Football coach to be awarded grant to research WWII hero

Walker will travel to Iwo Jima, where UT football coach Chevigny died ‘with his boys’ during invasion

Jeff Jenkins, Houston Chronicle

Bellaire High School head football coach Jeff Walker is pouring his love of sports and history into a project that he hopes will inspire students and athletes alike.

Walker, who teaches 11th grade U.S. history since Reconstruction at Bellaire, earned a 2007 grant from Fund for Teachers. It is a national nonprofit organization that pays for select teachers to travel the globe in pursuit of independent studies.

Walker’s reward is a trip to Guam and Iwo Jima in March 2008.

Bellaire High School head football coach Jeff Walker tells the story of the late Jack Chevigny, a forgotten Depression-era sports hero who served in the Marine Corps and died in the invasion of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

For Walker, it’s the culmination of a six-year personal quest to tell the story of the late Jack Chevigny, a forgotten Depression-era sports hero who served in the Marine Corps and died in the invasion of Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945.

“I wanted to find a historical person who people didn’t know much about,” Walker said. “That’s when I stumbled upon Jack Chevigny. He played for (legendary coach) Knute Rockne at Notre Dame in the famous ‘Win One for the Gipper’ game against Army (in 1928).”

Chevigny, who also coached briefly at Notre Dame in 1931, after Rockne died in a plane crash, and with the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals in 1932, is best known in Texas as the only coach at the University of Texas to have a losing record during his three-year stint from 1934-36.

But Walker believed there was more to Chevigny than his record with the Longhorns. In 2001, he began intensive research, which initially did not yield much information.

“I became fascinated by Jack and had to know more,” Walker said.

Walker eventually learned that Chevigny died on the beach at Iwo Jima at 38 years old – well past the age of service. But Chevigny, who was coaching football at the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina, stood up for “his boys” and refused to let them go to war without him.

“In my research, I wanted to accomplish several things, one of which was to prove the truth of Jack’s life was even more spectacular than the fabrications,” Walker said.

He made a breakthrough after interviewing Sonny Franck, a College Football Hall of Famer at the University of Minnesota and former NFL great who was considered at the time the fastest man in the league.

Franck met Chevigny while serving in the Marines and had fond memories of him, noting that Chevigny often talked about football strategy and demonstrated blocking techniques.

Walker also spoke to Chevigny’s nephew, Jack, an attorney in Hammond, Ind., who gave Walker the family’s scrapbook in 2005.

“I would have hit the wall without the scrapbook,” Walker said. “It included dozens of photos and letters that helped me understand who Jack was.”

In his final letter, Chevigny mentions his respect for Col. Thomas A Wornham and his awe at serving in the Marine Corps.

The letter was postmarked from Saipan just before forces moved on to Iwo Jima. Walker spoke to numerous Marines from the era, confirming that Chevigny had become a celebrity figure.

But why was Chevigny on Iwo Jima in the first place? Walker discovered that Chevigny served in the 5th Marine Division, 27th Regiment as a liaison officer, a newly created position with an open-ended job description.

Chevigny’s role was to facilitate communication between the 27th and 28th regiment commands during the actual landing.

“Jack was a true-life hero,” Walker said. “As a football coach, I felt it was my mission to tell Jack’s story.”

Walker is writing Chevigny’s biography and is seeking a publisher.

First, he is looking forward to his trip to Guam and Iwo Jima. A history buff, he considers Iwo Jima a “Holy Grail of American History.”

The main reason, though, is to explore the island that set the stage for Chevigny’s final day.

Walker will take with him his son, McMeans Middle School seventh-grader Gabe.

“It’s an important journey for me and I want to share it with Gabe,” Walker said. Fund for Teachers felt the same way, which is why the organization approved Walker’s grant.

“About one out of 24 applicants gets a grant, but we felt Jeff’s project was unique,” said Karen Webb, executive director of Fund for Teachers. “The story he wanted to tell was truly fascinating. We felt it would translate well to his students.”

Walker plans to incorporate Chevigny’s story into his history classes and in his pep talks with his team.

He believes Chevigny’s life is inspirational.

