He's talking about that thing we all do. You know, where we try to make progress in our lives and find a place to call home. Assistant Principal Nate has found his home here in Ottawa 141. He's more down-to-earth than many principals, which is a breath of fresh air.
"New Guy" Speaking
When we sit down to chat with Central Intermediate Assistant Principal and Athletic Director for the District, Nate Matthies, we begin by asking how he’s finding the new role here in Ottawa. He sighs through a smile: "It's been a journey, man."
Before I ask my next question, he takes the reins, "I think we'll start out with some history of my early life as a student and then, you know, transition." I can’t wait to hear how point A connects to point B, but even before he begins, I can see in his slate-blue eyes that this has not been a simple journey.
Hey, you're calling the shots, Principal Nate. He tells us to imagine a second grader with bifocals, an enormous Bulls cap perched on his head, fighting to read and pay attention. Issues with hearing, dyslexia, and ADHD made finding a place to shine at school difficult but not impossible. He started special education programming in second grade and stayed with it until he reached his sophomore year of high school. Now back in the traditional classroom environment, things were pretty tough but not impossible. There was one class in high school where Nate Matthies could explore and break the boundaries of excellence with nothing but first instinct. The classroom smelled like sneaker rubber and sweat, much like the scent of some dreams.
"I think I understand things best through sports. When I can give it an athletic synopsis and relate it to sports, I just understand it better…"
Raised in Andres, Illinois, with a staggering population of 36, Principal Nate had to think beyond the village limits, past the grain elevator and tiny car dealership, to find a lens through which he could relate to the world. The son of two teachers, he attended school in nearby Peotone, where he had the pleasure of returning as a PE teacher later in life. Here he played every sport he could: basketball, baseball, golf. The logic of sport provided a framework for understanding everything around him. The language was familiar to him because it was the language his grandfather used to speak to his father, a way of communicating that his dad passed on. When you talked about sports, you were discussing more than a simple game. These conversations were deep, involved, and ultimately narrowed in on what makes someone a decent human being on and off the field. It's a language he wants to teach his recently arrived son, Drew. He wants to give his son a way to understand the motivation to work hard, become unafraid to dream, and discover the best way to score a win one for the good people around him.
"I think that being a new assistant principal, being the 'new guy,' I'm going to have to be a really good listener and see what people's needs are and try and support those needs as best as I can."
His path took him from the dark soil of Will County to the sandy loam of Yuma, Arizona and back again. He figured out long ago that he is an educator, that he has something to offer young people, not in spite of his own early challenges, but because of them. Principal Nate understands the importance of providing kids with the opportunity to earn accolades they can put up on their walls to remind themselves of how far they’ve come and how they've arrived at their new, more accomplished selves. As the "new guy," he wants to use his experience in special education and the language of sports to place kids in inclusive situations where they can learn to accept themselves. He wants to help build environments that remind him of the 90s alternative rock he obsessively listens to on his one-hour commute to Ottawa every day: places where distortions are a strength, not a setback. The roughness is temporary and pushes the harmony aside until it's ready to reveal itself at its full potential. Or, to speak Principal Nate's primary language, it's often the grittiness of a strong midfielder’s play or the disorienting distraction from the opposing team’s student section across from the free throw line that calls on us to put ourselves in that arena, to take the shot and— once we’ve committed all we’ve got and left it all on the field or court— to never question that play again, knowing we’ve done our best.