While students rush to locker rooms after school to change into athletic gear, three out of over 200 Palo Alto High School teachers exchange their button downs for T-shirts and their sensible leather shoes for sneakers, then rush to sports fields for hours of practice. They dedicate countless after school and weekend hours to coach, transport athletes to games and organize high school sports teams, all for their love of the sport, despite earning a meager stipend.
You relate to players as players and you relate to students as students and although they’re the same kids, perhaps the context is enough that the relationship you have with students and how you deal with it is different.
History Teacher and JV Soccer Coach
Those three teachers — Mr. Bungarden, Mr. Foug and Mr. Lim — may be passed off as normal educators, but they play a pivotal role in students’ sports education outside of class. Teacher-coaches are given the opportunity to see their students and players develop personally, academically and athletically over the course of four years. The experience of coaching is frustrating, exciting at times but consistently rewarding. Throughout the ups and downs of each season, these coaches have remained passionate about their sport and loyal to their team.
Popular among students for his collection of quirky ties, history teacher Jack Bungarden is also known for being the Paly junior varsity (JV) boys soccer coach for Paly.
Due to his previous experience in coaching a youth soccer team, Bungarden was asked to coach for Paly. Although his personal soccer experience prior to coaching had been limited to pick-up soccer, he gained interest in the sport when his young son started playing.
When he first began coaching, Bungarden found that his years of teaching had helped him develop his coaching style and tactics.
“There are things you do as a teacher that sometimes transfer directly, [and] sometimes transfer indirectly, but nonetheless are useful,” Bungarden said.
On top of coaching, Bungarden teaches Advanced Placement United States History, as well as United States Government for the Social Justice Pathway program. As most of his students are juniors, he has not had the opportunity to coach many of them. However, for those he has coached and taught, he has found that his interactions in the classroom and on the field with them has been very different.
“You relate to players as players and you relate to students as students and although they’re the same kids, perhaps the context is enough that the relationship you have with students and how you deal with it is different,” Bungarden said.
Unlike varsity coaches, Bungarden faces the challenge of having an almost completely new roster with each new season. While almost all players have experience from playing in outside clubs, forming a cohesive team with a group of players, most of whom have never played with each other, is an annual obstacle that Bungarden must tackle.
“In a high school setting, we have a relatively short season,” Bungarden said. “Most of the players are playing year-round with their clubs, except when they step out for high school. It’s getting kids, many of whom have not played together, to play together as a team in a fairly short season.”
Despite these difficulties, Bungarden relishes the opportunity to watch his players grow and develop together as a team throughout the course of the season.
“If the team is a good team, and by a good team I mean they get along well, and they enjoy playing with each other, and they do well, then it’s a lot of fun to watch them enjoy playing well together,” Bungarden said.
A Palo Alto native, United States Government and Contemporary World History teacher Stephen Foug has coached Paly football for over a decade.
“I started coaching football before I started teaching,” Foug said. “I wasn’t much of a player, but I liked the sport and the competition.”
Foug started coaching football in 1994 as a college student at the University of Michigan, where he volunteered at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. After a few years, he moved back to California and started coaching at Paly.
“A friend of mine had put a notice in the newspaper that they needed a JV head coach,” Foug said. ‘I didn’t get [the position because] I wasn’t very experienced, which, looking back, I wouldn’t have hired myself either, but I did get a job as a varsity assistant back then for [former varsity coach] Earl Hansen.”
As a football coach, Foug’s job has been a tumultuous experience consisting of constantly changing positions, players and fellow coaches. Over the years, he has built on his football experience by switching from coaching specific positions, to defensive coordinator and back to coaching specific positions.
Coaching football here allows me to know more kids, ones that I would not normally meet in a classroom.
History Teacher and Football Assistant Coach
Balancing teaching with coaching has not been easy, especially when football involves an incredible amount of dedication both on and off the field. The extra 20 to 25 hours of work per week has challenged Foug to balance his responsibilities of coaching a team while still being dedicated to his career as a teacher.
