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Jackson-Olin P.E. Teacher To Go For Gold In National Senior Games This Month

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By William C. Singleton III
For The Birmingham Times

         School is out for summer, which, for James Livingston, means no running around with students in physical education classes at Jackson-Olin High School – at least not for a few more months.

But the summer break doesn’t necessarily mean Livingston, 67, plans to kick up his feet at a beach sipping Pina Coladas until school resumes. He plans to attend the 2019 National Senior Games June 14-25 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Livingston, who teaches his students in 14 different sports during the school year, will compete in the 65-69 age division for badminton men’s singles. He qualified in Trussville for the nationals after winning the singles tournament in April 2018.

At an age when many teachers are winding down their careers, Livingston, who won a Physical Education Teacher of the Year award, shows no signs of slowing down. Retirement hasn’t even crossed his mind. “I still enjoy teaching,” he said. Livingston has been a teacher in the Birmingham city school system for 25 years, following stints working with the Social Security Administration, as an insurance salesman and the owner of a small sporting goods store.

“None of that is what I really wanted to do,” he said. “I knew I wanted to teach and coach.” For the past 10 years, he has taught physical ed at Jackson-Olin, filling the role as football, basketball, baseball and volleyball coach.

Currently, he’s coaching volleyball, having given up baseball because the team couldn’t secure a field where they could practice, he said.

P.E. Teacher Of The Year

But it’s Livingston’s approach to physical education that has gotten him attention from state and local educators. This past school year, he was awarded the secondary school Physical Education Teacher of the Year for the Alabama State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (ASAHPERD). The organization promotes health within Alabama schools and provides opportunities for professional growth for its members, according to the group’s website, www.asahperd.org.

Livingston received the award for his approach to physical education and his ability to incorporate adapted physical education into his classes. Adapted physical education focuses on including students with disabilities into physical education programs. Livingston has visited local and state schools to share how their P.E. teachers can incorporate adapted physical education into their classes.

Sherri Huff, K-12 program specialist for physical education with Birmingham city schools, said ASAHPERD recognized Livingston for his longevity and passion.

“He’s been teaching 25 years, and he still teaches like it’s his first year,” she said. “He still has that much energy. He still wants to teach after all these years. That’s what makes him stand out.”

Nancy Ray, health and physical specialist for the Alabama Department of Education, nominated Livingston for the teacher of the year award based on her work with him on an adapted physical education task force.

“He was very professional, and I felt he was very deserving,” she said. “High school physical education is not easy to teach, and he does a really good job.”

Both Ray and Livingston explained that in the high school years, it’s harder to convince students to be physically active. Moreover, physical education is not required over the course of a student’s high school years so many don’t have to take physical education at every grade level and can opt for ROTC. That Livingston has students who want to take his class is a testament to his approach, say educators.

“He does such a good job,” Ray said. “He has an innovative class that the kids want to be a part of, and he does a really good job of preparing them for later in life to remain physically active.”

Get Everyone Involved

Livingston said his approach is to get everyone involved in his physical education classes. “I’m not  like a lot of teachers who teach P.E.,” he said. “I’m not going to throw out a basketball and let the kids who want to play, play and let everybody else sit on the sidelines. That’s not how it works. Everybody plays.”

This is particularly important for special needs students who may not get the exercises they need outside of physical education classes.

“They usually get no exercise whatsoever,” Livingston said, adding it’s easy to exclude them if a teacher doesn’t put forth the effort to include them. “You may be a teacher and don’t know how to teach a wheel-chair bound student, for example. But there are ways you can get them involved. They can use their chairs to hit the ball if you’re playing soccer. … There’s no reason why an adapted physical education student is not included in a class.”

He also added that students will support their disabled classmates if you get them involved in the process.

“If you incorporate them from the very beginning, they actually embrace it. They actually help you with it,” he said. “These kids are not as hard-hearted as people think they are, especially not on something like this.”

Livingston also said he likes to incorporate variety into his classes by introducing new sports including traditional sports like volleyball, softball and track and whiffle ball, mattball and badminton.

“Every couple of weeks we’ll change up,” he said. “They say they like the different sports because they learn something they didn’t know before.”

But the main lesson he wants to leave his students is that they need to remain active throughout life. And the best way to do that is to lead by example. “I’m so much older than they are, and I keep telling them ‘You’re going to get my age one day so how do you want to be when you get here? Are you going to be able to play with your grandchildren or are you going to be in a rocking chair?’”

High Altitude

Livingston expects to be active over the next two weeks at the Senior Games and is preparing for the thin air in Albuquerque.  “I’ve been using a high altitude mask to work out in,” he said during a recent interview. “It makes it harder to breathe which is good training because (Albuquerque) is 5,000 feet above sea level.”

If he does well at the nationals, Livingston has his sights set on the World Senior Games in two years. “That’s what I’m working towards,” he said. “It’s hard for me to find somebody to play with around here. I think I’m the only one from Alabama in my age group.”

As his students can see, Livingston is not ready to retire to a rocking chair.