OF THE BEAR
Bob Connell was a coach and teacher at Portville Central School who made
a huge, positive impact on me and many others during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
My first experience with Mr. Connell came during a 1974-5, 8th-grade study hall in Room 202 that he ran. It was down
the hall from his normal room, so he was not happy being away from his work and baby-sitting a bunch of junior high students
that included Joe Caya, Frank Chesner, Mike Warner, John Sprague, Jon Giberson, Dave Rutterman,
and about 25 others.
We all knew about Coach Connell's
reputation as an old-school disciplinarian, and on the first day, he came in a few minutes late to a loud volume
of chatter and usual hooliganism. Immediately, he commanded that everyone stand up against the wall...and face the
wall without talking for the entire 45-minute period. We had never heard such a powerful voice and had never felt such
a serious presence in a teacher our whole lives.
During that first day, and throughout the year, he would leave
the study hall randomly for minutes on end, sometimes for the whole period, only to return unexpectedly and catch any one
of us talking or moving about. On most days, all or a few of us would be "up against the wall". On a few days, he
started the day by just telling all of us to assume our positions along the wall.
Connell insisted that we call
him "Sir", and if you did not, anything could happen to you. He taught us respect, and whenever we saw him outside
that study hall, we feared him and addressed him appropriately. We all avoided the boys' bathroom that was located next
to his room, knowing that Bob liked to smoke cigarettes there regularly.
My first personal conversation with The
Bear came at the end of 8th grade, after I did well at a fun class track meet in June of 1975. As fate would have it, I was
in the dreaded bathroom alone the next week, and in came The Bear.
that you jumped 17 feet in the long jump!"
(long puff on a Marlboro)
"I'll see you on the track team next year, right?"
"Yessir, Mr. Connell."