I’m writing this on Friday night, the eve of Connecticut’s state championship football extravaganza. The winners are CIAC champions. I started the week travelling to Cheshire and back, studying all the standards for a 21st century high school at the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), as part of the preparation for ’s self-study during the process for accreditation by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC). I hope you’ve enjoyed your acronym soup.
If I can’t make it to Rentschler Field tomorrow, I’ll be sitting right by this computer, following all the various Twitter feeds that will provide me with a virtual play-by-play, and if the Rams win, to take part in the celebration.
If all goes according to plan, I’ll have started my week under the tutelage of the region’s 21st century learning gurus, and I’ll have finished it sharing a drink with one of the region’s timeless educational gurus, Lou Marinelli.
It’s not the football program’s sustained success itself that makes me such a fan of Coach Marinelli; it’s all the ingredients necessary for that success. And it’s the way his players represent the program that is the best testimony to what success means.
I’ve been coming to NCHS football games since about 1989, when I was working for a PR agency in New Canaan and my friend Frank Henderson, who knows a little bit about coaching himself, started to bring a bunch of us to see his friend Lou’s football games. I’ve sat in the stands and listened to all the backseat coaches criticize every play call that didn’t score a touchdown, and I’ve read all the paeans in local newspapers as the Rams started filling trophy case after trophy case in the 21st century.
And I’ve watched Lou respond to both extremes the same way: get to work on helping this senior find the right college, on helping that underclassman figure out what it takes to succeed in football and beyond.
When I bought my first house in 1996 and the toilet leaked and ruined the bathroom floor, Lou came over, replaced the toilet and the subfloor, and almost like Kemo Sabe, was gone before we had a chance to thank him. When a bunch of us coaches (yes, my faithful students, they once called me coach) had the chance to attend the Big East basketball tournament together, it was Lou who made a one-hour ride home take five hours, thanks to his four-hour detour through a couple of White Plains bars.
If there is something Lou knows as well as inspiring young men to play winning football, it’s how to have fun.
But maybe I’ve taken a little detour here myself, and it’s time to get back to my main point: to talk about the timelessness of Lou’s living philosophy of education. When I asked Kyle Duncan, one of the captains of the ’08 championship team, to tell me about Coach Marinelli, he said, “He knows when it’s the right time to say something, and when the time comes he always says exactly the right thing.” Maybe it’s this combination of timing and wisdom that leads so many of his players to describe him as inspirational.
I know that the whole inspirational thing made me pester Tony Pavia about having professional development days dedicated to Lou’s way of doing things. Because as much as we talk about innovative teaching strategies and new educational technologies and their impacts on student learning, nothing can replace inspiration and motivation, as a means to improve student achievement.
The problem is, the more we value technique, the more we value technology, the less we value the power of inspiration. If we teachers were to hear from the master coaches as much as we hear from the so-called instructional experts, I think you’d see a little more energy, a little more fun, and a little more achievement in our schools.
Whether or not Lou’s team won on Saturday is beyond the point, as far as this post is concerned. His players who are in my classes now will bring into the room the same work and personal ethic that the last fifteen years have taught me to expect from NCHS football players. The football team leaders – the Ernie Greywaczes, the John Marinellis, the Joe Costigans, heck, too many to name – will continue to fight problems like bullying because leadership in football has taught them to be strong enough to make their environments inclusive.
If I had a choice between learning my craft of teaching English from some educational seminar or from Lou Marinelli, I’d choose Lou every time. And not just because his course might include a four hour detour through a few bars in White Plains.