As I catch up on what I missed during two weeks abroad (swine flu - lots of talk on the BBC but not much in Italy), I came across this Danny Westneat column in the Times about an inspirational guidance counselor/coach at Bailey Gatzert Elementary. Jamshid Khajavi, a refugee from Ethopia in 2005, has led kids at BG on a sports journey of inspiration. For the 15th (!) year in a row, they were first in the elementary division of stair-climbing at a regular event held downtown. From the story:
"Last week, the Bailey Gatzert Ultimate Frisbee team won what is billed as the largest youth Frisbee tournament in the world, Spring Reign, held in Burlington, Skagit County. It won playing in the middle-school division, even though it is a K-5 elementary school.
I heard about this from a parent on the team Gatzert beat in the finals. She wrote: "Our team was soundly thrashed by this completely unknown team, all of whose girls (wore) headscarves and long skirts. One of them was barefoot. Last week, the Bailey Gatzert Ultimate Frisbee team won what is billed as the largest youth Frisbee tournament in the world, Spring Reign, held in Burlington, Skagit County. It won playing in the middle-school division, even though it is a K-5 elementary school."
Winning in the middle school division (in the C class) as an elementary team? And they've won 4 of the past 7 tournaments.
"The reason Gatzert isn't more known is that it can't afford the travel fees of playing in the regular league season. With the exception of some scrimmages against other Seattle schools, mostly the Gatzert kids just play one another."
Why does the coach, a marathon runner himself, think they are so successful?
"More than 90 percent of the school's students are poor enough to qualify for the free-lunch program. Khajavi guesses half his Frisbee team is homeless at any given time, meaning they're in and out of shelters or transitional housing.
"When you're not sure where you're going to sleep at night, a Frisbee team can become a form of survival," he said. "The games have intense meaning to them."
How does he do it?
"At Gatzert, they have cut back on the librarian and music positions. Other schools have cut recess. Khajavi has had his coaching stipends eliminated — he kept doing it for free — and he's keenly aware his ideas are not in step with the test-focused, sit-at-your-desks drill-academy model.
I ask him about this, and even at 5-foot-6 he manages to rise up imposingly.
"What kind of society do we want to be?" he says. "A society without play? A society that won't do whatever it can to help these kids?
"We need more adults working and playing with our children. Not less."
I think it a great thing that (1) he feel part of American society after only 4 years here (2) he has risen to the American way of helping others and (3) that he does it for free because he knows it wouldn't get done otherwise and these kids need this as structure in their lives. SPS is lucky, lucky to have him.