By Martin Cleary
If you were to play the Word Association game, the high-school-teacher edition, and were given the name Dave Cummings, there could only be one proper response. The Smile.
In a nutshell, that beaming facial expression was the open door that guided you into discovering a dedicated teacher and coach, who prided himself in motivating the students to be the best they can be in the classroom and in sports.
Cummings, who spent his entire 33-year professional teaching career (1963-95) at Glebe Collegiate Institute as an advocate for the “fun in learning” approach, died on March 5, which was less than five months after the passing of his wife, Elaine. He was 83.
The day he was born, May 18, 1937, Cummings was destined for a good life. This little baby would grow up and marry Elaine Rothwell, who was born in the same hospital on the same day, month and year. He also had good fortune as a teacher/coach.
“He was an icon of what is a true teacher, who had at all times the best interests of his students at the forefront,” wrote Jayne Forward, who also spent her entire career at Glebe and assisted Cummings, the school’s long-time athletic director.
There was a time when Cummings taught history and geography, but for the majority of his career, he focused on physical education and health. He was known to make his classes interesting, even walking into one health classroom on his hands.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, he developed cutting-edge health programs.
“They were so popular that an experimental Health Education Grade 12 class was approved by the Ministry of Education. (It) was a very popular course choice for many,” Forward added.
Cummings was in his comfort zone standing up in front of a classroom of students.
“He spent his entire career in the classroom as he truly believed that the joy was there,” she wrote. “He declined opportunities to go into administration and so many generations of students benefited from this decision.”
Students enjoyed attending his classes and that was a strong message delivered by alumni, after his passing.
Cummings had a creative mind and he’d often jot down his thoughts on a napkin during lunch hours in the staff cafeteria. That was his time. He certainly had plenty of time for his students, who were looking for advice or just wanted to chat.
One of those ideas probably revolved around a school logo. He was the driving force behind having the gryphon become the symbol and nickname of the school’s sports teams.
When the bell sounded to end the school day, the versatile and loyal Cummings, who also was known as Mr. C. or Coach, got to know some of his students a little more in a different setting as their coach.
A former football player at McMaster University (1962), Cummings invested time as a football, badminton and hockey coach. The story goes that he reinstated Glebe hockey after it had been discontinued sometime in the 1940s.
Former student John Channon recently remembered Cummings “put together a rag-tag (hockey) team, wearing football sweaters, and reached the city finals.”
As a football coach, he had his share of highlight celebrations with his players. And he also had that special feeling of satisfaction when he saw former student-athletes Doug McGee, Rick Sowieta and Jock Climie become CFL players.
“He was very hands on and involved with the players,” wrote John Parry, a former Glebe colleague and close friend. “He had the ability to bring out the best in the players by rewarding effort.”
Cummings made a special impact on his students and that was clearly evident in their messages following his passing. Here is a sampling of the heart-felt words written by former Glebe students:
“We go through life meeting hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. A few, usually very few, will leave a lasting impression. Dave Cummings was one of those whose personality, values and work ethic, not to mention sense of humour, would leave a lasting memory with whomever he met.” –Karl Koch.
“His demeanour and composure helped keep us students and players calm, and ready for adversity and life’s challenges. It was teachers like Dave who inspired me to teach high school as my career choice.” –Michael Nihmey
“A great guy, who always encouraged us to do our best. Your warm smile and quick wit will forever echo in the halls of GCI.” –Heather MacDonell
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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