Way back in 1989-90, I sat in front of Lou Hanner in science class.
We were both seniors at Mahopac High School, and Lou would … not … shut … up. He had opinions on the Jets, the Giants, the girl I liked, the T-shirt I wore, the T-shirt he wore. He was a wonderfully funny and sharp kid; never mean, but often a fire starter. He used to ask me (on what I recall to be a weekly basis) whether I was ready to ask out Lisa Frieman—loudly, with Lisa sitting two seats away. I later learned that Lou also urged the boys’ basketball coach to keep me on the team, an act of uncommon adolescent kindness that still touches me.
Anyhow, Lou was a phenomenal athlete, and he went on to play college soccer, then devote his life to teaching and coaching at Elwood-John H. Glenn High School on Long Island, N.Y. He was recently named the New York State Large School Soccer Coach of the Year, and I felt inspired to bring him here, to the Quaz. Yes, like all Q&A subjects, I was curious of his path. But, truly, I wanted to know how a modern coach deals with the crap-a-palooza that is today’s obsessive, parent-driven need to have Junior become the next Mike Trout, the next LeBron, the next Eli Manning.
So here’s Lou Hanner—a man I am thrilled to host as the 289th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: Lou, I’m gonna start with something you probably hear quite a bit—the nonstop refrain of “Kids today just don’t [fill in the blank] …” And it always ends with something like “respect authority” or “work hard” or “appreciate what they have.” You’ve been coaching and teaching for two decades. Are kids today different than when we were growing up? Or is that just something every past generation is required to whine about?
LOU HANNER: The kids are not different. What is very different is the culture we live in. When we were kids if we got in trouble in school you were less concerned about the school administration, you feared going home to your parents. Today, the parents run to the rescue of their kids as if it is not their fault, but that of the teacher or the coach. Parents hover over every aspect of the kid’s education and athletic programs. They want complete control over their grades and assignments. We have apps on our phone to get immediate feedback. We have moved away from accountability. If I had a bad game, or wasn’t performing to ability in school, I was going to hear it from my family much worse than I would from my coaches.
J.P.: You’ve been the boys soccer coach at Elwood-John H. Glenn High for 19 years. You were recently named the New York State Large School Soccer Coach of the Year. I’m gonna throw a weird one at you. Namely, how do you spend so much time around kids that age and not lose your mind? What I mean is, the drama over girlfriends, over zits, over driver’s licenses, over puberty nonsense. I teach college and I sometimes seek a lobotomy You?
L.H.: Actually, that is what motivates me. This is a profession that is always changing and evolving. Every single day is a challenge and an adventure. I have had many great mentors in my life and career. One was Joe McAvoy—the longtime teacher and coach at White Plains High School. He always said, “Teaching is coaching, coaching is teaching.” I never forgot that. I get to do it every day for a living. I feel blessed because of it, and I enjoy going to work every day. Many educators don’t. They should step down and move on.
J.P.: I feel like something has changed in our national approach to kids and sports—namely, we intrude far too much. Back when you and I were growing up in Mahopac, it was a ton of games in the yard, games in the street, games on some nearby field. And now, everything seems very structured, organized, programed. A. Do you agree? B. How does this impact the athletes you receive on the high school level?
L.H.: I totally agree. Most kids today only participate in structured teams, clubs, and leagues. We coached ourselves in the neighborhood. Or our dads coached us in little league, CYO and club soccer. Now we pay a lot of money for trainers and “professional” coaches with a license to provide these services. I do as well for my own kids. It is the sports culture we live in now. However, I am proud of the fact that my kids also love playing games in the yard and neighborhood like we did as well.
That said, because so many kids are playing organized athletics today at such a young age, it has certainly raised the level of talent and ability of the high school athlete. When I began coaching here at John Glenn in 1998, a handful of kids played on a club soccer team. This year most of our starting lineup plays at a high level all year round. The three-sport athlete is a thing of the past. And honestly, because of the youth sports structure, specialization has almost become mandatory if one wishes to play most sports at the next level. This concerns me, but I am witnessing it firsthand with my own kids. The time and monetary commitment for youth sports programs has most parents handcuffed.
J.P.: You were an excellent high school athlete; an excellent college athlete. How does that impact the way you coach kids who aren’t particularly talented? I mean, you were always skilled. Is it hard to relate with and work with those who aren’t?
L.H.: Not at all. That is what coaching is all about. I really enjoy working with the low-level skilled players. But youth sports have advanced so far since we were kids. Those who do not play club sports outside of school have a very difficult time making most varsity teams. What frustrates me most is when an athlete doesn’t work hard on the field or in the classroom.
J.P.: We just got through a very bitter, heated presidential election. I wonder how much of a topic this was among your students? Your players? And do you feel comfortable discussing politics with kids? Is that an OK role for a teacher and coach?
L.H.: The election was very interesting to observe. Never before did we see the students get very involved or engaged with a presidential election like this one. You would hear kids making comments to each other in class and even inside the locker room. I did not observe any hostility like we did on TV or social media. I think it was great to see high school students involved and concerned about our government. Discussing politics can be very touchy for a teacher and coach. Keeping the conversation healthy and not biased is imperative.
J.P.: Why did you become a teacher and coach? Like, what was your path? When did you realize it was what you wanted to do?
L.H.: If you told me in our senior year of high school in 1990 that I would one day be a teacher and coach, I would not have believed you. I was going to Oneonta State, playing soccer and studying business. In my sophomore year I realized business wasn’t what I was passionate about. I was passionate about working with kids. Our college team would put on clinics for kids and youth coaches in the community and I worked soccer camps in the summer. My mom said to me one day, “You can’t sit behind a desk. You should be a PE teacher.” The rest is history.
