GENOA – At first, the whole situation was very surreal.
But as year two is wrapping up for Griffin McNeal, he’s gotten much more used to coaching and teaching where he was a student and an athlete barely eight years ago with Genoa-Kingston School District 424.
McNeal said it was strange from the start, even before he was hired.
“The first year, I remember walking in on institute days before the year started, [and] it was very weird,” McNeal said. “Even my interview, the assistant principal was my AP Environmental teacher from high school. Then three PE people – two I saw when I was here, and the other I kind of knew personally. It was odd at times. Institute day, do I call people by their first or last name? It was a kind of weird in-between thing.”
“You didn’t appreciate it at the time, how much time people put into it. Now you’re on the other side of it and it’s like ‘Wow, now I see how hard these guys are working.’ You don’t always think about that when you’re a student-athlete. It’s just awesome to be on the other side of it, to see what happens behind the scenes, and think about all the great things they’ve done for you to help you get to this point.”
A 2015 graduate of Genoa-Kingston, McNeal came on board as a teacher in the fall of 2021.
At the start of this school year, he took over the varsity boys basketball program, plus added driver’s education to his list of teaching responsibilities alongside physical education.
He’s also an assistant football coach, working with Cam Davekos. McNeal played football at Ripon College until he graduated in 2019.
Davekos coached McNeal in eighth-grade basketball and said a lot of those qualities McNeal displayed back then have helped him succeed now.
“He’s been doing a nice job with setting boundaries and making sure students and faculty know, ‘Hey, I’m for real. I’m here to do my job to the best of my ability,’” Davekos said. “And I’ve seen everybody respect him for that. He’s just that kind of guy. He’ll dish out as much support you need if you need something from him.”
McNeal said that former G-K coach Chad Wilmarth reached out to McNeal in April 2021, letting him know he was leaving the district and there would be an opening in the PE department.
It didn’t take any more than that for McNeal to go after the job teaching at his alma mater.
“Obviously, I had a really good experience here,” McNeal said. “Chad ... gave me a call to let me know he’d be taking a job elsewhere. To me, it was a no-brainer to apply and at least throw my name in there because I had such a good experience and still live in Genoa. [I’ve got] nothing but good things to say. So it was super exciting to have the opportunity.”
McNeal said it’s awesome being on the other side of things now, especially watching his relationships with former teachers and coaches evolve. He said working with former coaches such as Travis Frederick, Anson Ellis and Corey Jenkins has been great.
He mentioned that he golfs regularly with Mike Lauer, who has coached golf and softball at the school.
“It’s still funky to think [that] not that long ago I was on the other side of it,” McNeal said. “But I think it also helps me relate to the students. We’ve got the same schedule – we did block schedule when I was here. It still is really weird sometimes, but it’s awesome to have these relationships with people who used to teach me. Mike Lauer used to be my PE teacher, and now we go out golfing as much as we can.”
Lauer said McNeal has done a great job.
“That’s not an easy transition, to be one of the better athletes and popular kids to go through this school then come back and teach,” Lauer said. “And he still lives in the community. He’s done a great job of transitioning. He’s earned a lot of kids’ respect.”
Lauer said McNeal sets his standards really well on the court and in the classroom, letting his students know what he expects and how he expects to be treated.
“It’s a really good story anytime in a community this size you have someone like Griff come back to give back, I’d guess you say, and share what he’s learned from here,” Lauer said. “He went away to Ripon and learned some things and had some good experiences there he can bring back.
“But for kids that were young when he was here, they probably looked up to him. It’s just a positive thing for the community and for the kids that are here.”
McNeal said that as a student it’s hard to see all the work that goes into being a coach and a teacher. But having experienced it from the other side, it’s made him more appreciative of what he had during his high school career.
“You didn’t appreciate it at the time how much time people put into it,” McNeal said. “Now you’re on the other side of it, and it’s like, ‘Wow, now I see how hard these guys are working.’ You don’t always think about that when you’re a student-athlete.
“It’s just awesome to be on the other side of it, to see what happens behind the scenes, and think about all the great things they’ve done for you to help you get to this point.”