“There have been times where I’ve been burned out, either on football, or on teaching, or on both, and there have been years where it was a real grind to get through a whole season.” Foug said. “You’re looking at after a day of school, changing, getting out to practice, and going to practice for three hours.”
However, after many years of coaching, Foug has learned to reach a healthy equilibrium between his teaching and coaching.
“Right now I’m a varsity assistant coach, and I coach [tight ends and defensive ends], which is less responsibility than what I’ve had in the past, and I wanted that,” Foug said.
Reaping the rewards of lengthy and grueling practices during their Friday night games has been a major driving factor behind Foug’s motivation to coach.
“The games on Friday nights [are my favorite part of coaching],” Foug said. “Those are fun no matter what, seeing if all your preparation paid off. It is great to see these players dig deep, compete, scratch out a win [and] put their effort into it.”
Despite the challenges with balancing two major obligations, Foug feels that coaching football has undeniably benefitted his life.
“Coaching football here allows me to know more kids, ones that I would not normally meet in a classroom,” Foug said. “In the classroom, the number one motivator is for them to get a good grade and achieve individual success. With a team sport, it is team success. You can challenge them, [and] they can respond.”
Badminton has been an inherent part of math teacher Arne Lim’s life for over 40 years. He got his first taste of the sport in the 1970s as a sixth grader at Wilbur Middle School, currently known as Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. Now, as a badminton coach at Paly, he hopes to pass down his lifelong passion for the sport to his own students and share the joy that badminton has brought him.
“The reason I got interested in it was because it was a net sport that didn’t require a lot of physical strength, it required more finesse and some power and technique,” Lim said.
Lim’s first coaching opportunity was at his alma mater, Palo Alto High School, where he coached the badminton teams with his former coach, Leonard Hill, from 1985 to 1992.
“We had some fabulous teams,” Lim said. “At that time, [badminton] was really growing as a sport here on the West Coast. We had a string of victories and championships. It was always Gunn and Paly, so it was a great rivalry.”
When Lim became a teacher advisor in 1992, he stopped coaching full-time, only substituting occasionally. However, after stepping in for the head coach Jake Halas a few years ago, Lim felt the pull towards coaching, and has been ever since.
Coaches oftentimes don’t see [players] as students, but I get to see both, and that’s wonderful.
Math Teacher and Badminton Coach
“A couple of years ago, [Halas] asked me to take over for three days, and I got hooked again,” Lim said. “It was a lot of cleaning up, but I really enjoyed coaching again, and I had forgotten how much I had missed it.”
Like other teacher coaches, balancing his work with coaching has not been simple. On top of the several-hour-long practices and games, the construction of the new gym has caused practices for the badminton team to be relocated to Henry M. Gunn High School, forcing Lim to readjust his work habits to fit the practice and game time of the team.
“Time outside of the school schedule is oftentimes precious, not just for the coaches but certainly for the students too,” Lim said. “Usually, I would go home, eat dinner, then I would work at night for another three or four hours at home. It was difficult for me to adjust at first. I got into the rhythm, but it was difficult for my family, specifically for my wife, but if it’s important to you, you make it work, and so I did.”
However, Lim cherishes the opportunity that coaching has given him to view his students in a different light.
“Coaches oftentimes don’t see [players] as students, but I get to see both, and that’s wonderful,” Lim said. “It makes me a resource where I’m a safe person [for students to] ask me any questions for anything. To be able to talk to them about life is really truly wonderful, and it’s one of the things that I really relish.”
Although it’s not a simple job, Lim encourages teachers to coach high school sports to gain the opportunity to develop invaluable lifelong relationships and see their students in a different light.
“You get to see people not just as a math student, or a social studies student, or a science student, but you see them as a person,” Lim said. “You gain empathy, you gain trust, and you forge the relationships that neither of you will forget for a really long time.”
Since his days as a student at Paly, history teacher DJ Shelton has dreamed of a lacrosse team at Paly; now, as the coach of the varsity lacrosse team, his dreams have finally become reality.
“I always wanted to coach for Paly; it was kind of my dream,” Shelton said. “I tried to get a team started when I went here, but it never happened. In 2010, when I was still in college, Paly got a team, but I knew that I really wanted to come back and coach here.”
