These are the true stories that explain what those robots are actually doing when they’re done lecturing and grading papers. This is “Inside the Lives of Teachers.”
“I don’t want to be known as just a football coach.”
Todd Mealy, indeed, is not just a football coach, not just a teacher, not just a volunteer security guard, not just a political contractor or an author. He’s all five.
One – football coach.
Coaching brought Mealy from his place of growing up, Harrisburg, PA, in 2001. Ever since then, first at McCaskey High School for six years, then Penn Manor, he has been coaching the sport of football. Football, a game that is way more than throwing a ball back and forth in Mealy’s eyes.
“Football is the best sport to teach life lessons,” he said, “ultimately, our goal is to raise young men.”
Realizing that football isn’t in the future for most of his players, he tries to make it more than just touchdowns and field goals, but about life after high school.
“Most of them are never going to play football after their senior year (so) something else better drive them.”
Mealy started his teaching career at Penn Manor in 2007 after being at McCaskey for the previous six years, which he said he “very much liked.”
“That was tough to give up,” the 31-year old stated about his transition from North Reservoir to East Cottage.
History has been Mealy’s subject of choice his whole life and he’s continued that trend in his four years being a history teacher at Penn Manor.
“I used to volunteer my services at Hershey Park Stadium as a security guard,” Mealy said of his side job around the year 2000.
Free tickets weren’t too shabby, but there was also another reason why he took the time to volunteer.
“So I can have the opportunity to meet the performers,” he said.
In fact, the football coach – muscles, beard and all – was faced with one of his most nerve-wracking moments amidst all of the celebrities.
Mealy was at the front of the stage – the stage where, soon, a woman by the name of Britney Spears would perform.
Following Spears’ sound check, she was heading to a “meet and greet” as she called it, but Mealy had other plans for her.
He said to his buddy, “Now’s my opportunity. I’m going.”
After being warned that if he was caught trying to hunt down the pop star, he would surely get fired. That was the least of his worries, though – after all, he was volunteering – replying with a short three-word response.
“I don’t care.”
Mealy began his pursuit with a 3/4 sprint, as he called it – a bit faster than a jog but not quite the speed of a full-on sprint. Soon after, he landed himself a mere 10 feet away from her.
“Britney,” Mealy uttered.
Spears, with a tan get-up of not only her skin, but her dress skirt and flip flops, stopped, turned around and smiled.
Nerves suddenly halted him from executing a run-of-the-mill task regularly performed by the brain – speaking.
“Nothing came out,” he said.
“I don’t have time for this,” Spears said and continued her way out of the arena.
Suddenly, the then 20-year old regained his confidence – and then some – forcing himself to the level of, not just first name basis, but a nickname basis.
“Brit,” he said, “Can I take one quick picture with you?”
“Make it quick,” she answered.
One click of the disposable camera later, a showing of appreciation was expressed towards Spears, but the same wasn’t for Mealy.
“She said nothing and walked away,” he said.
Walking back to his designated spot his next objective – if he wasn’t met by the head of security and the words, “Give me your shirt. Get out of here.”
On his way out, he was greeted by “10, 11, 12 year olds” – some that would literally “fall to the ground” – who were ecstatic about the upcoming show.
“(All of a sudden) I run into this guy,” Mealy explained. The “guy” was yet another pop superstar.
“I chest bumped Justin Timberlake,” he said.
“J.T.,” he said to him, noting that he takes credit for that nickname, “Sorry about that,” then shook his hand and bid him farewell – without getting a picture.
“I choked,” said Mealy.
Ever since that day, a new hobby has showed up in the rooms, hallways and staircases in his home.
“I try to get as many photos with as many celebrities and professional athletes to put up on my wall,” he said. He calls that wall the “Wall of Fame” or “Vanity Wall.”
“When I go to (events), I look out for them. It takes a lot of effort” said Mealy.
That effort pulls off as the walls in his staircase hallway and office display pictures with celebrities like Michael Jordon, Hakeem Olajuwan, Jimmy Johnson, Roy Williams, Bob Casey and even President Barack Obama.
Four – political contractor.
“I can’t speak about it,” he said.
Five – author.
“Many don’t possess an enthusiasm to learn history as they’re leaving high school,” Mealy said.
He was one of the few that did.
“I liked working in history more than anything else,” he said.
In college, he majored in Historical Research and also created a website about the underground railroad in Lancaster County. After researching, speaking, and growing fond of the subject of history he thought to himself, “you know, why don’t I just write something?”
The first of two books written by Mealy was published in 2007. After five years of research and one year of writing, he finished up his book, Biography of an Antislavery City, which he says, “reads more like a textbook.”
The book explains the role Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had on the antislavery movement and argues the point that the keystone state’s capital was just as important during the early 19th century as cities like New York and Philadelphia – where the movement against slavery was at its prime.
Two hundred sixty-two pages are contained inside the first paperback he’d write. His next feat was about quadruple that amount.
Two volumes, one 436 pages and the other 558, can be found in his next project, Aliened American: A Biography of William Howard Day.
The life of Day is illustrated in both volumes split between the years, 1825 to 1865 and 1866 to 1900 – how he was adopted into a white family, his collaboration with civil rights activists like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and his days as an educator, preacher, writer and orator during the 19th century.
“I hope that this book could serve as a primer on how the civil rights movement got its routes,” said Mealy, noting that he wants to get all historical figures’ stories that have gone unnoticed out to people can realize that their role may be more important than they thought.
“History is written by the people that have gone faceless,” Mealy said. “(Their) stories deserve to be told.”
Mealy also mentioned seeing memorials and things around Harrisburg with Day’s name on it and not knowing who he was. After researching and finding out more about the man, he “became fascinated with his story,” Mealy said.
The book published in July of 2010 is up for two awards – the PHC Live and Learn Book Award which is given to Pennsylvania civil rights related publications, and the Gilder Lehrman Frederick Douglass Book Prize which books from all around the country about the civil rights movement can be won. The winner of that award wins 25,000 dollars, but Mealy is just honored to be in the running.
“I’m grateful that (the book) has been nominated,” he said, “Do I think I’ll win? I don’t think so.”
Mealy isn’t just grateful for being up for awards, but the help he’s gotten over the years, has led him where he is today.
“If someone’s willing to help you, it’s okay to accept it,” he said, adding, “I try and take something from everyone I talk to.”
When Mealy team-taught a course right above the underground railroad at Dickinson College, he became fond of a man named Matthew Pinsker, an Abraham Lincoln scholar and author of two books. In the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008, Pinsker “guided much of what I’ve done,” said Mealy.
“He’s been my mentor. Without him and good parents…” he thought.
In 31 years, Mealy has accomplished many things, but not all of the activities listed on his bucket list are crossed off.
“After I’m done teaching, I’m going to New York to start an acting career,” he said.
Having 4500 points on his Regal Crown card from the nearest movie theater which he says he’s “very proud of,” he sees movies and says to himself, “I think I can do that,” he said.
Acting seems to be in the current history teacher’s future, but in terms of writing another book, a simple four words express his feelings on the matter.
“I need a break.”