Two People Who Changed My Path
James LeMon, Executive Director of Community, Parent and School Outreach
From a cafeteria worker to a football coach, you never know who will be that person that will impact a child and change their lives.
Over the years I’ve been asked a lot about why or how I ended up becoming a teacher, educator, principal, and social worker. I sit back often and think a lot about that question.
It goes back to growing up. I was the youngest of six. I had five older sisters and I had great parents, we just didn’t have a lot of resources. Luckily, in my school and my community there were a lot of people that really wrapped their arms around me and my siblings since my family had to work.
My parents had to work a lot but there were enough people around so my needs were always met.
I think about a couple people that really made a difference for me growing up. One lady was Miss Sacco. She was our cafeteria worker and she would always give me free food in the morning before school and at lunchtime if I didn’t have enough money. Things like that I don’t forget and to this day she and I are close and I know her family and her children very well.
Another person I think that made a huge impact on me was my high school teacher and coach named Scott Monticalvo. He never gave up on kids and it wasn’t just me - it was all of my friends. He made sure he had high expectations for us every day. Just the character that he exuded every day and his expectations made a big difference on us and particularly myself. He’s still my mentor to this day. He’s retired now but I still have a lot of chances to talk to him to contact him. I just think about him and the thousands of kids he has impacted. He actually ended up leaving our school, Washington High School, to go to another school. It was such a big loss because he was just a wonderful coach, teacher, and person in our school community. He’s just a phenomenal individual.
It was my 10th grade year in the summer and we had non-mandatory football practices. “Non-mandatory” is the keyword which means you didn’t have to go. So I didn’t go and he found out the next day that I was just hanging out with some friends so he suspended me for the first game of the year. I was not happy because I thought I was “the man” or whatever. At the second game I was back deep on the kickoff and I ran the kickoff back for a touchdown and came off the field and he and he just kind of winked at me and I smiled at him. But it was just the point that all of my teammates were there at that summer practice and he questioned why I couldn’t be there as a supporter of my team?
At another game, I think I might have had three interceptions and a couple of touchdowns. After the game his wife said, “Hey James that was a great game you had.” And I just said, “you know the coach don’t think so.” She went back and told him what I said and he came over to me and he almost ripped my head off. He said, “When you learn how to block for your teammates then I’ll give you some positive recognition but you missed two blocks that cost us two touchdowns.” I was a wide receiver and I was like - wow. From that point on I became the best blocker in high school and at West Virginia University. I could have five touchdowns and I would never say anything. I just did my job and made sure that I blocked for everybody else too. That stuck with me. I’ll never forgot those two incidents.
When I think back on my childhood - again I had great parents but we just didn’t have a lot of resources.
There would be times I may not have eaten the night before or may not have slept because of whatever reason. There weren’t many people that ever asked me about that so I never told anyone what I may have been experiencing. I think that made a big impact on me. Again, I have five older sisters and my parents had to work so they were gone pretty much most of the time. A lot of times I would stay over at one of my friend’s house who is one of my best friends still today. But they were like a second family to me. I stayed at their house probably as much as I stayed at my own house.
So when you talk about a community I think that’s what it’s about.
It’s not just the school and everybody working together supporting our kids and I think that’s very important for all of us to remember.
It takes a village to raise kids and we all have to keep that in mind because you never know who’s going to be that person who is going to impact a child and change their lives.
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