Academy teacher, Brad Henry.
“Never Underestimate the Little Things”
How do you thank a person that saved your life? I’m not so certain that this can be achieved through words alone–but I’ll try. What I do know is I would not be here writing an article for CA’s Academy Life in 2019 if it were not for one man, Dominic Facciolla.
Yes, that’s right, our Athletic Director, Mr. Facciolla.
We often hear that the little things we do in life have the most impact on others. The small gestures, the kind words, a smile, the patience to listen to one another. I’m here to tell you it’s true. When I occasionally get outside my own head, I get to witness a multitude of these “little things” every day. I consider myself to be an extremely fortunate individual to work in an environment that continually fosters these “little things.” And I get to see this in teachers who go out of their way to cheer up a student who is having a rough day, in the student who holds the door for others during lunch time-even when it’s General Tso’s or pierogi day, the colleague that pats you on the back and reassures you that “yes” you will get through this day, or the administrator who takes the time to shake hands with passing students. I knew this place was different on my very first day, 12 years ago, when 20-plus students stood in a line outside my door. One by one they came in, looked me in the eyes, shook my hand, introduced themselves and said, “Welcome to Columbus Academy.” And this was all before teaching my first class. Yes. It’s the little things we do.
So how did Mr. Facciolla save my life? No, he didn’t run inside a burning building and carry me down a flight of stairs, nor did he jump into a frozen lake and get me onshore. He was merely doing one of those “little things” by addressing the middle school on a topic he considered important. Let me explain.
It was my second year of teaching at Academy, and during an assembly, Mr. Facciolla spoke about the importance of having teachers serve in some coaching capacity. He mentioned the difference teachers can make as a coach and the benefits it brings by knowing your students outside the classroom walls. He delivered his message with such sincerity and conviction that it compelled me to meet with him the next day to figure out where I might fit in as a coach. (He placed me on the soccer field as an assistant to Mr. Belcher.) At the end of our conversation, Mr.
Facciolla mentioned that I needed to have a physical before being able to coach. I shook his hand, walked out the door, and called my doctor to set up a physical. That’s when my life changed.
The next week I saw my doctor for a physical and because it had been so many years between doctor visits, I decided to do a full on physical, blood work and all. It wasn’t long after this first check-up that my doctor called me in for a second visit: he was concerned about one of the blood tests and wanted to do some additional testing. Yes, the tests results came back and reaffirmed what he thought was true. I had cancer. A very aggressive, fast growing cancer that had been in my body for years. A stage 3 diagnosis with both a surgery and two-and-a-half months of radiation in my future was not what a typical 40 year-old wants to hear (or any age for that matter). After all, I had two children under the age of six.
It was during this time that the “little things” people did helped me through this rough patch. In a conversation I had with Dr. Bezant, he was adamant about me telling the students and parents about my diagnosis, while my plan was really to just disappear for a few weeks and return all better. I’ll never forget what Dr. B said: “Brad, you have to let people know so that they can help take care of you, and this is what Columbus Academy does so well-taking care of each other.” Convinced, I wrote a letter to parents and spoke to my students. On the Monday of the week I was scheduled for surgery, I returned to school to find not only a computer filled with emails from concerned parents wishing me well, but also two students, Hannah Wexner and Kat Restrepo, in the hallway selling bracelets in my honor to help raise money for cancer research. I’ve broken down in front of my students only two times in my 22 years as a teacher. That’s less than once a decade. The first was when teaching high school in Wisconsin, a student of mine had died in a car accident. The second was when tears and more tears ran down my face as I tried to thank those girls during class. There I was-standing in front of a class of 7th graders crying profusely. As I tried hard to regain my composure, and as my head dropped, I heard in the background students saying,”It’s okay, Mr. Henry . . . It’s okay.”
Yes, it was in these little gestures that made a very difficult time much easier. It was Mrs. Platt calling the hospital after surgery to make sure everything went well. It was the food that parents and my advisory made and delivered to me at home. It was Mr. Belcher who rallied the soccer team to make cards. It was Mrs. Nockowitz’s consistent concern and reassuring words that I was going to get through this thing. And I did. It’s been over a decade since that diagnosis. And I’m still here and fortunate to be alive.
I don’t know why Mr. Facciolla decided to speak in front of the assembly that year. Perhaps it stemmed from a personal belief, an article he read that month, or perhaps a conversation he had the night before. What I do know is that I would not be here if I had not heard those words spoken in front of an assembly from a very dedicated athletic director.
As many of you know, this is Mr. Faccolla’s last year at Academy. On a personal level, I’m really going to miss Dominic. I’ve had many conversations with him in my 12 years here, and I’ve come to greatly admire and respect him. He’s never short on words. As a staff member, he’s the guy you’d most like to have a root beer with after work, or to travel to some foreign country because you know you’d learn a ton just by hanging out with him. He brings perspective, a genuinely positive attitude, an old school decency, and the kind of respect we should give to everyone. There has never been a time when Dominic has not stopped to say hello, to shake hands, or to ask how you are doing. He invests heavily in honesty, integrity and respect. In my mind, Dominic is the very definition of a true gentleman.
Thank you Mr. Facciolla for your friendship, your wisdom, your kind words, your patience, and of course, for speaking at that middle school assembly more than a decade ago.