eduCOACHers

Here at Paly, we have many teachers. We also have many coaches. But there are also a select few who choose to dabble in both — from the iconic DJ Shelton to the passionate Aparna Sankararaman to the dedicated John Bungarden. The following profiles delve into their intricacies and their thoughts. These are their stories.

Mr. Shelton:

During school hours, Mr. Shelton can be found in his classroom engaging with students and sharing his love for history. What separates him from other teachers, though, is his education for the day doesn’t stop there. After school and into the night, Coach Shelton can be found under lights, directing and coaching the Paly boys lacrosse program. 

Shelton started coaching at Paly in 2013 and later joined the faculty as a history teacher in 2015. 

As a student-athlete through high school and college, he has learned how crucial playing sports can be to one’s development as a person and emphasizes the importance of participating in them throughout life. 

“What you get out of playing sports will often determine how successful you are in life,” Shelton said. “The way you approach your extracurriculars…and your dedication to improvement and dealing with team members, bosses, captains, or coaches, are life lessons you will take for the rest of your life. I don’t think the classroom necessarily provides real world experience the same way.”

A full-time teaching job alongside the intensive work of coaching a team can lead to struggles in time management. While Shelton is able to balance both without major issues his dedication to students in the classroom and on the field leaves him little free time.  

“I don’t usually leave Paly till 9 p.m. or so and on game days 10 p.m,” Shelton said. 

Part of Shelton’s approach in the classroom can be accredited to his experience coaching. He is known for bringing enthusiasm and his classes have a reputation for being engaging and fun. 

“I think that his coaching has made him very good at pep talks and keeping a good community within the class,” freshman Briar Dorogusker, a current student in his world history class, said. 

The feedback loop works in the other direction too. Many of Shelton’s coaching methods have stemmed from his work as a teacher. Although Shelton mainly keeps his works separate, sometimes the history nerd within him slips out.

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What you get out of playing sports will often determine how successful you are in life”

— Shelton

“He likes to throw in some history trivia into some competitions to see who gets to start off on offense,” junior Asher Friedman said. 

Whether you are listening to Mr. Shelton at a desk or in a huddle you can be assured his experience in both coaching and teaching will shine. 

Ms. Sankararaman:

Aparna Sankararaman is known for starting class every week with a recap of the fantasy football of the weekend before. Sankararaman is new to the Frosh-Soph football coaching staff but has managed to find a family among her fellow coaches and her players while coaching a sport she loves. 

But Sankararaman did not always love football as much as she does today. 

“Before I met my wife Alyssa, all I knew was that a touchdown was worth six points and then there was a point after,” Sankararaman said.

Once she started dating her wife, she learned more about the sport and the strategy behind it. 

“I found myself loving football more as she explained the rules of the game, the strategies etcetera,” Sankararaman said. “After my first football game at Kyle Field [which went into double overtime], I was addicted.”

Since then, Sankararaman has become an avid football fan. “My favorite college team is the Texas A&M Aggies”, said Sankararaman. “Every Saturday, during football season, my wife and I set up five different screens in our living room so we can watch five different games simultaneously.” 

Sankararaman has also been able to use her football knowledge to connect with students in her classes. Her intimate intelligence of fantasy football is what allows her to do this.  

“I started doing that a few years back because I realized I had students who were also in fantasy leagues,” Sankararaman said. “It helped with our classroom interactions because we had something in common that we were invested in.” 

Her love of fantasy football has allowed students to form stronger relationships with her, and for those who don’t participate in fantasy football, they feel that they know her better as a person regardless. Junior Ryan Hudacek can all tell how much she genuinely loves the sport of football. 

“We should never expect her to respond to emails on Saturday because she is watching college football, and if the game goes bad, we shouldn’t expect a response on Sunday either,” Hudacek said.

 

Sankararaman’s passion for the sport is what got her into coaching in the first place. She did not come to Paly with the intention of coaching, but when Coach Gifford offered her a position, she accepted it. 

“Although I was hesitant at first about accepting his invitation, I finally decided to try it out,” Sankararaman said. 

Sankararaman sees teaching and coaching as the same thing, just regarding different subjects.

