 2011, becoming well-known for her collaborative leadership style. While in office, Charmaine became an advocate for programs that supported economic growth, transportation, agriculture, and the elderly.

Charmaine Tavares, a true chalkboard champion.

Drag-Racing Champion Al Young and Chalkboard Champion Al Young: They Are One and the Same

$RZLVHDHSo many chalkboard champions have earned recognition in fields other than education, and Al Young is a great example of this. Al taught high school in Seattle, Washington, for thirty-seven years, but he is also famous as a former world champion drag racer.

Alfred John Young, a Chinese American, was born in 1946 in Whittier, California. His father was a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and later a businessman; his mother was an artist and art collector. Al and his two siblings were raised in San Francisco, where Al graduated from George Washington High School. After his high school graduation, he enrolled at the University of Washington where he majored in English literature. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1968 and his master’s degree in 1972.

After his college graduation, Al served for many years as a teacher, tutor, counselor, and advocate for the Upward Bound program. He also founded one of Seattle’s first alternative schools, the Summit K-12 School, in 1972. In the thirty-seven years that this gifted teacher worked in Seattle public schools, Al instructed vocational courses such auto shop and physical education, electives such as film study and Chinese cooking, and rigorous academic courses such as history, AP American government, and AP comparative government and politics. He has also served as the adviser to school teams that participated in the Chrysler Trouble Shooting contests, YMCA Mock trial competitions, Junior State of America conventions, and he has led high school groups to the South Pacific and Washington D. C. for close-up learning. During his teaching career, this remarkable educator also coached volleyball, softball, and basketball.

In the world of drag racing, Al competed in Pro Bracket racing. He has won the American Hot Rod Association World Championship, and between the years of 1976 and 1996, he twice won major drag racing events, and three times was declared the winner of Bremerton Raceway’s Day Fire Nationals. In 1988, Al was inducted into the Firebird Raceway Bracketeer All-Stars in Boise, Idaho. Al has also been involved with the preparation of classic high performance race cars.

Al Young has been honored as one of Seattle Public Schools’ “Heroes in the Classroom” by such entities as Vulcan, Inc., Russell Investments, and the Seattle Seahawks organization.  In 2008, this accomplished chalkboard champion retired from the teaching profession. His wife, Vicki Johnson Young, is also a retired school teacher, having taught in the Seattle public school system for twenty-eight years. As retirees, Al and Vicki have driven throughout the United States and Canada in their 1973 Plymouth Roadrunner Muscle car. Al has also practiced martial arts and actively served as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and worked for the Chinese Historical Society of America.

Maxine Hong Kingston: Chinese American Chalkboard Champion

628x471[1]Many people are familiar with the famous author Maxine Hong Kingston. She wrote The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, a critically-acclaimed autobiographical account in which Maxine details the conflicting cultural messags she received as the daughter of Chinese immigrants growing up in America in the 1950s. She also wrote China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, The Fifth Book of Peace, and Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. But did you know that this talented writer is also a teacher?

Maxine earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1962, and then obtained her teaching credential. She taught high school in the city of Hayward for a year, and then moved to Hawaii where she taught in various positions. From 1970 to 1977 she taught at Mid-Pacific Institute, a private boarding school. In 1990, she was invited to joint the faculty of her alma mater, UC Berkeley, as a senior lecturer in the English department. This remarkable educator was honored by President Bill Clinton with a National Humanities Medal in 1997. She has also recieved a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian American Literary Awards (2006), and a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation (2008).

Mary Tsukamoto: The Chalkboard Champion Imprisoned in an American WWII Internment Camp

maryts1[1]When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan, Mary Tsukamoto was living a quiet life as the wife of a strawberry farmer in a diminutive Japanese-American community in Florin, Northern California. Following the attack, Mary’s quiet life was suddenly turned upside-down. Like 120,000 other persons of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, most of them American citizens, Mary was forced into a relocation camp by the U.S. government because her loyalty to our country was questioned. Mary, her husband, their five-year-old daughter, her elderly in-laws, her teenaged brother and sisters, and other members of her family wound up in Jerome, Arkansas, where they were incarcerated until authorities were convinced this family of farmers posed no threat to national security. While detained in the camp, Mary became part of a prisoner-organized effort to provide meaningful educational opportunities for their imprisoned children. Mary taught speech courses for the high school students and English language classes for the elderly.

When the war was over, Mary returned to college, completed her degree, and became an elementary schoolteacher, one of the first certificated Japanese-American teachers in the United States. Her remarkable story is told in her autobiography, We the People, a volume which unfortunately is now out of print. However, with some effort, it can be found through second-hand book sellers or in some libraries (check WorldCat), and it is well worth the hunt. You can read also read her story in Chalkboard Champions, available through