The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Jeremy Burnham
Reporter 

Teacher Profile Series: LRHS health teacher Greg Whitmore

Whitmore is also the LRS Athletic Director and head football coach, but make no mistake about it: teaching health is his passion

 
Series: Teacher Profile | Story 7

Last updated 8/28/2019 at 8:56pm

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Greg Whitmore, in his role as head coach of the football team, looks on during the playing of the national anthem prior to the beginning of a game in the 2012-13 season. Whitmore has been a teacher in Ritzville for 27 years, and has also been the athletic director for the last 10 years.

Greg Whitmore has several jobs at the Lind-Ritzville Schools co-op. Some of them are pretty high-profile, like head football coach and athletic director. However, if you ask him, Whitmore will make sure you know that he's a teacher, first and foremost.

While he has taught several classes over the years that connect well with his jobs in athletics, such as weight training and physical education, he says his main passion is another class; one where he wants to reach athletes and non-athletes alike.

"For awhile P.E. [physical education] was my passion, and I enjoyed health as well." Whitmore said. "But now, health is my passion. Health class is so crucial to our kids."

One semester of health class is a freshman requirement at the high school.

"In the first couple of days of class I tell them that health is the most important class they will take," Whitmore said. "I always ask them what their most important class is, and they say 'English' and 'math' because that's what we're always led to believe. And those are incredibly important classes. But then I ask them, 'Where are you without your health?'"

Whitmore says health is so important because it teaches students things they need to know, now.

TEACHER SERIES continued on Page A-3

"What I love about health in the classroom is that we are talking about some real life issues that they are right in the middle of," Whitmore said. "You can teach history and math and English and all that, but this is stuff they are living now from decisions they are making with drugs and alcohol and tobacco. The list goes on. Teen sexual health and bullying and peer pressure and nutrition and eating disorders. All that stuff that is going on in their lives right now."

While Whitmore is glad that he gets every student that passes through the high school in his class for a semester, he said he'd like more time.

"In a perfect world I would get them as freshmen and get a whole year with them," Whitmore said. "Then, I'd like to get them again as seniors because they have matured four years and they are going off into the real world."

Whitmore graduated from Entiat High School in 1982. Entiat is a small city near Wenatchee.

The impact his teachers and coaches had on him inspired him to want to find his own way to impact young people as well.

"I was in four sports, so athletics was a big part of what I did there," Whitmore. "Some teachers and coaches were big influences on me. My mom being a teacher was a big influence, and one of the reasons why I knew I wanted to be a teacher."

Whitmore started college at Washington State University and played football as a walk-on for two years, despite limited experience in high school.

"I only played eight-man football in highschool," Whitmore said. "My mom went to WSU and she wanted me to. But coming from a small school, I was not good enough to earn a football scholarship. So I walked on."

Looking back, Whitmore says he should have gone somewhere else.

"What I needed at that point in my life was for someone to say, 'No, don't go to WSU," Whitmore said. "I needed someone saying, 'Hey, I understand your ambition to play for WSU, but you should go play at Wenatchee Valley College for two years first.'"

Whitmore got injured during his second year at WSU.

"Because I was injured, I got into athletic training," Whitmore said. "So I became part of their athletic training program at WSU."

At this point, Whitmore started considering different career paths. He briefly considered chemical engineering.

"I knew right away though, after seeing all the chemistry and math that I'd need, that I didn't want to go into chemical engineering," Whitmore said.

He also said he knew chemical engineering was not going to be a path that allowed him to be involved in coaching and athletics. So he kept looking.

Finally, he realized he enjoyed what he was doing in athletic training. He transferred to Central Washington University and got into their athletic training program.

"My Bachelor's degree is from Central," Whitmore said. "It was in health and fitness education. I became a certified athletic trainer as well."

It was during this time an event occurred which would change his life. While in school, Whitmore spent summers working for a forest service hotshot crew fighting fires.

"It was how I paid for college," Whitmore said. "It was great for my physical fitness, it was great for my mental toughness."

It was also great for another, very important, reason.

"That's how I met my wife," Whitmore said. "She was an outstanding firefighter and we met on the hotshot crew."

It's noteworthy because Whitmore and his wife, Karen, attended school together.

"She went to Central too, but we did not meet at Central," Whitmore said, laughing before continuing, "She would not have liked me at college."

When Whitmore graduated in 1988, he began his job hunt.

"There were no P.E. jobs in Washington State," Whitmore said. "There weren't many teaching jobs, especially P. E. That was a very tough major to find any jobs in."

So Whitmore moved on to plan b.

"I thought that point would be a good time to go get my master's degree," Whitmore said.

And so, he moved to Tucson, Arizona, to attend the University of Arizona. There, he received his master's degree in exercise and sports sciences.