“Jack Chevigny was a remarkable person,” Walker said. “I hope everyone will agree, whether they are a football fan or not.”

Los Angeles Unified School District: Jon Barron

Los Angeles Unified School District Spotlight: Patty Ryan

Los Angeles Unified School District Spotlight: Laura Cometa

Newsletter – Volume 3, Summer 2007

In This Issue:
Houston teachers become first awardees to second fellowship
Boston fellow receives Secretary’s Award for Excellence
Donors providing for future generations

Read our recent newsletter, Odyssey.



6 Pattison Elementary teachers visit Jamestown

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Six Pattison Elementary social studies teachers backtracked in time to what’s known as “America’s Historic Triangle” of English settlement on U.S. shores – Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Va.

They essentially went on a shopping trip for artifact replicas they will share in their classrooms – and, ultimately, with the Katy Independent School District’s social studies teachers – to enliven lessons about the culture and daily lives of early Anglo residents.

Traveling Teachers: Social studies teachers from Pattison Elementary visited Jamestown this month. From left are Jill Hortness, 45; Laura Sanders, 37; Whitney LaRocca, 29; Regina Thompson, 42; and Pennylane Lara, 35.

The tab for their airfare, lodging and other expenses was picked up by Fund For Teachers, a Houston-based nonprofit group that provides grants to help enrich the curriculum of teachers throughout the United States.

That the “Team Jamestown” group’s trip came as the Jamestown Settlement is celebrating its 400th anniversary was a bonus for Katy teachers whose job is to impart that period’s events to Pattison’s fifth-graders: Beth Emerson, Jill Hortness, Pennylane Lara, Whitney LaRocca, Laura Sanders and Regina Thompson.

“The history of Jamestown as an early American settlement is an important part of the curriculum, and it builds a foundation of history throughout the students’ life,” said Lara, 35, who has taught social studies for seven years at Pattison.

Lara, who has been a teacher for 12 years, said she and other teachers applied for the $7,500 in total grants from the Fund for Teachers, which awarded the grants to only 10 percent of applicants, or about 110 grants in Houston alone.

Sanders said the idea is to create a “learning kit” where pupils will have a more hands-on experience with history.

“We want to purchase the toys and clothing from that era,” said Sanders, 37, a four-year teacher of social studies, math and science at Pattison, who has 14 years’ teaching experience. While the grant covered airfare, hotel, food, transportation and tickets for the Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg and historic Yorktown, it didn’t pay for the replicas the teachers want to put into their shared history trunks.

LaRocca said the group was especially lucky that they were in Jamestown during an archaeological dig near the settlement’s learning center, and even luckier that the Katy community also donated funds to help buy the replicas they need for the trunk kits.

“We’ll have three kits, total, and each kit will have the same artifacts – irons, coins, jewelry, pipes, water jugs, clothing, tools and money from that period,” said LaRocca, 29, who has taught social studies and language arts at Pattison for all of her eight-year career.

In addition, the teachers attended events commemorating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding in 1607.

Jill Hortness, 45, who has spent the last three years at Pattison teaching social studies and language arts out of her 20-year career, said that each kit – with an estimated value of $500 – will include computer-programmed photos and videos as well as artifact replicas.

“We’ll incorporate photos we’ll take to make the students feel as if they’re there,” Hortness said. “We’ll make them feel like history comes alive while they actually touch the artifacts and put on the clothing of days when they didn’t have electronics.”

LaRocca said that without visuals, it’s not easy – even for adults – to comprehend how life was like without the technologies people depend upon today.

“I hope it will be imprinted on them how many advantages they have today,” LaRocca said.

Ideas the teachers plan to use in their lesson plans include asking pupils to write a letter from Jamestown as if they were residents of that settlement, explaining aspects of their daily lives, or identifying unseen artifacts inside a bag by touch and describing how each one is used.

“I think that will help them experience what it was like in those days,” Lara said. “We’re hoping this will spark an interest when they go on to study American history in general.”

Another central goal, Lara said, is to eventually be able to make the kits available to other social studies teachers, complete with lesson plans and photos using the school district’s automated computer network for shared lesson plans.

