Most people may not see a connection between tennis and biology.
Then again, most people aren’t Plainfield High School – Central Campus boys tennis coach and biology teacher John Bayer. For the veteran educator, the link is clear: the students he has taught for 33 years both on the court and in the classroom.
Bayer’s excellence in both roles has earned him the 2019 Walter G. and Juanita F. Niehus Award. The Niehus Award honors certified or non-certified staff and support members who have shown extraordinary commitment to students, parents and employees.
The Plainfield Foundation for Excellence will present the Niehus Award to Bayer at the District 202 Board of Education’s June 24, 2019 regular meeting. The Foundation administers the Niehus Award on behalf of the Niehus family.
The Niehus Award, established in 1986, honors the legacies of former District 202 Superintendent of Schools Walter Niehus and his wife, respected former teacher Juanita Niehus.
“John Bayer is one of those teachers whose impact continues long after you leave school,” said Matthew Starr, Foundation Vice Chairperson and one of Bayer’s many former tennis team members.
“He is a remarkable educator and human being who truly defines what it means to be a teacher. His ability to connect with students and make them feel like they can achieve their goals, whatever they are, is legendary,” Starr said.
Bayer started his education career in 1976 as an elementary school special education teaching assistant and physical education teacher in the Valley View school district in Romeoville.
He taught physical education and health and coached at two junior schools in Manteno and Pekin, Illinois from 1977-1980, then worked in the private sector for 10 years. However, he returned to the classroom when he could no longer resist the urge to teach again.
Bayer came to (then) Plainfield High School in 1990 as a biology teacher, freshman baseball and junior high basketball coach. He was named the head boys tennis coach at PHS in 1992.
“When I was out of education for 10 years, when the school buses rolled in the fall, I was the with them, but wasn’t physically there,” Bayer said. “I missed the kids. I love teaching,” he said, adding that his brothers also taught, and his mother was a renowned piano teacher.
“I love the teaching process,” Bayer said.
“You try to reach as many kids as you can. Every day is different, there are some challenges, but when you spend time outside of education you get perspective about what it’s like outside, and I would rather be here,” he said.
Ultimately, Bayer said, teaching is the same whether it’s helping a student learn biology or master their backhand. “I try to strive for perfection. I try to take kids from Point A to Point B, whatever that Point B is, you always try to make them better,” he said.
That measured, realistic approach – along with healthy dose of humor and goodwill – have earned Bayer a lifetime of kudos from former students and colleagues.
“John is an extremely positive and kind-hearted person,” Plainfield High School—Central Campus Social Worker and junior varsity boys tennis coach Jaclyn Kwiatt wrote in her nomination.
“John can find a positive in any situation,” Kwiatt wrote. “Even in the worst games when our players are facing tough competition, I will overhear him encouraging the kids to focus on what they can do to improve and to never give up.”
Case in point: this past season, Bayer said, his team suffered its lowest winning percentage in his coaching career.
“I told the team, ‘You guys were winners before you ever stepped on the court because of who you are,’” Bayer said.
Bayer is retiring on June 30, 2019. He said he’ll miss his colleagues. Yet he plans to continue coaching tennis for PHSCC for a reason as direct and indisputable as a winning serve:
“I get a personal satisfaction with working with kids and seeing them get better.”