Tucson was a little bit bigger of a city than the small Washington towns that he and his wife were used to. But he thought it was worth it to go to school there.

"They were one of about three nationally recognized athletic training programs," Whitmore said. "They only accepted 10 kids nationally. Luckily some of my mentors at Central had also graduated there. So really, the only way I got in was because of my references. That was the first time I learned it's really who you know and the contacts that you make."

Whitmore said he promised his wife that they would only be in Tucson for two years before returning to Washington. There was just one problem: there were still no jobs in Washington.

Whitmore took a job where he could find one, which meant moving to an even larger city.

"My only job opportunity was in Phoenix," Whitmore said. "My first teaching job was at a brand new school. They didn't even have a senior class. They wanted a full-time athletic trainer and a health teacher."

At this time, Whitmore had not discovered his passion for teaching health yet. However, he was about to teach a lot of health.

"I taught six sophomore health classes," Whitmore said. "So I taught the same thing, said the same thing, six times a day. It was great for learning, I guess."

Whitmore spent one year at the school in Phoenix. He says he learned a lot in that year, including that he did not want to live in Phoenix.

"That year I experienced so many things that you might expect on a large campus in Phoenix," Whitmore said. "From gangs to white supremecists groups, you name it. We dealt with fights, we dealt with drugs ... We had some tough issues that I was not accustomed to, growing up in small towns."

So he kept searching for jobs in Washington and Oregon during the year.

"There was one job that looked pretty intriguing," Whitmore said, "And that was Ritzville."

He applied for the job, thinking his chances were slim. Whitmore admits to hardly knowing anything about Ritzville before handing in his resume.

"I had driven by a lot, just like a ton of people do," Whitmore said. "But when I dropped off that resume, I said, 'Are you kidding me? Look at that park. Look at the hospital. Look at the school.'"

Whitmore said with Ritzville having one of the only physical education teaching jobs open, he thought his changes were slim. He thinks the decision to hand in his resume in person, rather than send it in the mail, helped him get the job.

"I just happened to hand it to the superintendent at the time, John McGregor," Whitmore said. "John grew up in the area around Wenatchee and knew a little bit about my name. There were some teachers here that grew up in Wenatchee and they knew a little about me from athletics too."

Whitmore said informally meeting McGregor in person went a long way.

"I stood and talked to him outside his office for an hour and a half," Whitmore said. "I'm convinced that was more my interview than my actual interview."

Whitmore did formally interview later, and was informed he had gotten the job.

The job included teaching physical education and assistant coaching football and boy's basketball.

He started teaching in Ritzville in fall 1992. He taught high school and middle school physical education and was also asked to teach one pierd of health.

Now, 27 years later, health is the most important thing to Whitmore.

"With experience being a parent and seeing all the health issues, it has become my favorite class," Whitmore said. "I've had opportunities to move to other school districts and opportunities to become a full-time athletic director. But I want to be in a classroom. I want to be teaching kids. I want to be teaching health."

Whitmore no longer teaches physical education, but he does teach weight training. He says teaching health has taught him the importance of being there for all his students, not only the student athletes.

"Health is not all about your athletes," Whitmore said. "It's about the non-athletes and all your kids."

Whitmore is looking to expand his reach even further. He has started a blog and YouTube channel where he talks about health issues, such as vaping.

"I'm getting to that age," Whitmore said. "I still have a while before I retire, but I will be a teacher until I die. This is a way to reach people."

His YouTube channel is Tyee Mountain Wellness and his blog is online at tyeemountainwellness.com.

One of the sections of his website is dedicated to "Whitman's Big 5," a list of health factors he teaches his students in his classroom.

"My kids know Whitmore's Big 5," Whitmore said. "Nutrition is number one, stress is two. Then lack of exercise is number three, lack of sleep is four and risky behavior and poor decisions is five. These fives areas in our lives, we have to take care of them."

He says the YouTube videos are sometimes used to inform parents of what is being discussed in class.

He also hopes to host a few public seminars focusing on health.

Whitmore balances his teaching job with his roles as athletic director and football coach. He stresses that he also loves these jobs. And because he oversees the LRS athletic combine, including several schools, the athletic director job can be very time consuming. He says he would never be able to accomplish everything he does if it wasn't for his wife.

"The complexity of it all makes the athletic director job tough and time consuming," Whitmore said. "What has paid the price in that a lot of times has been my home life and my wife. At some point, I have to give back to her for the incredible sacrifice she has made as a coach's wife ... My wife has been unbelievable and I couldn't do it without her."

Whitmore is entering his 28th year as a teacher in Ritzville and his 11th as the athletic director.

Do you know a teacher you would like to see featured in our teacher profile series? Email Jeremy Burnham at [email protected]

 

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