For information about Fund for Teachers, visit the group’s Web site at:, or call 713-296-6127.

BHS Football Coach Travels to Iwo Jima

Natalie Torentinos
Southwest News

Bellaire High School head football coach Jeff Walker has been chasing former Depression era football star Jack Chevigny for six years. Compelled to tell his inspiring story, Walker set out to write Chevigny’s biography and met surviving family members and friends, who taught him what made Chevigny a living legend.

Chevigny embodied charm, charisma, athleticism and love for the game. Women loved him. Men idolized him. The players he later coached meant the world to him.

World War II came, and he was too old to enlist, but he did anyway. Chevigny refused to sit and watch “his boys” go overseas while he served as head football coach in the U.S. Marine Corps, so he went to the Pacific with them – and he never returned.

In March of 2008, Walker will tour the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima where Chevigny, along with thousands of young American men, was killed in battle.

“I want to experience it, I need to smell it, taste it,” he says. “I need to be there.”

Walker was one of the 100 teachers in the state who received a 2007 grant from Fund For Teachers, a national non-profit that bankrolls educators in pursuit of independent studies to travel and conduct further research.

In addition to Iwo Jima, the grant will send Walker to Guam, which he hopes to link with BHS’s social studies and history department. Walker wants to create an exchange student program or a student blog to enhance dual learning experiences.

Seeing so little history about Chevigny on the Internet immediately sparked Walker’s interest and led him to apply for the grant. On the Web, he discovered only that Chevigny once coached The University of Texas’ football team and resigned after an unsuccessful tenure.

“He has been shortchanged in history,” Walker says, as Chevigny has been remembered on some web sites as the only coach in UT history with a losing record. “Being a coach and a history teacher, I know that you legacy isn’t just numbers. It’s something you can’t describe. I felt called to bring him back as he was in 1945-a hero. In 2007, he was a guy who lost a lot of games.”

Chevigny circa the 1920s was a different story all together. During a legendary 1928 Notre Dame vs. U.S. Army game, he scored the tying touchdown and proclaimed, “That’s one for the Gipper,” as he led his team to victory.

The game is frozen in time in Walker’s office, home of the frayed scrapbook pages that Chevigny’s late sister compiled throughout his football career, some that read, “Notre Dame Conquers Army.” Each newspaper article is dominated by pictures of a dapper-looking Chevigny and a proud Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

Chevigny later attended law school and coached the UT and the U.S. Marine Corps football teams, all the while remaining a B-list celebrity.

At 38 years old, Chevigny could have avoided going to war, but Walker says, “he felt like he was not doing right, that he should be with his boys.”

As a result of his research, Walker met George Franck, an inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame and 1940 All-American who served alongside Chevigny in World War II. Franck told Walker how he saw Chevigny’s final moments in a sand hole on Iwo Jima’s volcanic beaches.

Walker says he hopes Chevigny’s biography will reinforce the notion that cross-generational sacrifices were just as prevalent in World War II when comparing other stories of heroes and heroines who came of age in that era.

“The courage [Chevigny] had-he was an iconic figure of the greatest-of-the-great generation,” he says. “He did something I don’t know I could have done.”

As Walker gingerly unfolds Chevigny’s last letter written to his family, where the handwriting is faded but still legible, Walker’s enthusiasm for his subject seems more palpable than ever. His curiosity, determination and resourcefulness culminated then, as he possessed the most personal mementos of a sports figure long gone, but not soon forgotten.

Walker has written several coaching textbooks in his 22-year career. A Louisiana native, he came to Houston four years ago as assistant football coach for the BHS Cardinals. Since then, he taught various school subjects ranging from English to science, but his favorite, naturally, is history. He currently teaches U.S. History Since Reconstruction.

South End teachers spend summer vacation abroad

Linda Rodriguez

This summer, six South End educators, with the help of nearly $20,000 in grants, will be traveling to far off places in the hopes of becoming better at what they do.