“During the day, I am coaching my students how to apply concepts of chemistry to their lives…during practice, I am teaching students on how and why they need to block a certain way,” Sankararaman said.

Sankararaman has not found it difficult to distinguish her students both on and off the field but does believe in the importance of recognizing her players as both a student and an athlete. 

“All the football players I have had in my chemistry class have been excellent at focusing on chemistry during the class period and football during practice,” Sankararaman said. “This way, I get to treat my student athletes in my class just like all my other students.” 

As a woman coaching an all-male team, and the sole female on the coaching staff, Sankararaman has relied on her fellow coaches to learn specific parts of the game that she didn’t already know.

“They have helped me learn things about football I could not have known unless I played the game,” Sankararaman said. “Of course, being female in my generation means we didn’t have the opportunity to play the game. I think the other coaches understand that and are thrilled that I am interested to learn.”

Sankararaman’s favorite part of coaching is the feeling of being part of a family with the players she coaches.

“Most days, I forget that I am the only female on the field because of how welcoming everybody has been,” Sankararaman said.

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If you want to be the best on the field, you can’t just do that on Friday night during the game.”

— Sankararaman

Sophomore Declan Packer has had a positive experience playing for Sankararaman on the frosh-soph football team and believes she has made a positive influence on the team. 

“She is a great communicator and would motivate us before the game,” Packer said. “She said that if we could focus on reducing our errors, we could win every game, and she was right.”

Although she has not been coaching for long and has not fully developed her personal coaching style, Sankararaman believes that perseverance and dedication are the most important skills to teach athletes.

 “If you want to be the best on the field, you can’t just do that on Friday night during the game,” Sankararaman said. “What you do during practice … is what is going to determine how good you are as a player. That takes dedication and perseverance to show up to practice regularly, work hard, and train.”

Mr. Bungarden:

At the helm of AP US history, arguably one of the hardest classes at Paly sits its teacher: John Bungarden. A wearer of fiercely unique ties, a teller of dramatic war stories, he is famed across campus for his difficult yet engaging curriculum. Little known to these idolizers, though, is the fact that Bungarden also teaches soccer in the spring, on our very own Paly Frosh-Soph boys soccer team. 

Bungarden started coaching soccer because of his son, who began playing at six years old. 

“The father that was coaching his team was coaching all the kids’ teams, and there were five teams, so I said ‘oh I’ll help you,’” Bungarden said.

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Coaching is like teaching; it’s just a different form of teaching”

— Bungarden

Despite starting as a coach by nothing but good will and a little  chance, Bungarden has continued to do it for over a decade, transitioning from his son’s team to the Paly team. 

“Like anybody else that coaches, you like it and you keep going,” he said. “Coaching is like teaching; it’s just a different form of teaching.” 

And, for both coaching and teaching, his favorite part is the same: the people.

“[For soccer,] it’s the kids,” Bungarden said. “We get pretty good players and they show up and they’re fun to be around. I try to take all that and turn it into some sort of cohesive group for the duration of the season.”

Based on the amount of time and effort Bungarden spends making that cohesive group, it is clear that he really believes in them, just like they believe in him. 

“My favorite part about him as a coach is his altruism,” sophomore Dominic Profit said. “He always wants the best for us and our school…he is such a passionate coach.”

Bungarden shares that passion in his teaching. To him, teaching, like soccer, is interesting, entertaining, and worthwhile, because of the students and their emotional and intellectual growth through the school year. 

“The folks that stay are part of what makes [APUSH] fun,” Bungarden said. “The course has a reasonably established reputation for being challenging and folks sign up for that and they stay to confront the challenge. That’s impressive to watch…I don’t think students have a clear appreciation…of how impressive they are as learners.” 

Mr. Bungarden’s characteristics that make him a fantastic teacher are exactly what make him a passionate coach: his love for the students, his necessity to see them grow and work together, and his undying passion for hard work and dedication, both coming from himself and students.

So, next time you see him strutting across campus or systematically setting up on the soccer pitch, remember that he isn’t just the teacher of one of the hardest classes at Play and coach of one of the most complex sports; he is also a dedicated, heartwarming, funny, quirky person. Remember that he loves the individuality of his students. And, above all, remember that he loves his ties.