New venue, same values: Athletes who became teachers


Evelyn Esek

Baldwin High School serves the Baldwin, Whitehall, and Baldwin Township communities.

By Purbalite Staff, Baldwin High School - PA

While students look to social media for inspirational sports figures, they sometimes fail to notice the teachers that they interact with on a daily basis who were once athletes themselves. These teachers have set sports records, struggled with setbacks, and overcome their fears to lead successful athletic careers – before hanging up their uniforms to help train a new generation for greatness. Some of the teachers who have been working at Baldwin High School for years have their own stories of past athletic glory.

Former track star focuses on life’s little successes

Baldwin High School alum and English teacher Krystal Schulte broke the Baldwin High School long jump record with a jump of 16 feet, 11 inches in 2000. But her most memorable moment as an athlete came at a college conference championship where it was down to two competitors: Schulte and her opponent. 

“I was really nervous. My opponent had cleared 10 feet earlier than I did, so when the bar got put up to 10 ft 6 inches, there was a lot of pressure on me,” Schulte said. 

If Schulte had failed to clear the height sooner than her opponent, she would have lost. But on her first attempt she cleared it, and she proceeded to win. 

What made the moment more special, though, was a surprise visit from her family. 

“My family, who had secretly come to surprise me, jumped up from the bleachers screaming when I cleared the height. It was a very happy moment for me,” Schulte said. 

With pole vault, it helped me learn that you are always going to end in failure – you will always knock the bar down eventually

— Krystal Schulte

Schulte also recounts a moment from when she was an assistant track coach at Baldwin. 

“In 2005, our top male pole vaulter, Ronnie Walters, broke the all-time record for the WPIAL Championships when he cleared a height of 16 foot, 3 inches in 2005,” Schulte said. “I was right there next to him when he did it, so that was something really incredible.”

Schulte knew she wanted to continue track and field beyond high school when she met former athletes who graduated from Baldwin and continued sports in college.

“When former athletes came back and spoke to us about how much they enjoyed the different opportunities that being a college athlete provided, and I saw how successful they were, I felt inspired,” Schulte said. 

Schulte said she found the travel opportunities really memorable, and thinks of them as something she would have never gotten to do if it wasn’t for sports. 

“Once I got to go to Reno, Nevada, to watch the top 20 collegiate pole vaulters,” Schulte said. “While we were there we even got to tour Lake Tahoe and crossed the border into California.” 

Schulte said competing in sports and coaching have helped her become a humble person.  

“I think sports are good character builders both in success and in failure. With pole vault, it helped me learn that you are always going to end in failure – you will always knock the bar down eventually,” Schulte said. “The most important thing is to remember to enjoy the little successes, like improving a few inches day by day.”

Allemang spent time with her sister on soccer field

Latin teacher Elizabeth Allemang credits sports with bringing her family closer together. 

“One of my best memories with soccer was my freshman year of high school,” Allemang said. “My sister was a senior that year and so we had a fun time playing together.”

Ironically, though, the moment she remembers the most from her sports career is losing a playoff game her freshman year alongside her sister. 

“It definitely is not the happiest thing to remember. That season our team made it to the playoffs, but we lost during penalty kicks and got out in the game right before states,” Allemang said. “I thought it was a bit funny though that both my sister and I missed our kicks. We lost that day but it was nice how we went out together.”

Allemang also recounted the memories she made with the rest of her family through soccer. 

“My whole family would always come to my games,” Allemang said. “Especially my grandma, who was my biggest supporter. She came to every single one of my tournaments.”

Allemang said initially she was not planning on playing soccer in college. 

“Looking into college, I felt that focusing on my career and grades was going to be enough to keep me busy. But then I got an offer to play at Pitt and I decided it was in my best interest to take the opportunity,” Allemang said. 

Through soccer, I got to see the things I was capable of doing

— Elizabeth Allemang

Allemang is now a mom, and her own children have given soccer a shot.

“When they were younger my children tried playing soccer,” Allemang said. “But it wasn’t the right fit for them. They now play softball and baseball instead.”

Allemang credits soccer with making her a better teacher, one who knows what her students are capable of. 

“Through soccer, I got to see the things I was capable of doing. I felt like I had achieved a good amount, so I carried that through into my professional life,” she said. “Because of that, I can see my students’ capabilities better, set expectations for them, and know when and how to push them.”

Allemang said that being involved in something is vital during the high school years. 

“I would tell anyone who is thinking about doing sports to absolutely join,” Allemang said. “To try out and see if you like something is why we have junior varsity at the high school level. You will never regret joining a team, but there is always a possibility that you will regret not joining something,” Allemang said.

Laughlin credits sports for his positive attitude

Health and physical education teacher Timothy Laughlin is well known for spreading kindness and positivity around Baldwin High School since 2001. He gives all the credit for his upbeat attitude to his time playing sports. 

“I have played many different kinds of sports throughout my life and they have all taught me how to interact with different types of people with different abilities,” Laughlin said. “Sports have also taught me how to cooperate with people, how to work in teams, how to be a good leader, and also how to communicate efficiently.”

Sports have played an essential role in his career as a teacher, he said. 

“Learning how to help students get along with each other, how to create fair but competitive games, how to talk and interact with students, and the positivity I try to bring to my classes and the school on a daily basis – it all comes from sports,” Laughlin said.

There is more to sports than just winning, he said. There is the feeling of comradery that athletes get, knowing they belong and are a part of something that makes them feel good about themselves.

Whether it’s playing around with my kids or on my roller hockey team, sports will always be a part of my life

— Timothy Laughlin

“Throughout my sports career I’ve been on a lot of different kinds of teams,” Laughlin said. “Some that have won every game all the way through to championships, and some that never won any games.” 

