University School of Milwaukee’s long-standing commitment to the teacher-coach model is a vital aspect of the School’s dedicated sense of community. Here we highlight four individuals who, like all of USM’s teacher-coaches, challenge their students to perform at their best and support them through all of life’s wins and losses.
Sam Adey, Upper School History Teacher and Girl’s Varsity Lacrosse Head Coach
Sam Adey’s career at USM started with coaching rather than teaching. She joined the School as head coach of the varsity girl’s lacrosse team in 2009, and she loved USM so much that she pursued a teaching career here. “USM fully supports the scholar-athlete model, where athletics and scholastics work hand in hand.” Adey said, “Also, the athletes that I coached were great kids and their parents were incredibly kind and supportive. I knew I wanted to be more involved with the USM community.”
USM fully supports the scholar-athlete model.
Adey joined the faculty in 2013 as an Upper School history teacher while continuing to coach. Serving as a teacher helped her to further grow the lacrosse program, which was still fairly new to the School. “If the students enjoy my class and feel comfortable around me, they might be more inclined to try lacrosse,” Adey said. “Plus, teaching and coaching further builds a community of School spirit. I’m more invested in the community because I can meet students whom I might not otherwise, and I’m part of something bigger than either the team of the classroom.”
For Adey, athletics is much more than winning or losing. “Through athletics, you learn life lessons that you don’t always learn in class. For example, losing is an inevitability in sports. When you lose as a team, how do you learn from that failure so you don’t make the same mistakes? That’s often easier to teach on the field that in the classroom.”
Mike Sweet, 3rd Grade Teacher, 5th Grade Basketball Coach, and Lower School Athletics Coordinator
When it comes to building community, according to Mike Sweet, sports is a no-brainer. “Athletics is something that interests virtually every age group here,” Sweet said. “It’s something that can bridge that gap between all three divisions, and provide a great mentoring opportunity for Upper Schoolers.”
Sweet helped to develop the Mighty Cats athletic program for Lower School students as a way to get them involved with, and excited about, sports. The extracurricular program consists of two sports per session, and the sports align with the Upper School’s seasons. “Right now, we’re working on soccer and we have soccer buddies,” Sweet said. “During practices, varsity soccer players help us with drills. And during their varsity games, our kids serve as ball boys and girls.” Not only does it build camaraderie, it’s a great way to expose young students to athletics. “Varsity coaches love it because they see their numbers increasing as a result of students being exposed to the sport and the coaches.”
For Sweet, being a teacher gives him an advantage as a coach. “I know what motivates them, I know when to push and when not to push, and I can alter my practice plan based on the individual needs of each player because I’ve had a lot of them in class. Plus, they see me as more than just someone who runs drills.”
Matt Flack, Upper School English Teacher, and Boy’s and Girl’s Varsity Tennis Head Coach
For Matt Flack, coaching tennis is more than just a way to fill the hours after school ends. “Coaching allows me to get to know the students in a different context,” Flack said. “I see these young people in very difficult, competitive situations that have immediate consequences. The psychology of that is very different that in the classroom.”
While coaching two varsity sports often makes for long days and weekends away from home, coaching improves Flack’s performances both on the court and in the classroom. “As a teacher-coach, I am invested in the community in a different way, a fuller way. Because I see students in another context, I get a more complete picture and it helps me tailor what I’m doing toward their individual needs. It gives me perspective.”
As a teacher-coach, I am invested in the community.
For Flack, USM’s community is what sets it apart from the other private schools where he’s taught. “From the administration to the teachers and staff, from prekindergarten through grade 12, there is a continuity here. As a teacher, coach, and employee, the whole community is committed to the mission of USM.”
Todd Schlenker, Middle School Spanish and Guitar Teacher, and Middle School Cross Country and Track Coach
Todd Schlenker has been teaching at USM since 1996, and coaching here for almost as long, too. One of his earliest USM coaching experiences was 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-grade girls basketball, which his daughter was a part of. “I was a little nervous because I had never coached girls before, and 24 girls came out to play that year. So it was eye-opening for me as a dad and a coach, and a great learning experience,” Schlenker said.
Regardless of the athletes’ gender, Schlenker loves coaching Middle School students. “Middle School athletics is more recreational that seriously competitive,” Schlenker said. “Although the competition aspect is nice because it pushes athletes, the emphasis is more on performing to the best of one’s abilities rather than winning. It’s a great way for them to ‘try on’ a sport and see if they like it.”
Schlenker also loves the community aspect of team sports. “Being part of a team helps to build community between grade levels, to compete and participate together, and to show leadership. Also, it helps them understand that the team’s success or lack of success does not depend solely on a single individual. Collectively they can accomplish great things if they work together. They learn to appreciate each other and learn about each other in a way that they might not be able to learn if they just did their school work and nothing else.”