John R. Bennett spent his professional career teaching math and coaching sports in Nashville, Tennessee, from the late ‘50s through the early ‘90s. In 1967, the elders of the Nashville Jewish Community Center, confronted with a desperate paucity of credible athletic role models, had the good sense to hire Coach Bennett to run their inaugural summer sports camp for boys. That summer Coach Bennett methodically taught 30 klutzes how to hold baseball bats, throw properly, shoot basketballs, kick footballs, and optimally garnish kosher hotdogs.
His main gig during these years was teaching geometry and coaching baseball, football, and basketball at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville (known as MBA)In geometry class, he had a way of saying hah-pot’n-NOOSE that demonstrated the unique cadences of classical Middle-Tennessee English at their finest, and are rumored to have inspired Pythagoras do 125 RPMs in his grave.
Over the course of 200 days a year over six years, upon seeing a student’s face for the first time of the day, he never once failed to break into the big grin shown at right, subliminally sending a message that seeing that particular face was the best thing that had happened to him so far that day. Every student was under the impression that he alone got this special treatment, but subsequently it was learned that Coach actually pulled the same stunt on countless kids every day, making them all think the same thing.
Coach Bennett departed this earth in 1996. He currently divides his time between several different clouds, depending on the season. But he always plans his summer afternoons around our sports classes, which he observes with mirth from various celestial vantage points.
T. Michael Drake taught American and European History and coached basketball, soccer, cross country, and track at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Coach Drake could deliver spellbinding lectures at the drop of a hat on pretty much every major event in North America since 1600, and in Western Europe since 1400. Though not apparent at the time, he was also training a dyslexic sophomore to be a storyteller, and telling the tale so well that he inspired at least one lifelong love for history books.
He had an uncanny ability to sense the unexhibited emotional distress of fragile adolescents, and come up with the right encouraging words and gestures to keep them on track.
After teaching history and coaching sports all day he went to grad school at night, earning his Ed.D the same way the tortoise raced the hare.
For six straight years, from 1970 till 1976, he was perpetually cheerful, even with the most difficult students. Nobody can remember him ever being cross, and yet he knew how to coax students into better performance than they ever thought they had in them.
To this day, a large number of guys in their 40s and 50s can call him up, and when he answers the phone, all they have to do is say “Coach” and he immediately can greet the caller by name, based on hearing a single-syllable
Dr. Drake is currently the Dean of Academics at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon, Georgia. In solidarity with his wife Mardi and the students and faculty of Tattnall, who need to keep him humble, we refrain from gushing further.
Tributes contributed by…
J. Alfred Hooprock
• MBA ’76, Sine Laude