If you have spent any time with Dr. Markham, there is no doubt you have a story.
My story or at least the story of my adult life, actually begins with Mr. Markham. In June 2004, I interviewed for an athletic training job in Gulf Breeze, Florida with a national physical therapy company. I did not get that job but they offered me a position in either Hilton Head, South Carolina or Dacula, Georgia. I obviously jumped at the Hilton Head job. Except there was a catch, that job was not available till January. The Dacula job was available in 2 weeks and I would have to notify them in 2 days. I prayed on it, slept on it and then what most people do, I googled it.
I came across 2 videos. One was of Coach Jarvis addressing parents at his first parent meeting. The other was Mr. Markham addressing the future parents of Mill Creek.
Those two speeches spoke to me. Little did I know these two men would impact my life for years to come.
Mr. Markham and Coach Jarvis both had visions for Mill Creek High School, Mill Creek Football and the Mill Creek Community. Encouraged by their vision, I decided to take a chance and uprooted my life to Gwinnett County, Georgia. I found an apartment in Lawrenceville, sight unseen, packed up my Hyundai and brother’s car and moved down South. My family, my friends, and colleagues were probably glad to see me go, because at that time I was pretty full of myself and needed some real-world experience. But they knew, at least from what I told them, that I would be back…
Worst case scenario, I’m in Georgia a year and move back to Chicago. Or maybe that Hilton Head job would still be available and they would be able to come visit me at the beach…
The first time I met Mr. Markham was the day after I arrived in Georgia. I was advised to schedule a meeting with him by my new employer. It’s a Friday, school is out for the summer. I happen to arrive 15 minutes early to our 1:00 meeting, the school looks shutdown, the doors are locked. I wait a few minutes, start to sweat in the Georgia heat, walk back to my car and check what I have written down in my planner. (my flip phone did not have a calendar that was worth using) 1:00. As I am about to walk back to the school I get a call from the PT clinic they need me to stop by after my meeting.
It’s June in Georgia, and this Chicago boy is now sweating buckets in the suffocating heat and humidity.
I get off the phone and walk up to the school. Mr. Markham is standing at the door. He stares me down and states “Our meeting was at 1:00” (I’m thinking to myself, great?! Blew that first impression and seriously, it has to be 1:01 at the latest.)
Me. “Yes sir.” We walk back to his office. As we enter, I cannot see a thing. Mr. Markham had one dim light lit and I just came from outside. My eyes can’t adjust and they definitely didn’t adjust from the Georgia sun. (My cheap, non-polarized rubber knock off wayfarers, that you get on spring break would not cut it, nor help my eyes prepare for this cave of an office.)
We are in his office for about 30 minutes and Mr. Markham told me stories of his coaching days, his military days, and his football playing days. He then decides he wants to give me a tour of the school. We walk the entire school, him showing me each hall, each pod, each brick that he says he can name as he saw all of them be placed. (Mind you I am not going to be teaching at Mill Creek but he wanted me to know how proud he was of this building.) We finally make it through to the gyms, the training rooms and finish the tour.
An hour later…he ended the meeting. He finished with a story on how he had a bad experience with a “trainer” telling him how to do his job and never had use for them since.
I’m thinking to myself, great meeting, did he just tell me he had no use for me?
He leads me to the front entrance, and as we are walking out, he tells me that he personally hired every coach at the school and that he hired the best coaches in the state. He tells me that his priority is teaching kids and that if I respect the coaches and take care of the kids to keep them safe I’ll do just fine.
Through that year, I heard many more stories and got to know him better. This was the beginning of one of the most “interesting” personal and professional relationships I have ever had.
The first year as head athletic trainer went well and I realized that along with my athletic training duties, I wanted to teach at Mill Creek. Ashley, who I was not dating at the time, had convinced me to apply. She said that she personally talked to “Markham” about how many jobs that were going to be available, how I’d be perfect for Mill Creek, how awesome it was to teach here…
She insisted that I talk to Mr. Markham about the possibility of teaching at Mill Creek.
Ashley has me thinking I was a shoe-in for the job, but still, I had to interview with Mr. Markham. I fill out the county paperwork and schedule an interview. This time I show up 15 minutes early again but I am sure to be at the door waiting. I go into the front office and wait for him. He comes out 5 minutes late holding a paper towel over his bloody finger. He tells me that he cut it while cutting an apple. He walks me back to the clinic and proceeds to get out medical supplies for his finger. I ask him if I can help him and he says no and proceeds to clean and dress the wound himself.
He does a pretty good job of it but he can’t get the Band-Aid wrapper open. So, I open it for him and he goes into a story…
Mr. Markham was always good with stories and if he trusted you, you would get the unedited version.
We walk back to his office and once again I can’t see a thing. He has me sit down and tells me that I have the job if I want it. He says “I have no idea what kind of teacher you are going to be. But the references of Buck (Dr. Buchanan) and Shannon (Coach Jarvis) are a good start.” He goes on to say, “I respect the hell those two men, so that’s good enough for me”. (Provided the county clears me). Then he asked me three questions. “Why do you want to teach? What do you want to teach at Mill Creek? And how long do you plan to stay in Georgia?” My answers to these three questions would be foreshadowing of my future for the next 15 years, really to this very day.
