Teacher, Coach, Friend

Although I went to Saint Stephen’s School for Boys in 1976 to teach English and coach wrestling,  I also became a student of several veteran educators in the school, but especially Jim Osuna.

A teacher, the dean of discipline, and coach of cross country and track, Jim Osuna taught young men by demanding that each of them arrive on time, be fully prepared, and perform at their best. He coached in an all-boys’ school where other sports were revered, but he developed IAC champions in cross country and track and field. He modernized the old asphalt track and founded the Draper Invitational Track Meet that had as its stellar race the steeplechase, an unusual event for high schools.  In those days if you came to a track practice you may have seen him driving his red Karma Gia down the track straightaway with a runner frantically holding onto the T-bar that he had fashioned to its rear bumper. In this way he trained the runner to “stretch his legs”  and realize that he could take three steps between those imposing high hurdles.

Jim built confidence in his runners. At an IAC track and field championship held at Bullis School in the late 1970’s I was shocked to see our star two-mile runner, Greg Bernard, to immediately break away from his main competitors from Georgetown Prep in the championship race. Rushing to Jim, I told him our runner needed to be slowed, but he just said, “It’s okay, we know what we are doing.” Unknown to me, Jim had convinced Greg that he was so well-trained and disciplined that he could sprint out early and break contact with the two runners from Prep. He did and before anyone could react, he was too far ahead to be caught. That two-mile championship was an early example for me of  Jim’s skill at training a boy’s body and mind.

When I asked Jim why the classrooms in the upper school had slate blackboards on three of their  walls, he told me how he and other teachers used them for a week’s lesson. His three boards were covered with information for a week. Those boards, with their different colored chalk lessons, were the precursor of copy machines, and every student of his quickly learned the discipline demanded for the classes’ required notebook. In his demanding exactness for the history notebook, Jim taught his students the discipline needed for scholarship by showing them that they could succeed.

Walking around Jim’s classroom, you would have seen many objects concerned with his world history class. In his youth he had travelled the Nile River Valley on a red Harley Davidson motorcycle and had many examples of ancient civilizations displayed. One object was a stone with Sanskrit carved into it. That is fitting because not only was it a history lesson for his students, but it was also a language that may give us our word mentor. While the Ancient Greek in the Odyssey gives us the trusted adviser of young Telemachus, Mentor, the Sanskrit gives us “man-tar” which means “one who thinks.”

For various reasons,  many of us went to Saint Stephens School for Boys. I went as a teacher and coach, but because of my encounter with Jim Osuna, I gained a mentor, “one who thinks”, and an educator to whom I am indebted to and grateful for.

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