WAVE Magazine Fall 2018 JU_WaveMag_Fall18_2 - Page 45

Coach Stewart with Marjory Stoneman Douglas Eagles. Stewart graduated in December 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Social Science and a minor in Coaching. His first position at West Jacksonville Middle School was followed by his acceptance of a position at MSD. There he taught world history and coached junior varsity basketball, track and field, and football. Six months ago… On February 14, 2018, Stewart reported to the MSD campus just like every other day. “It was a normal day. I had three periods of teaching, and the fourth was planning,” he says. School staff had been notified that a “code red” active shooter drill would take place in the coming weeks, but no one knew exactly when. As the school day progressed, a fire drill sounded and everyone went through the motions. After eating lunch and prepping a track and field schedule, Stewart visited a neighboring classroom, checking on one of his student athletes. Fifteen minutes later the fire alarm sounded a second time. While students proceeded to fire drill stations, again, teachers wondered if it was actually the active-shooter drill. Then the first gunshot rang out. “Once we heard multiple shots, we knew it wasn’t a drill,” said Stewart. Pressing students back into the classroom and directing others to return to a room and clear the hall, Stewart combed the surrounding area. Teachers had initiated code red protocol, doors were locked, and a group of about 20 students were left stranded in the open. Gabe Stewart (#20) playing for the Jacksonville Dolphins. Stewart hid the group as best he could, moving them around a corner and flat against a wall, and then returned to the locked classrooms for help. “I ran up and down, flashing my employee badge, to get someone to open a door. Eventually, one teacher did.” Stewart reached that goal when he appeared in the Miami qualifiers, which aired on June 13. Once that group had safely joined the others, Stewart returned to that neighboring classroom. He waited nearly three hours with his students until SWAT teams cleared the campus. “I want to see my students smile again, give them something to be happy about and look forward to,” he repeatedly told reporters, and smiles were everywhere at viewing parties hosted by MSD on June 13. “Teachers, students, our teams, the District all came together to help and to take care of each other. That’s what #MSDStrong is all about.” “If they give me a call in future, I would love to return,” Stewart said of his Warrior experience. Four months ago… NBC reality show “American Ninja Warrior” (ANW) has roughly six million viewers each season. Three-time Primetime Emmy Award nominee, the show frequently inspires spin-offs and specially themed competitions. Sometime before the qualifiers last spring, ANW contacted MSD about hosting a tribute episode. When representatives of the show asked school administrators who on staff could handle the daunting 10-part obstacle course, Stewart’s name quickly came up. Warrior J.J. Woods took on his training. Soon, Stewart discovered the unique challenges this competition posed for him as a former college athlete. “It’s not about muscling your way through,” he told reporters prior to the Miami episode airing. “It’s about using your momentum.” With only three weeks to train, and competing against 100 other contestants, he raced for the opportunity to appear on national television. Though for Stewart, the ultimate prize had nothing to do with dollar signs. Ten years from now… Most recently, Stewart accepted a teaching and coaching position at Thomas Stone High School in Maryland, back in his hometown. “That February 14 th was an eye-opening experience. I had this gut feeling that I needed to return to the community where I grew up, give back to the schools there, and help kids like me.” His advice to current JU students, or anyone considering teaching as a career: love kids, first and foremost. Stewart says that you can be as educated and well-informed as you like, but without a passion for putting kids first, none of that will matter. He feels the need for role models, coaches, and teachers in Southern Maryland. Perhaps more deeply than most, given his humble start. But he holds out hope for happier days, both at Stone and in Parkland, where he will visit soon and often. “I will never forget MSD and will always have the Eagles in my heart.” WAVEMAGAZINEONLINE.COM 45