These benefits also can come from any other kind of team activity, he said. 

“Students who actively participate in clubs, band, choir, the musical – they all gain more positivity by working toward things with a group,” Laughlin said. 

Laughlin recalls that his memorable sports moment came on a college team that was not so good when he first started. 

“We had a lot of talent on the team, but the players weren’t so serious about their skills. But by the end of my junior year we ended up going to nationals and turned the team around,” Laughlin said. 

Not only do sports physically help students, but they are also a great way for students to learn how to manage their social life and academics.

“Sports teach you how to take care of yourself, and that is huge,” Laughlin said. “Sports took up a lot of my time and made me tired, but they also taught me how to eat and sleep right.”

Laughlin hopes to continue planning sports and being active for as long as he can. 

“Whether it’s playing around with my kids or on my roller hockey team, sports will always be a part of my life,” Laughlin said. “Bringing my kids to my games and having them see me set examples for them is my biggest motivation.”

Friends led Meis to success in volleyball

Leigh Meis is a well known Baldwin substitute teacher who loves math. Unknown to many students, however, Meis is a Baldwin alum and former volleyball player. 

Meis played volleyball from seventh grade through her college years, but she initially had only joined the sport because her friends decided to play it. 

“At first I joined just to be with my friends and to have fun, but after playing volleyball for about a year, I fell in love with the sport,” Meis said. 

Meis had played softball and basketball in community leagues, but dropped them for volleyball during high school. 

“I just wanted to focus mainly on volleyball throughout high school and college,” Meis said. “I liked the fact that volleyball was a very team-oriented game. I could work on my individual skills and then bring it together as a team. It also wasn’t as aggressive as basketball.”

Meis also recalled that volleyball initially was challenging for her to learn, as she had only a little background in the sport. 

“None of my family members had ever played volleyball,” Meis said. “So learning all of the rules and skills for the very first time was challenging, but I think I caught on pretty quickly,” Meis said. 

You figure it out quickly. If that’s what you want to do, you find a way to do it

— Leigh Meis

Balancing academics and athletics was demanding — both physically and mentally, she said. 

“From conditioning in the weight room to setting enough time aside after practice for homework, it was a challenge,” Meis said. “But you figure it out quickly. If that’s what you want to do, you find a way to do it.”

Balancing her personal life with her athletic one was difficult on the day of her Senior Rec dance, she said. 

“The practice we did in the morning wasn’t good enough that day, so we had to come back and practice again,” Meis said. “I ended up having half an hour to get dressed for the dance.”

Meis is thankful for her coach, Paul Hindes, a long-time teacher and coach at Baldwin, who was strict but also caring at the same time. 

“He always used to make us write our goals down,” Meis said. “We had to set goals with a timeline of what we’re trying to achieve, and I still did it in my head as I went through college.” 

Meis made it to varsity, and her team came in second in both WPIALs and state in her junior and senior years. 

“Obviously at first we were a bit disappointed because we didn’t win the gold medal,” Meis said. “But when I look back and I say to myself, `I had four silver medals – two WPIAL and two state,’ that’s pretty impressive.”

Meis remembers something her son always says. 

“He said to me that being successful is very simple, but it’s not easy. I think that is very 

true when it comes to sports,” Meis said.

Dolak’s final game earned a championship

English teacher Jason Dolak played basketball his whole childhood, but found his true inspiration while coaching his brother’s travel basketball team. 

“My parents, specifically my dad, who was an athlete in high school, tried to get me involved as much as possible into things,” Dolak said. “They pushed me to better without forcing me to do things I didn’t like, so that really encouraged me and allowed me to explore.” 

Dolak realized he wanted to continue playing basketball in college late in his high school career. 

“I played three different sports in high school: baseball, basketball, and football. The three were a bit too much for me to balance, so my last two years of high school I dropped baseball and began coaching my little brother’s travel basketball team,” Dolak said. 

While helping his brother’s team, Dolak realized that though he loved playing football, basketball was more important to him. So when he received an opportunity to play at La Roche University, he took it. 

When you are teaching, having a coaching and playing background really helps you look at things a little bit differently

— Jason Dolak

“We had a really good football program at my high school,” Dolak said. “We ranked ninth in the country my senior year, but basketball was just more of a passion for me.”

One memorable moment came in his final college basketball game. 

“My senior year of college, my team won a conference championship. That was a really big deal for me as a senior, because we had faced a lot of trials and tribulations as a team that year,” Dolak said. “At one point of the season, we even had one of the managers dress for a game because we were down so many guys. It was really one of those classic, storybook adversity-type seasons.” 

After going into the tournament on a team not expected to do so well, Dolak wound up ending his basketball career with a final championship win. 

“The finals took place in my hometown, Erie, so I got to play in front of my whole family,” Dolak said. “Winning the finals at my last game was very memorable for me.”

Sports prepared Dolak for his professional life as a teacher and coach. 

“When you are teaching, having a coaching and playing background really helps you look at things a little bit differently,” Dolak said. “You kind of look at your profession as more of a teamwork atmosphere.”

Dolak said he enjoys having conversations with his colleagues and working on how they can develop the curriculum better for future years. His sports experience also helps in conversations with students.

“Sports also have allowed me to relate to students on a certain level, as I am able to give them tips from my experiences, like how to manage their time effectively,” Dolak said. 

Dolak recommends that students not only play sports, but also get involved in activities. 

“Being involved in activities during high school is so important and a huge part of the experience. If you are nervous about not being good enough, then you really can’t know unless you give it a try,” Dolak said.

This story was originally published on Purbalite on March 28, 2023.