Pins and pens: The coach's art

Hayden's Svoboda sees no clash between wrestling, art

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— While some people may find it hard to draw any parallel between wrestling mats and canvases, John Svoboda does it every day.

The head wrestling coach at Hayden High School teaches half a dozen art classes at the middle and high schools.

He tells his wrestlers and his students the same thing to extract as much as they can out of life.

Whether his young prots compete in a wrestling match or sculpt a pot of clay, Svoboda said he challenges them to take those experiences and use it to enhance their lives.

"I teach them how to enjoy what is around them," he said. "It's about grabbing for the gusto."

Many of his wrestlers enroll in his art classes every semester, and a few of his art students have pursued art after high school.

Whether his students decide to push for a career in art, Svoboda said, he hopes they might be able to apply what they learned in his class long after high school.

"Kids don't realize that art is more about problem solving," he said.

Unlike wrestling, which comes with a set of rules, art has no set of rules that must be followed, he said.

Svoboda worked as a special education teacher at Hayden High School for eight years before taking over the art classes eight years ago.

He teaches two middle school art classes. High school students can choose from ceramics, design and drawing and painting.

Svoboda took art only briefly in high school. He pursued it seriously for the first time in college, where he also majored in physical education and competed on the football and wrestling teams.

He took over the wrestling team about six years ago.

The unusual combination of Svoboda's curriculum and coaching often raises eyebrows. It's a common reaction Svoboda said he doesn't understand.

Many people hold unfair stereotypes of coaches as former jocks who wouldn't associate themselves with the fine arts, he said.

"It's not my problem," he said. "It's their perception of the problem."

Staff at a small school must all pitch in, he said, and learn to work with limited resources. In his case, Svoboda said, that means handling the art classes and coaching the wrestling team.

Students in Svoboda's second-hour ceramics class worked diligently Friday morning on their creations of clay.

Their teacher said he prefers to give them direction at the outset of their projects and then let them work independently.

Svoboda's classes give students the opportunity to learn more by doing, senior Amy Ott said.

"It's the hands-on part of it," she said.

Ott sought some advice from her teacher after she ran into some difficulties with her clay pot.

After a closer inspection, Svoboda encouraged her to press on with her work.

"You've just got to keep after it," he said.

Svoboda's teaching blended with his coaching Friday morning, as he moved slowly around the room, sharing with each student bits of encouragement and simple suggestions for improvement.

A minor change there, a small touch-up here, and the coaching was finished at least until wrestling practice.

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