Shelton’s dreams of coaching for Paly stemmed from not only his passion for the sport, but also his desire to give back to the community in which he grew up in.
“Other than freshman football, I never played sports for Paly, so even though I felt like a jock per say, I never actually had that connection to the school athletics and I really wanted that,” Shelton said. “I knew that by coaching, I would finally have that and I could give back to the community.”
His love for coaching began in eighth grade at a summer camp, where he was responsible for teaching third and fourth graders the basics of lacrosse. By the time he was a senior at Paly, he a full-fledged coach, leading a seventh grade youth team. In college, he moved on to coach a travel lacrosse team. Shelton has continued to coach for his travel team on top of his job as the coach for the Paly varsity lacrosse team.
“Having seen kids in middle school who were up to my waist, now in high school looking at me eye-to-eye and seeing what they’ve accomplished in four or five years is pretty remarkable,” Shelton said. “[A lot of coaches] never really get a long relationship, but I feel like I’ve known some of these kids since they were in sixth, seventh grade. I know their families, I know their siblings, and it makes it a much more personable experience when I’m coaching a person.”
On top of creating lasting bonds with his players, Shelton also believes that lacrosse serves a purpose in shaping his players’ identities and teaching them important qualities.
“[My favorite part about coaching is] giving kids an outlet for passion, which was lacrosse for me,” Shelton said. “I was definitely not a straight-A student, but by knowing that I was successful in other places in the world gave me a sense of worth. [Sports help with] organization, intrinsic motivation, and getting kids to believe in themselves.”
Shelton credits his motivation to become a coach to two of his former lacrosse coaches, both of whom shaped him to be the coach he is today. While his eighth grade lacrosse coach, with whom he is still friends with today, instilled a sense of devotion to the sport, his college lacrosse coach showed him that the virtues that he taught as a coach were far more important than being well-liked.
“My college lacrosse coach was an unbelievable motivator, and it’s ironic because he and I are not friends by any means,” Shelton said. “But the time that I spent with him, the work ethic I got from him, and the understanding of myself showed me that you don’t have to be friends with your coach to respect or appreciate them.”
Shelton believes that the life lessons that players learn throughout the year greatly outweigh the athletic skills that the sport may teach.
“I don’t really care, at the end of the season, necessarily how well you do [because] I don’t measure my season by that,” Shelton said. “If I can start with a group of kids that’s mixed in terms of how much time they’re putting into it outside of practice, and by the end of the season I have a really self-driven group, [then I’m happy].”
As the newly appointed head coach of the Paly varsity football team, as well as a newly hired substitute teacher for the Palo Alto Unified School District, Danny Sullivan is a recent addition to the Paly community.
“An opportunity to become a head coach is something that [coaches] always dream for, and any coach who’s coaching wants to be a head coach, so I had that opportunity to test it out,” Sullivan said. “I was hired, and we’re off and running.”
On top of his responsibilities as head coach and a substitute teacher, Sullivan is also balancing his own education.
“I’m trying to pursue my final [teaching] credential, so still being in somewhat school and studying for exams and whatnot is something to balance, but I made sure that I knew the stress and time it took for football season that kind of pushed as much as I could aside until after the season,” Sullivan said.
In the future, Sullivan hopes to obtain a job at Paly teaching mathematics and physical education. His experience with teaching his own players as a substitute teacher at Paly has already helped him strengthen his bonds with his players and set behavioral expectations both on and off the field.
“[A connection with students both in the classroom and on the field] is good to have because they know how they’re supposed to act in a classroom, which helps towards the field,” Sullivan said. “I think the same goes for me, but I am a little more stern with them than I may be with anyone else because we expect them to do great things in the classroom as well as the field.”
His experience as a substitute teacher has taught him how to be more patient as well as how to properly prepare for a game. Despite these practical benefits, Sullivan’s favorite part of coaching and teaching has been challenging his students and players in different environments.
“I just love hanging out with the kids and challenging them,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s the biggest part of it. There are definitely trials and tribulations that come with challenging them but it’s part of also them growing up as well, so it’s fun to watch.”