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Jake Meiners: Building champions on the field and classroom

Making a difference in the classroom

Photo provided by STW

This story initially appeared in The 812 Magazine. Subscribe to receive exclusive content by clicking here.


(ST. LEON, Ind.) -- It's a Wednesday afternoon in March, and school has just dismissed at

East Central High School.


English teacher Jake Meiners leaves his classroom and walks through the hallways toward the

football coaches room.


It's a path he's walked many times, both as a student and as the head coach.


He runs into assistant coach Tyler Hall and jokes with him, "You'll be back next year, right?"


Hall confirms, "Yep, I'll be on the sidelines again."


Long before Meiners was a two-time state champion coach, he was the starting quarterback for the East Central Trojans from 2005 to 2008.


"I was that young boy in peewee football that dreamed about putting on that EC uniform,"

Meiners recalls.


Growing up in the program, and finding success as the starting quarterback, was his first

glimpse into what East Central football means to the community.


He earned honors such as team captain and conference offensive MVP, but never dreamt that

he would one day lead the program as the head coach.


"I always thought teaching and coaching would be a great career for me, but it wasn't something I really thought about at 17 or 18-years-old," Meiners said.


Jake's first teaching job was at Franklin County High School in 2013, where he also served as

an assistant football coach.


Following that school year, Meiners had the opportunity to return to his alma mater both as a

teacher and an assistant coach for Justin Roden.


Back then, East Central football was in a very different place than it is today.


The team had just experienced its fourth losing season in school history in 2013.


Meiners joined a coaching staff that was determined to turn things around, and they did in a

hurry.


Just two years after that losing season, the Trojans advanced to the state championship and

finished as state runner-ups in 2015.


"That's how quickly that transpired with Justin building things back up. And credit should also be given to guys that are East Central legends, like Don Stonefield and Tim Behlmer," Meiners

said.


Since that losing year in 2013, the past decade has been the most successful run for the football program in school history.


Meiners makes one thing clear. His arrival to East Central is not what contributed to that rapid

success, but says there were life lessons learned those first few years.


"You can get accustomed to accepting things just for the way they are, or you can elevate

yourself, and get to work and not blame anybody else," he said.


He works to show young adults that hard work can help them reach their full potential. It's a

lesson not only for athletes, but for every student he comes across.

"What makes a great coach is being a great teacher first"


It's another cold January day, and Jake is back in the classroom.


He's teaching a film literature course, which was developed by the school for students who are on the path toward early graduation.


When the class was first created, the school needed a teacher to take on the additional

responsibility of leading it.


Jake was the teacher who raised his hand and volunteered.


While he's garnered statewide respect for his coaching abilities, he has even greater respect

from his peers.


Principal Tom Black described him as a phenomenal coach and great mentor to the kids.


"But he's a teacher first, and his colleagues in the english department would say that too," said Black.


Meiners meets students on their individual level regardless of their background, abilities or

grades.


"It's why he's loved in the classroom, the kids see him as a teacher, not as the football coach,"

Black said.


Kids like Nathan Mahoney, whose mother says he has an above-average IQ, however struggles with reading and paying attention due to his ADD.


"Mr. Meiners connects with them. He tells me that my son always shows interest even when

he’s not interested. Because of the connection Jake has with his students, Nathan does well

even when the material isn’t a genre he’s in to," said Sandy Mahoney.


After a decade of teaching at East Central, there are many stories like Nathan's.


As Principal Black says, Jake is a prime example that to be a great coach, you have to be a

great teacher first.


The football season is still several months away but before long, practices will begin and not

long after, a sea of red-and-black will fill the football stands in St. Leon.


In the past decade, the Trojans has earned three state championships, a state finalist trophy

and had multiple deep runs in the high school playoffs. They also haven't lost to an EIAC school since 2013 and claimed the EIAC conference championship for the 30th year this past season.


But, Meiners isn't content yet, for him, the mission isn't complete.


"It's always been a goal of mine to make our program the shining light of Indiana high school

football, that when people think of Indiana high school football, the first school that they think of is East Central," Meiners said.


"And I don't think we're there yet."


This story initially appeared in The 812 Magazine. Subscribe to receive exclusive content by clicking here.

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