Originally published Aug. 5, 2018 in the Lancaster News.
Coach Honeycutt travels the country spreading his passion
Jerry Honeycutt is on a quest, determined to turn the notion of public-school physical education on its ear.
In an era when schools are placing increased emphasis on areas such as math, science and technology to help build a competitive future workforce, PE classes may often be overlooked and undervalued – perhaps even eliminated entirely. But according to Honeycutt, head PE coach at Indian Land High School, physical education can be so much more than kids idly shooting baskets in the gym, the occasional softball game, and an easy A.
In fact, he said, not only can PE build leaner, fitter bodies, promote active lifestyles and teach students healthy habits to last a lifetime, it can also build better scholars and better members of society.
Since Honeycutt was hired by ILHS last year, he’s been hard at work to prove this notion, hustling to revamp the school’s PE program into one he hopes can become a state and national model.
Using his own money – when school is not in session – he travels the country to proselytize to other educators. He also fundraises and recruits local and national sponsors to help purchase extra equipment for his school, equipment that he has committed to sharing with other Lancaster County schools whenever needed.
As a result, his efforts have earned praise from school administrators and parents alike.
“He has a vision for our PE department to be the top in South Carolina,” ILHS parent Pam Houge said via email. “He has been traveling all over the country teaching at PE conferences how he teaches our kids at ILHS. He is also showcasing our school and community.
“He is also out there trying to get PE equipment for our high school, working another job every day, and going to these conferences,” Houge added. “This just shows how dedicated he is to his job and our kids at ILHS. He truly cares for our kids.”
Honeycutt, 49, is a single father and was born in Greensboro, N.C. For the past 25 years, he has been an educator and formerly served as an assistant wrestling and football coach, winning state championships in both sports at former schools. Honeycutt was named the 2012 South Carolina State High School PE Teacher of the Year, and in 2016 was named South Carolina state Middle-School PE Teacher of the Year. Ask him where his passion for PE and coaching comes from and he’ll say it was honed when he was a young boy.
“I grew up with a single mom. A loving household, but my dad was seldom around,” he said by phone Friday from Memphis, where he was a keynote speaker at yet another conference for PE coaches.“So I ended up looking up to my coaches,” he said. “I eventually decided I was going to become a PE teacher and a coach because I wanted to emulate my high school coaches.”
After he graduated from Appalachian State and later the University of South Carolina, his teaching and coaching career took him from Spring Valley in Columbia to Charlotte, then to Rock Hill and York before settling last year at Indian Land, where he teaches alongside assistant PE coach Natasha Rogers.
Honeycutt comes across as intense, fast and focused, yet kind and uplifting. His classes are no different.
Each class typically starts with blaring music, to help pump up his students. From there, the class may focus on any one of 22 different sports and active games that Honeycutt and assistants will teach over the course of a semester.
And, no matter what, everyone will participate, regardless of class size, equipment available, or if modifications are necessary for students with special needs.
The classes are regimented. There are serious, cognitive tests in addition to the physical activities led both by coaches and by students. And students are required each day to document a physical activity they performed after school the day before.
“And every student has a job,” he added, which includes setting up the gym and the equipment, among other chores, for each day’s class.
But Honeycutt also has strived to build a culture of teamwork and camaraderie and exuberant fun into the daily routine. Examples include chants, or cheers, and a fist-bump with coaches every single class to help build the teacher-student relationship.
“When I came here, my vision for every Indian Land High School student was to develop an appreciation for lifetime physical activity and make healthy choices,” Honeycutt said. “Hopefully, if they have a positive experience in PE class, they’ll go home and spread that to friends and family — and then, obviously, you’ll have a healthier, happier community. My goal – and this is what I present around the country now – my goal is to create a state championship PE program.”