It was the last two minutes of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and Alabama had just scored a touchdown. My sister, an alumnus of the University of Alabama, was ecstatic. However, anything can happen in two minutes, and the Clemson Tigers didn’t stop believing that the win was in their hands. It was an incredible game that topped off an incredible weekend for the State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) thanks to the College Football Playoff Foundation and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The fun began on Friday, January 6, 2017, as the STOYs arrived in Tampa, Florida. We spent the first evening dancing in the rain to music performed by Clare Dunn at the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live. The next morning we attended the Extra Yard for Teachers Summit with hundreds of teachers from the Tampa area. The energy at the summit was truly electric. There was flexible seating with couches and lounge chairs, the music was pumping, and four teachers from Tampa were selected for classroom makeovers. We were treated to a wide variety of speakers ranging from sportscasters to inspiring teachers like Randall McDaniel, Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year. While the speakers came from various backgrounds, I noticed that all had a similar theme- don’t stop believing in your students, don’t stop believing in yourself, and don’t stop believing in the teaching profession. Following the summit, all of the attendees had the opportunity to check out the Teachers’ Lounge where we took pictures with the guest speakers and the trophy for the championship game. After hanging out in the Teachers’ Lounge, my sister and I went to check out the Playoff Fan Central. While exploring, I was stunned to see that the pictures for all of the STOYs were being showcased in the Fan Central. The VIP treatment continued that evening as the STOYs were given special passes for the AT&T Playoff Playlist Live. Our passes allowed access to a special party next to the concert along with entrée to the area in front of the stage. Despite the cold, we danced away to the music of Rachel Platten followed by Flo Rida.
On Sunday, our day began with racing in the Extra Yard for Teachers 5k. While it was a beautiful run on Bayshore Drive, I loved that the race course allowed for you to see all of the different participants. I had fun cheering on all of my fellow STOYs as we raced. The STOYs were extremely proud to see that Christine Marsh, Arizona Teacher of the Year, was one of the top finishers. After all of our exercise, we were ready to eat that evening at the Taste of the Championship. The food was delicious, but the evening also seemed surreal. Throughout the event, I had the opportunity to meet many football players including Blake Simms and Shaun Alexander. Every athlete I met spoke of their appreciation for teachers and the teaching profession.
Before the championship game on Monday, the STOYs were invited to a special VIP tailgate. Once again, I was amazed at the number of people that professed their appreciation for teachers. The music, food, and other guests had us pumped for the game. Following the tailgate, we took our seats in the stands. It seemed like the first half of the game flew by. Suddenly, it was time for the STOYs to head to the tunnel. While waiting in the tunnels, we cheered for the bands, mascots, and cheerleaders as they passed. Then, it was our turn to take the field. As the STOYs walked single file onto the middle of the field, a video was playing. I saw a picture of us at the Biden’s residence and marveled at our amazing adventures over the past year. After waving to the crowd, we returned to the tunnels with giant smiles on our faces. Then, the STOYs formed a huddle and the moment became bittersweet. This was the last time that all 56 of us would be together. David Morales, New Mexico Teacher of the Year, gave a moving pep talk and we all gave a cheer. While walking back to our seats, there were lots of tears, laughter, and hugs all around. The entire championship experience was an inspiring reminder of what can be accomplished when athletes, businesses, educational organizations, and educators don’t stop believing!