(Ashley had prepped me on this. Not the questions he would ask me, but how to answer them. She said “be honest, compliment him or Mill Creek, and be yourself, because it won’t matter because he will go into some story after each question you answer.”)
I told him that when I started college, I went to Merrimack College in Massachusetts. I was pre-med and playing football, that neither of those worked out and I transferred back home. I went to community college for a year. Over that summer, I worked several sports camps at my high school and I had a former coach tell me that I would make a good coach and teacher. In the fall, I transferred to Eastern Illinois University, and decided to double major in education and athletic training because of my interest in medicine. The more education and athletic training classes I took, the more I knew I want to teach and be an athletic trainer…I proceeded to tell him the Mill Creek would be my dream job, one that I had hoped to find in Chicago… I told him that I had never worked with such a great collection of coaches. Coaches who cared about the kids as individuals and built lasting relationships with those athletes like I had with my coaches. The athletes, coaches and parents respected what I did and made my job easy. I told him that I would be willing to teach wherever he needed me since I had a broad field science and PE certificate, but I really would like to teach Sports Medicine. I finished with promising him that I’d stay at least five years at Mill Creek and would not be looking for another job. He quickly reminded me that I would be signing a one year contract and that Georgia was an at-will state and he could fire me at anytime… conceding that there is an additional due process for teachers. He then told me a five-year commitment wasn’t necessary but he appreciated it.
I owe Dr. Markham more than he ever knew. Mill Creek was/is my dream job. Me stating that I was willing to stay in Georgia five years was the first time I admitted that I had a future in Georgia and this allowed me to be open to the relationship with Ashley that was just about to begin. And finally recognizing that the Mill Creek was not only a great school but an awesome community was just the beginning…
Dr. Markham taught me that students come first, the definition of integrity, that loyalty is not to be taken for granted, and the true meaning of courage…
The greatest lesson being courage. Courage to make difficult choices as a teacher, a professional, a leader… Courage on how to manage difficult parents, on how to support coaches, on how to be influential in a community, and how to fight cancer… Ashley and I saw the battles he waged with cancer and how he never let the pain, side effects, or fatigue keep him from doing what he felt he needed to do or wanted to do.
Ashley and Jim had a special bond that started before she ever had cancer. She would speak her mind and Dr. Markham respected that because she backed it up as a coach and a teacher. In meetings, Ashley was able to say and get away with much more than other teachers in her position.
I know other coaches or teachers would have Ashley bring something up to him that they did not feel comfortable saying.
Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Markham was not a push over, he let Ashley know when he thought she was wrong, but she would also let him know when she thought he was wrong and I don’t know many people who could or would tell him that.
When Ashley first got sick, Jim did everything he could to help her and I with taking days off, coordinating Ashley’s care and making sure her classes were taken care of until her eventual return.
It was a hectic time for Dr. Markham because he had announced his retirement the previous year and was leaving Mill Creek and he was continuing to battle his own cancer diagnosis. Jason Lane had been named to succeed him about the same time Ashley had her Whipple surgery. Ashley recovered and returned to coaching while Dr. Markham headed to the ISC for a job at the county level.
Three years later when Ashley’s cancer returned, Jim was one of the first people to contact Ashley and offer any help he could. He wrote me a very nice letter encouraging me as a caregiver and telling me that he knew that I would take great care of Ashley. And that through watching what his wife Ruth had to go through caring for him, that it will be a daunting task. That I needed to be strong at times, but also just be there because that’s what Ruth did for him…
Over the past year, Ashley and Jim became pen pals through texts, emails, and cards. They cheered each other up and consoled each other. In typical fashion, they both were more concerned about the other’s health than their own.
Last July, Ashley was in the hospital and Jim came to visit her. She was feeling particularly down that day, but she was so grateful that he came to visit her even while he was dealing with his own treatment side effects. I wasn’t there because I had the boys, but I was told it was quite the site with them sharing cancer war stories about treatments, medicines, appointments, and how crappy this disease was. After he left, Ashley was in better spirits and was able to get some fluid drained off that made her feel better… So much so, she wanted to walk around the floor. Ironically, Ashley, one of our neighbors, and a friend’s parent were all on the same floor in the hospital for different issues. Ashley stopped by each room saying hi, visiting and campaigning for hospital homecoming queen.
Jim’s visit made her feel better, so she paid it forward and made others feel better.
For me, Dr. Markham’s real legacy is the community he built. Over the past fifteen years, Markham’s collection of coaches, teachers, and support staff became mine and Ashley support group. Without them I don’t know how Ashley and I would have made it. Every person I have in my life in Georgia, Jim is directly responsible for. He hired people that would become my mentors, my friends, my family… I continue to be overwhelmed by the support that THIS community has shown my family. It is a testament to the impact Ashley had on people…
But I also recognize how God worked through a teacher, with the exterior of a war-hardened general and the heart of a teddy bear to create something bigger than me or Ashley, something first class…