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Emery takes lead in preserving teachers’ mental health

Bill Emery is shown at his classroom at St. Croix Central High School.(Photo by Dave Newman)

When Baldwin-Woodville ag teacher Bill Gillis committed suicide five years ago, it was a painful reminder to the members of the ag teaching fraternity of the stress in their jobs.

St. Croix Central ag teacher Bill Emery had worked on many projects through the years with Gillis. Gillis’ death spurred Emery to begin a program so this wouldn’t happen to other teachers.

“Because of his death, I became a bit more vocal in the state wellness, more on the wellness of the mind,” Emery said.

A state committee was begun to investigate the pressures of ag teaching positions, with Emery taking on the leadership role in the wellness program.

Because of his efforts to improve teacher wellness, Emery was asked to serve as a speaker at the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) national convention on Nov. 30 in Las Vegas.

Emery said his speech attracted a crowd of 60 educators, double the attendance of the average at the convention. He spoke about the pressures of position and what teachers can do to handle the stress that comes with the job.

“Ag teachers develop monsters of programs,” Emery explained. “The monsters keep growing or you're not seen as successful.”

Emery said the constant pressure to be innovative and to grow their programs can be extremely stressful for ag teachers.

Emery has been the ag teacher and FFA advisor at St. Croix Central since 2004, but he is stepping back from some of those responsibilities. This year he is teaching four science courses and two ag courses. Gretchen Rozeboom has become the primary ag instructor and FFA advisor for the school district.

“I’m just the old bull in the room,” Emery said of his advisory role at FFA meetings.

Coaching award

One of the reasons Emery has stepped away from the primary FFA role is the numerous other activities in which he is involved. Emery owns a 43-acre hobby farm near Hager City, with his father owning an adjoining 40 acres. He’s brought horses and calves from his farm to the school for several  school activities.

Emery heads up several other student-based activities, including serving as the SCC cross country coach. He led the Panther boys to the WIAA state championships in 2008. This fall, he led the Panther girls to their first appearance at the state championships. For his efforts, Emery was named the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association District 1 Girls Coach of the Year. Hudson coach Don Krupa was selected as the boys District 1 Coach of Year.

“If I’m in the same paragraph as the Hudson coach, it says I’m doing something well,” Emery said.

Getting the girls team to state was a hope of the Panthers all season. But when the team’s top runner, Olivia Moll, collapsed during the Middle Border Conference race, it left the girls on the team shaken and it left the hopes of reaching state up in the air.

At the sectional race, the girls made an awe-inspiring comeback. Moll recovered so quickly that she placed third at the sectional meet. And the rest of the girls recovered from the previous week’s trauma, finishing second in the team competition to qualify for their first state championship.

Emery said it was an intense week between the conference and sectional meets as the Panthers worked to rebuild their confidence.

“After a bunch of team meetings, the girls gathered the courage and pushed through,” Emery said.

It certainly sounds like Emery plans to keep coaching the Panther runners for years to come.

“I enjoy the drama of the race more than ever,” he said.

Emery also oversees the St. Croix Central trapshooting club. He also leads several camping trips for the school district each year. A self-proclaimed “camping addict,” the next camping trip will be to Grand Marais, Minn., in February. Another trip is planned to Glacier National Park in July. He’s been taking students on camping trips for 20 years.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.

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