This is the fourth year that the Boston Plan for Excellence has awarded summer grants to teachers, as part of its Fund for Teachers partnership with the Boston Public Schools. The McKinley South End Academy, a high school for students with emotional, behavioral and learning needs on Warren Avenue, snagged a significant number of the 34 grants awarded – five teachers will be taking trips this summer with funds from the program. Another South End teacher, John Allocca from alternative high school El Centro Del Cardenal, won a $5000 grant to travel to Ghana for three weeks.

“The Fund for Teachers is an opportunity for teachers to enrich themselves. We plan on coming back to enrich our programs,” said Warren Pemsler, an English teacher at McKinley who, along with fellow English teacher, Christopher Busch, received $3560 to travel to London and the Netherlands. The two teachers, along with McKinley art teacher Ari Hauben, run collaborative arts and writing-based programs with both the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Huntington Theatre, taking their students to exhibitions and shows and working the experiences into their curriculum.

Pemsler and Busch will leave July 8 for what sounds like a great, if artsy, vacation – they spend a week in London, attending plays every night and visiting contemporary art museums during the day, before meeting up with Hauben in the Netherlands to visit art museums there. Sounds like a vacation, and it almost is, Pemsler admitted, but for the fact that they’ll also be meeting with educational programming staff at the theatres and museums, to learn more about how different programs conduct community-based arts education.

Six South End teachers received grants to travel abroad this summer: left to right, John Allocca, Warren Pemsler, Ronda Goodale, Ari Hauben, Cleyde Oliveira, and Christopher Busch. Photo: Ian Drumm

“It’s very exciting… This fund is meant to be enriching to the teachers and the community, they don’t want you to go to a bunch of teachers workshops,” he added. “What we’re doing is not out of the realm of what’s possible [to do with the grants], but it happens to be awesome.”

Hauben, an art teacher at the school, received his own grant of $4882, to further develop his skills as an artist, as well as to travel to the Netherlands with the two English teachers. Hauben, an industrial designer by trade who has been teaching at McKinley for three years, will spend two weeks studying “more traditional art” with two artists in the New York City area beginning July 8. He then leaves from New York on July 20 to meet up with Pemsler and Busch, before returning to New York to spend more time in the arts scene there.

“This will give me a stronger foundation in like painting and more traditional arts,” Hauben explained. “I think it will be good for the students and broaden what I’m capable of teaching them, or at least allow me to teach them better.”

Hauben also explained that the biggest impact on their students and the programs they conduct will likely come out of their meetings with individuals who run similar arts-based educational programs. “A lot of the kids [at McKinley] have emotional issues and any way that we can pique their interests [is important],” he said. “In the Netherlands, they’re into doing that and a lot of places run programs similar to the ones that we’re doing.”

Ronda Goodale, literacy coach at McKinley who received a $4185 grant, is also hoping to bring back some of what she learns in her 10 days studying creative writing in Prague with teachers from across the globe to help round out the school’s more innovative programming. “My goal is to bring what I’ve learned in terms of trying to combine across media, and using different types of intelligences, with our own kids and our own teachers,” she said.

Goodale is also planning on putting together a journal of her time abroad, to present to her students – and to show them that even for her, a literacy coach, writing can still be difficult.

“It’s a challenge… I want to show them the process for me, because some of them are challenged,” she said, “[and[ I can appreciate what it’s like for them.” (Another literacy educator at McKinley, Cleyde Oliveira, will also be working on her skills this summer, in a summer institute at Columbia University. South End News was unable to reach her to talk about her program.)

All of the teachers have been asked to put together a presentation to the Fund for Teachers board, to, as Hauben said, “show them what I did with their money.” Some also are looking to put a presentation together to share with their students just what they did for their summer vacation.

“I hope to bring back a lot of pictures, new insights, knowledge and a variety of artifacts to share with my students and the school community,” said Allocca, of his upcoming trip to Ghana. Allocca, social studies and history teacher at El Centro, says that he’ll be incorporating some of what he learns in his curriculum next year, which focuses in part on the African roots of some of the Spanish-speaking countries that his students hail from.

Asked if his students are jealous that he’ll be spending his summer vacation, Pemsler said, “It’s the adults that are most! Some of my students have never left Massachusetts, or New England… but the adults are like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so jealous.