During the first quarter of his first varsity football game his junior year, running back Peter Caris tore the anterior cruciate ligament on his left knee. He was out for the entire season but became a star the next year, racking up touchdowns for the Warriors. “Getting through an injury prepares you for life,” says Caris, who today teaches woodworking at Northbrook Junior High and coaches pole vaulting at D.H.S. “Getting through the mental part of it, the emotional part of it, the physical part of it, somehow makes you stronger.”
Recently Caris has had to draw on his coping experience. In October, a pole-vaulter he coached, Ross Trace, was killed, along with another student, in a drunk-driving accident after the school’s homecoming football game. “As a teacher nd coach you get really close to the kids that you spend time with,” says Caris, who is married and lives in Buffalo Grove. He admits he “made a lot of bad choices” himself, and athletics often trumped academics.
At the University of Missouri, Caris majored in housing design but dropped out shortly after beginning his senior year. “I came to the realization that I was better at the building part,” he recalls. He moved to Highland Park and made ends meet working construction jobs, until earning a social science degree and a teaching certificate from Barat College. “I felt like I could be a good teacher,” Caris says.
After a variety of teaching jobs, he was hired four years ago by Northbrook Junior High to teach two classes: world cultures and woodworking. “It was really difficult to teach world cultures and then go to a wood shop and teach woodworking, and then blow all the dust off, change gears, and go up and teach world cultures again.” Eventually, he stuck with woodworking.
Fresh out of Barat, Caris also was asked by the athletic director at D.H.S. if he would coach the school’s pole-vaulting team (Caris was a star pole-vaulter in high school). He jumped at the chance. “I guess the number one reason why I wanted to coach was because I had such good coaches myself,” he says. “The coaching staff at Deerfield cared so much about us.” That’s why Caris greets all of his students at the door of his classroom each school day. “That’s the best thing you can possibly do—look every kid in the eye, smile at them, and say, ‘Hello, how are you doing today?’—let them know that you care about them.”
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