When I signed up for the Army, it was not a popular time to serve our country in the military. People who understood what it meant to serve congratulated me, while others thought I was making a big mistake, or worse, ridiculed me because of Vietnam, but I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfathers before me. I ended up working in security and some hours as a physical activities specialist, which involved physical fitness and sports for the unit. I felt that I was fulfilling two desires at that time – serve as my family had and to earn the GI bill for my education.
Going through basic training, and eventually jump school and additional training gave me more confidence and desire to go after my ultimate post-service dream of teaching and coaching our youth. During my time at Fort Bragg, I learned a lot from all the Vietnam Veterans in my unit. As a youngster, I didn’t realize how precious life was and how much effect I could have on others. My elders, teachers, coaches and military leaders made their impact on me. I, in turn, have taught physical education for over 25 years and coached many youth sports including high school football and baseball.
One of my proudest moments, though, was my first coaching job for a Fort Bragg little league baseball team. I was told that nobody was available for these kids whose parents were fulfilling their military duties. I decided to take on the role of coach with another young soldier. Our team lost several games in a row before all the hard work finally started to pay off. They started to win and most importantly, gained confidence in themselves and their team. I was very happy for those boys and learned a lot about instilling hard work, discipline and belief in yourself and your team.
I have now taught over 37 years and people ask me why I haven’t retired. My biggest reason is that I love how I am continually challenged by our youth. I love watching students in my elementary physical education class develop skills that they never believed they could. My jump rope unit starts with kindergarten students and makes its way up to 5th grade. We culminate the unit during a Jump Rope for Heart event where the students demonstrate their fitness, skills and community awareness by teaching family members, friends and neighbors the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Last year, our students brought in almost $20,000 in donations for the American Heart Association!
I am also proud to say that I have coached many baseball players at Walled Northern High School that have gone on to either play in college and careers in many other fields. Some of those players I taught from kindergarten through 5th grade. I then got to work with them again in 9th through 12th grade as ball players. I don’t believe I would be as inspired, confident or successful in my field if it weren’t for the leadership I had through my military years. I believe we all have a moral obligation to develop leadership in our youth. It starts in our educational systems and other organizations that affect our kids, and includes our military. My time in the military made me a better person. I hope to keep instilling that confidence and belief in our youth so that they can accomplish great things.
Bob Marijanovich, Physical Education teacher at Keith Elementary in Walled Lake, MI, started his career in the Army, but made his way into education as both a teacher and a coach. In honor of his son, Bobby, who passed away from a heart and lung defect at the age of 16, Bob has run 22 successful Jump Rope for Heart events with students to benefit the American Heart Association. Marijanovich is a great example of what it means to be called to serve both as a Veteran and as a teacher for the last 37 years.