Roadrunner Families, I want to start by congratulating Coach Huff and all of our Roadrunners on winning the Healthiest Schools Award for elementary schools from the Mayor’s Health and Fitness Council! We take great pride in all of the physical fitness, experiential learning and healthy living initiatives that take place here at Lee and it was great to be recognized by Mayor Adler and his council this morning. In the award ceremony they made reference to our PTA family camp-out and rainwater collection system, both of which would not be possible without the support of our PTA. Please read below to learn more about Coach Huff and his remarkable work here at Russell Lee Elementary.
Our Roadrunner Rally is underway and gaining momentum thanks to all of the tax deductible contributions made so far. The Rally lasts the entire month of September and we are asking for a one time donation of $225/child to help fund things like Geography Day, math/reading specialists, track and field improvements, classroom expenses, substitutes for conference days, Science Fair and our grade level performances. We appreciate any amount you feel you can donate and if you have an employer who will match your donation, that’s even better! Many companies will match your donation, but if you are unsure if they do, please email Andy Hunt ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) or Rosemary Stewart ( email@example.com ) with any questions. Thanks to both of them for all of their hard work on this year’s Roadrunner Rally!
Please join us next Tuesday morning in the library for the first PTA Welcome Coffee of the year. These welcome coffees are designed to welcome new families and share helpful information about our school and community. Then, on the following Tuesday, September 25th we will hold our first Principal’s Coffee in the morning and our first CAC Meeting at 3:15 in the afternoon. Both meetings are open to everyone. Our Principal’s Coffee will serve as an introduction to our fabulous new assistant principal, Caitlin Sileo and provide time for families to ask questions and get to know more about what will be happening this year at Russell Lee Elementary.
Lastly, I am excited to share the first installment of this year’s We Are Lee series. In anticipation of Coach Huff’s retirement at the end of the semester, writer and Lee parent Clayton Maxwell sat down with our iconic physical education teacher.
Getting Real with Coach Huff
Coach Huff is a Lee legend. Kids dress up like him for Halloween. Over meals at home, his name is spoken in reverential tones as students share what they’ve learned about healthy food choices. Children throughout Austin and beyond fondly recall Coach Huff leading them in the Lee graduation day Macarena, or coaching them through dance performances for the Celebrations program, and guiding the whole school through the opening games of Lee Olympics. After 14 years here, Coach Huff–often seen in his visors and signature headbands–with his high energy, dance moves, and passion for marathons and oatmeal–is retiring from Lee.
We Are Lee, the interview series that aspires to tell the stories of different members of the Lee Community, sat down for a coffee session with the Coach in which his love for everything from the Lee programs to acting to dancing to the marvels of the body shined through. Thank you Coach Huff; you’ve made an immeasurable impact on our kids. They will be telling stories about you for decades to come.
We Are Lee: It’s hard to imagine you not at Lee anymore. Who’s going to lead the Macarena on the last day of school?
Coach Huff: Yeah. It’s going be hard for me. I was telling the students today how my Lee office–the space that I’ve lived in and worked out of, along with my gym, for 14 years—is like my home. And being a part of the energy the children give me each and every day–while it’s exhausting–it’s also invigorating. It’s so reciprocal. So it’s going to be difficult. But I have a lot of energy that I need to fuel in another direction.
We Are Lee: Right. I remember before you talking about wanting to do this– pursue your acting full time.
Coach Huff: I will have time to finally go on auditions without having to skirt off at lunch time or tell my agent that I can’t make it because they can only see me at 10:30 in the morning… things like that. So I will have time to give my heart and soul and possibly even relocate. I’m thinking about moving to Los Angeles as well.
We Are Lee: That’s a big change.
Coach Huff: It is, a huge change. I’m going all out. Acting is something that I started doing professionally in the early nineties. Even back then I thought that I would leave my job with the Texas Department of Commerce and the governor’s office and go straight into acting.
We Are Lee: So before you worked at Lee, you worked at the Department of Commerce?
Coach Huff: Yes, I was the Associate Director of Business Development. So I did a lot of traveling. My job was to recruit Fortune 500 companies to Texas. But I didn’t see my children very often because of it. I had a suit for every day of the week. And at one point, I talked to my mom and I said, ” I’m not seeing my kids grow up, I’m buying them presents out of the airport. “ So she said, “You know what? You might consider teaching.” And I thought, Are you kidding me? I couldn’t see it. But I took a night program and got certified to teach Pre K, early childhood through sixth grade, regular classroom teaching. At the first school where I interviewed they needed a PE teacher. And she looked at my background–I had played football at Colorado in college and was into different sports—and said, “Oh, we’d love to have you.” And I never went back. So that was kind of how I got into this career–through my own children, my desire to watch them grow up and hang out with them in the summer and things like that.
