If you happen to drive by Genoa’s Brunner Elementary on an early spring afternoon, you’re likely to do a double take at the sight of him in one of his many track suits and matching ball caps.
If you stop by the school on a Wednesday any time of the school year for pizza day, you can bet that longtime Genoa gym teacher Brent McGraw will have been there first.
A 30-plus-year veteran educator in Genoa Schools, he has taught at Brunner since the mid-1970s — at the long-defunct Camper Elementary nine years, at Genoa High with freshmen and sophomores for three years in the late 1980s, and at the new middle school for another three-year stint for one class a day a handful of years back.
McGraw’s not only running out of district-wide buildings to impart his wisdom (only Allen remains), he’s literally running out of room at Brunner — the one he loves and has come to embrace as a home away from home.
His classes continue to grow larger every fall, space in his gym facility gets scarcer, and noticeably more outdated. McGraw says the successful passage of Issue 14 on Nov. 4 will go down in school history as perhaps his students’ biggest collective victory yet — one more important than any record number of sit-ups they could churn out.
“My greatest concern here at Brunner today, of course, is with the upcoming levy this November, and with hoping that it will pass,” said McGraw previous to the Genoa Schools’ 1.9-mills and .05-mill permanent facilities improvement levy.
Passage of the levy will now allow the district to cross the finish line to the tune of a brand-new K-5 elementary school, along with a new high school with a new 1,600-seat state-of-the-art gym, a renovated auditorium, and restrooms at Comet Stadium, among other improvements.
“We definitely need a larger gym for these students, as when you have 23 second graders like we do this year in a small gym like this, where you constantly have a lot of people running around, and bumping into one another, you have a greater possibility of kids getting hurt, if we let them all go out and participate at once,” he said.
“So sometimes, with this old gym, we have to try to restrict the numbers of students who can be out there on the floor and participating, in any given activity at once,” explains the 1969 graduate of DeVilbiss and 1973 alum of the University of Toledo. It was at UT where he earned his degree in comprehensive physical education, discovered his lifelong passion for gymnastics and even pursued to play college-level volleyball.
“Another big major problem that we have here at this school is with the gym floor itself,” continues McGraw, “because when the bus kids come in here in the mornings during wintertime, along with them we of course also get all that snow, and ice, and water.
“By the time we get the floor cleaned up and get fans out there to dry up all the water, it’s taken away this nice wax finish that we have, which is supposed to reduce slipperiness when the kids are running around,” McGraw said.
“Now, with our new, wood floor coming up with the new school, we wouldn’t have those kinds of problems,” he added.
Hired into the Genoa school system in 1975, he first went to work in the dark, damp basement of Camper Elementary, a place he remembers as “horrendous.”
Rite of passage
Today, his rite of passage simply known as Field Day is very much alive and well. It was started during McGraw’s second year at Genoa and over the decades has featured some of Genoa’s best athletes.
McGraw feels that his field days of the past at least had a little something to do with generating interest in track and field and the building of Genoa’s eventual successful junior high track program. He said these burgeoning champions have to give a bit of credit for their know-how and stamina to compete at the next level to those mandatory Presidential Fitness Tests that their tireless gym teacher put them through the paces with. This year’s crop of overachievers fielded 110 winners in the testing, 42 of whom are first-graders, which had never been done before in Genoa history.
Over his career, he’s had the pleasure of watching local NHL star Bryan Smolinski grow up (“Smoke,” too, played floor hockey here); of training a number of young gymnasts and teaching generations of Genoa’s finest little league baseball players, football stars, and round ballers.
Just keep moving
“My philosophy after teaching for so many years is to give these kids exposure to as many different physical activities as I can,” McGraw said. “I know that some parents are going to be gung-ho on one particular sport, and that’s great, you can concentrate on that sport outside of school.
“But the philosophy of our program here at the school is to keep the kids active, and to always keep them moving, and to introduce them to as many basic concepts in as many different sports fields as possible,” he said.
“That’s another reason why I love this job,” he said. We cover so many different activities, and so many different sports together, that it simply never gets old or repetitive.
“It’s not like a desk job — it’s something new every day,” he said. “And it helps to keep me young.”