I transferred to Cortland State as a senior and finished my undergraduate degree while playing soccer my senior year there. I was blessed to play for two great programs and my experiences could not have been better. I was fortunate to be hired right out of Cortland as the head boys’ soccer coach and high school PE teacher at White Plains High School in 1995.
J.P.: I love asking this of people I grew up with—so … who were you? What I mean is, I remember you as a pretty cocky, affable, confident kid. Your nickname was Lip, you talked a lot of fun trash. But who were you, inside? Were you confident or insecure? What were you thinking about? What were your worries?
L.H.: The Lip thing was something my uncles used to call me because I was named after a great uncle and that is what they called him. Nobody in school really used it. When we grew up all we did was compete. On the fields, yards, driveways, streets, parks, woods, garages, basements. Wherever. All we wanted to do was play, play anything, anywhere.
During those times, we would all like to talk a lot of back yard banter. Challenging one another and talking trash was what we did. Looking back, that played a big part of my development and fostered my competitive nature. One that I still have today. I compete against the students and athletes in class and at practice all the time. Therefore, I would consider myself more confident than insecure. I was only thinking about playing sports.
Looking back I wish I had put more effort into school. I mean, I did OK, but it wasn’t until I went to college that I put the right amount of time into it.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
L.H.: Greatest—The relationships and bonds built with all of the kids who have played for you. Seeing them grow up into men, get married, being successful, and starting families of their own. Having many want to come back and coach on my staff has also been very special to me. Others have become teachers and coaches as well. When they come back to our annual alumni game it is always one of my favorite days of the year.
Lowest—In January 2014 we lost a player in his senior year. He was killed in a tragic sledding accident. Attending the wake and funeral with your program and coaches is horrible. Words cannot describe the hurt and sorrow you feel for the family, your players and the entire school community.
J.P.: There are many clichés about the American gym teacher. You’ve heard them—mindless task, roll out a bunch of balls, blow a whistle, make kids run two laps. But does teaching phys ed rule, or is it awful? Fun or challenging? How do you deal with the kid who has no interest whatsoever?
L.H.: We live in the Game Boy Generation. When we were kids we spent every second of free time outside playing sports, riding bikes or motorcycles. Today’s kids are much less active than we were. They live on their devices. We need health and PE now more than ever. We don’t respect it whatsoever in our culture. We talk a big game but we don’t support it. Only six states in the entire country mandate PE. Most only mandate health for one semester in middle school and high school. Maybe if we were to respect it like every other subject our country would be in a much better place …
Most of the kids at John Glenn High School enjoy and respect PE. I think it is because of the culture we have created. We ask the kids to work hard within a fun learning environment. Education needs to be fun. That’s something that we have moved away from with all these standards and common core requirements. I remember genuinely enjoying going to school and class every day at Mahopac High School. Teaching health and PE is one the greatest jobs in America. I feel blessed to go to work every day and have the opportunity to influence the lives of our youth.
J.P.: I’m gonna throw a weird one at you. When we were at Mahopac High, there was a smoking section. And I remember we’d have an annual SAY NO TO SMOKING day, or something like that. And I wonder, 26 years later, is smoking even the slightest of slightest of concern with high school kids? Like, do you think most even ponder it? Hell, packs cost $10, CVS stopped selling, etc. In short, is it a dead issue?
L.H.: Dead issue. The kids today do not smoke cigarettes. They smoke pot. When I began teaching we would catch kids smoking in the locker rooms and around campus all the time. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of our students smoking. I survey my health classes every semester and they confirm this. Marijuana is the drug of choice with the kids today. The legalization has created the perception that it is not bad for you; that it’s actually healthy.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LOU HANNER:
• In exactly 12 words, describe the emotions after being named the first, and last, Chieftain Mahopac High Athlete of the Year: Was honored, humbled, proud. Never felt comfortable wearing the jacket in public.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Larry Glover, potato latkes, Odessa Turner, Kris Kross, Brooklyn Nets, my uncle Marty, Chinese takeout, “Boardwalk Empire,” Caldor, cranberry muffins: Larry Glover, Caldor, potato latkes, cranberry muffins, Chinese takeout, Kriss Kross, Odessa Turner, Brooklyn Nets, Uncle Marty, Boardwalk Empire
• One question you would ask Tom Paciorek were he here right now?: What was the guiding force in your 18-year career?
• Five reasons one should make Mahopac, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: Lake Mahopac, Mahopac Golf Club, Rodak’s, Mahopac Inn, Mom’s cooking
• Who are the five professional coaches you most admire?: Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden, Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Knight, Herman Boone.
• Three memories from the senior prom: Friends, van, and Piano Man.
• How did you propose to your wife, Kerry?: On a balcony overlooking Virginia Beach.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: Slightly. We were about to land at Newark International airport in New Jersey. The pilot pulls us directly straight up from the runway as we are about to touch ground. We begin to circle Manhattan for what seemed forever. Nobody came on the loudspeaker to give any information. The passengers began to anxiously worry. Finally, the pilot comes on and apologizes for the aborted landing because a plane was stranded on the runway that we would have hit it had we continued.
• What happens in the third Balboa-Clubber Lang fight?: Split Decision
• Self-indulgent, what do you remember about me from high school?: Great kid, sports nut, fun to hang with, quitting varsity basketball after I convinced coach DeMarzo to keep you on the team!