We Are Lee: I had no idea you had this whole other career before Lee.
Coach Huff: Yes, In fact, I was so frazzled at Lee today I forgot, but I wanted to share with you my old resume to freak you out. I’ve got a list of publications in the back, four pages of publications and professional journals. People don’t know that part of me. They’re like, “Oh, that’s Coach Huff. This is the guy in his gym shorts.” So talk about phases.
We Are Lee: That’s amazing. And it’s paid off for you, that career shift, because your relationships with your kids, at least the one I know of with Marie-Claire, is a model for close father- daughter relationships.
Coach Huff: I love being a dad. It’s my favorite thing in life. I don’t know about you, but I remember thinking I’m not ready to be a parent. But then that next year when he was born and I held this life in my hands, it all made sense. Right? I realized, this is what life is really all about. This is real. This is why I’m here. Being a good dad and family guy have always been my life’s mission. That’s why this job was such a great fit for me. I can get absorbed in kids’ energies and their minds and can be in their moment and really relate to them.
We Are Lee: And they feed off of that, I see it.
Coach Huff: They do. They know that I’m genuine with them. We Are Lee: You know, the kids really talk about you outside of class. Harry shows me all the different moves you’ve showed them, like the karaoke. They talk about healthy choices. I doubt that any of these kids will ever smoke because you taught them how nasty it is.
Coach Huff: Ha! Honestly, the kids at Lee are like my own kids to me. They come up and give me hugs–it’s real. They’ll bounce stuff off me, “What do you think about this?” and we problem solve together. I’m really going to miss that. I’ll have to find other ways to fuel my teaching passion with kids.
We Are Lee: You will. I have no doubt.
Coach Huff: I did think about doing a two-week camp in the summer. Like an outdoor adventure camp on the Green Belt. You know, learning about Texas flora, fauna, fossils.
We Are Lee: Summer adventure camp.
Coach Huff: Yeah, something like that. I’ll play with that idea.
We Are Lee: So what have been some of your favorite projects or initiatives at Lee?
Coach Huff: I love this Half Mile Champ thing that I started about five years ago. That was kind of neat because it’s a competitive program. I try to tell kids, “You know what? That feeling of butterflies and nervousness that you get on the starting line? Cherish it. Because that’s exhilarating. Thrive on it. And without that …” So I say, “Get up there, it’s okay to be nervous. It’s okay to be a little scared. Just let it go and whatever happens happens.” I was telling kids today, “It doesn’t matter if you’re first or you’re last or in between, just do what my mom always told me, do your best and that’s all you can do. And feel proud of whatever you do.”
We Are Lee: Yeah. I like that– don’t worry about the butterflies. That’s just being alive.
Coach Huff: Exactly. And I talk about my own experiences of getting ready for a marathon or going into an audition– just enjoy that moment of exhilaration. Right? I mean, life is so complacent ordinarily. You need that fire.
We Are Lee: My son definitely appreciates your approach to competition.
Coach Huff: But not all children are competitive though or are huge fans of the Half Mile Champ. They’re like, “I’m nervous, I don’t have a lot of endurance. Do I have to?” And I tell them, “It is a gorgeous day. Look at the sun coming out, feel that breeze. Just get out and enjoy your run. Forget about everything else. Your competition is just getting out and running as fast as you can but still feeling good, feeling that sun hitting your shoulders.”
We Are Lee: Even if you’re not competitive, you can feel that joy of being alive and appreciating what your body can do.
Coach Huff: Yes, and just feeling your legs under you. They’re your legs and they’re propelling you through this moment. I think about that often. This weekend I just ran 16 miles in the heat and while I’m stretching I’m thinking, “I’m so thankful for these legs. Thank you, thank you,” for just having that ability.
We Are Lee: I’m with you. It’s precious. What else have you enjoyed about your time at Lee?
Coach Huff: When I first came to Lee, they already had so many traditions, programs. I love to choreograph the dances, I’m not that great at it, but I love it. We Are Lee: I’ve seen you. You’re good. I’ve seen you teach aerobics.
Coach Huff: Thanks, I’m okay. But having the opportunity to work with kids on these programs, it’s really what enticed me to this school. I talked to Marylou Clayton, the principal when my children were at Lee, and I was coming in as a parent then in a business suit at parent teacher conferences. That’s what’s so ironic.
We Are Lee: Because you were still working at the Department of Commerce?
Coach Huff: Yes. Anyway, I love working on the programs with the kids. The fact that I’m not just teaching traditional PE, but also able to teach dance—it’s expressive, it’s the art of performance. And Lee is an artsy performing school. Kids can wear long hair and they can be hip or they can be preppy…whatever identity they chose. There’s less pressure to conform than at some other Austin schools. Lee has a completely different vibe. We instill creativity here, and the parents are creative. So when I got this job, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I could teach dance. I could walk in and speak French to my classes and not break character and they ate it up. The next day maybe I’d speak Spanish or something.
We Are Lee: I love that. I didn’t know that about you, about speaking different languages.
Coach Huff: I’m also pretty proud of my cooking classes. I just did the first one of the year with kindergarten a few days ago.
We Are Lee: How’d that go?
Coach Huff: They ate it up. It’s their first week of school and I’m like, “Who knows how to make oatmeal? What is oatmeal? Oats. It’s a grain. What’s a grain?” And I drew a little plant on the board and we talked about, “Why are these oats flat? They go through a roller so you can cook them. Let’s pour some in. How much water? You wanna pour it in?” “Yes please.”
We Are Lee: That’s fun.
Coach Huff: Everybody huddles into my office and I say, “Let’s pop this baby in the microwave.” I like to push 333 because it’s an easy number. Can you do that Johnny?” “Sure.” 333. Start. Boom. “It’s all ready. Could you do that yourself at home?” “Yeah.”
We Are Lee: Teaching them independence and-
Coach Huff: Independence, self sufficiency. It’s a really a privilege to help them learn that. So rewarding!
We Are Lee: You also invented Fitness Night—one of the most fun activities at Lee. But Lee Olympics was already up and going when you came, right?
Coach Huff: Yes, it’s been around for eons. I had other ideas that initially I wanted to bring into Lee Olympics, but Dr. Clayton was pretty much, “Lee is Lee. If it works, don’t fix it.” After a few years I realized how much I love it. It’s a throwback to the old school field days like when we were kids. You know, the 50-yard dash, the long jump, baton relay. And I thought, “I like this. I wouldn’t change a darn thing.” The running long jump, of course, is Kasi Kennedy’s event that she’s been doing as long as I can remember, even back when I was just a parent here. She’s passionate about her event.
We Are Lee: I didn’t know Ms. Kennedy had a passion for the long jump. And there are some masterful jump ropers and hula hoopers—it gives everyone a chance to shine.
Coach Huff: Yes! It’s so awesome in the morning when those kids come out for the Olympics ceremony, the music, the procession, and the sun’s out in this beautiful neighborhood along the creek, you know what I mean? The kids are proud and then it’s, “Let the Olympics begin!” And here they are, five year olds with their hula hoops, and it’s game on!
We Are Lee: So your acting career is pretty fascinating. When I first saw you as the Quinoa Cowboy, it really blew me away. It was a perfect role, especially when you laugh in slow motion. And I had no idea you were in that early-90s remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Coach Huff: You should see my reel. I recently got called in for a new project by my agent. The director just took his last movie to Sundance, got it produced, sold it. After reading over it, I thought, this has some potential. And it’s summer, so I have the time to really study the character–a ruthless corporate attorney for a global biotech/GMO corporation like Monsanto.
We Are Lee: That’s the role?
Coach Huff: Yes, so when it was time to audition, I was ready. I had my game on. I prepared myself, sat down, camera rolling: “Whenever you’re ready, Dave. Let’s see what you got.” The director seemed pretty excited and asked me to do three or four takes but then, as always, it was just, “Thanks a lot man!”
We Are Lee: You had to wait and find out.
Coach Huff: Yes, I was expecting a call by Tuesday, but the next day, Sunday, I got that call: “Congratulations! You got the part.” But the point of telling that story was not to toot my own horn, it was about getting down to work and being fully prepared… something I never have time to do during the school year. So I thought— it’s now or never, now’s the time to go after acting on a full time basis.
We Are Lee: Yes, I get it. You can’t be just squeezing it in any more.
Coach Huff: No. So I went in and talked to John Hewlett three weeks before school started. He was out watering and begins by saying, “Let me show you around the school the construction, and this is what’s going on….” And he’s all excited about what we’re going to do this year, and I’m thinking, this is awkward, how do I drop the bomb? I say, “So John, how do I cut to the chase? I am not going to be back and this is my last semester.” The neat thing about John is he’s a creative guy himself, I mean he’s into film, he’s into art, music, all kinds of stuff. And so he got it. He was almost, I think excited for me.
We Are Lee: Well he knows what a huge impact you’ve made on this school, and that it would also be sad if you didn’t get a chance to throw yourself into your other passion.
Coach Huff: And whether I get to the level I want to get to, or not…guess what, I’m doing what drives me. I’m going for it. I was out shooting on Saturday in that corporate wool suit in 100-plus degrees on a farm in eastern Hutto—it’s work, a lot of work. But I love it, every minute of it. On the other hand, I’ve told my mom, my kids and close friends; ” I’m so glad I had the opportunity to teach, it’s like no other profession.” But now it’s time to dive into something else I love.