September 3, 2015

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Lifestyles: That's Mr. Tavares to You

by Megan Schneider | | Twitter

John Tavares, the National Lacrosse League's all-time leading scorer, just finished his 24th season. The ageless wonder turns 47 in September and credits his never-to-be-broken scoring record to his longevity. Tavares tallied 1,749 points in his career spent entirely with the Buffalo Bandits.

Will he be back for a 25th season? If anyone can do the math, it's Tavares. He teaches it, after all, at the Philip Pocock Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario.

What's your schedule?

It's a good fit because being a teacher, it's a Monday through Friday job. I work from 8-2. Playing for the Bandits, it's a weekend sport. Usually after work on Friday, I head over to Buffalo and then I'm there for the weekend. If we're playing away, I usually travel from Buffalo. Monday through Friday is pretty much teaching and Friday night through Sunday is pretty much playing lacrosse.

How did you first get involved with teaching?

I worked for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board and my first job was working as an education resource worker with special needs students. Then I moved on to a full-time position as a teacher in the theology department and then the math position became available at Pocock and I always enjoyed mathematics. They asked me to take the position and I've been there for 15 years now. It's something that I've always enjoyed. When the opportunity presented itself, I took advantage of it.

Portions of this interview originally appear in the September 2015 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to begin receiving your copy!

How does the Canadian education system differ from that in the U.S.?

In Canada, it's a little bit different than the states. We teach a little bit of everything right from grade 9 up. I teach grades 9, 10 and 11. We'll do a little bit of trigonometry, geometry, algebra in all the different grades. It's not a geometry class per say or an algebra class per say. We have different strands, which I find present different challenges. In Grade 9 for example, we'll offer three different levels of mathematics.

What is it like teaching where you went to school?

Initially, it was a little weird because it's actually a different building. The school that I attended was actually demolished because it was too small. The old site was where they built the new high school. A lot of the teachers when I first started teaching at Pocock, who were a lot of the teachers that taught me, were still there, so it was a little bit odd and awkward, just in terms of calling past teachers of mine by their first names. But I soon started feeling like I belonged and I became a peer of theirs. They made me feel comfortable, giving me some advice about teaching.

What appeals to you most about teaching?

I definitely like giving back to the community. I definitely like to make kids feel good about themselves. I was never a top student in high school, so I could relate to a lot of the students who struggle through school and don't put a lot of emphasis on school. Teaching is an opportunity for me to preach hard work and teamwork as well. Those are the two things I like to preach outside of my curriculum in my classroom. Teamwork and hard work pay off.

What is the biggest highlight from your lacrosse career?

In 1992, the inaugural year for the Buffalo Bandits, winning the championship in Philadelphia in overtime when I scored the game-winning goal was one of my highlights in my lacrosse career.

How would you describe yourself as a captain for Buffalo?

I wish I was more vocal, but I'm not. I'm more of a lead-by-example kind of guy. I truly never really needed to be a captain of a team, which I am now. I'm more of a guy who likes to have fun and keep things really loose. I'm confident going into a game. I don't like to get uptight. Because I'm the captain of my team, I do feel the obligation to speak out more than I want to, but I think actions speak a lot louder than words, so I try to lead by example during my entire career. Unfortunately during the end of my career, I can't do what I used to do before, so it's hard for me to try to correct somebody when I'm out there making mistakes too. I try to stay positive with the guys and give them a word of advice. I try to keep the game fun, and I'm really competitive too. Once the whistle blows to start the game, I lead as best I can.

What's it like playing with young guys fresh out of college?

The most challenging part is remembering all their names and it's an ongoing joke with our team. A couple years ago, there was a lot of turnover on our team and there were about 10 new guys and I did have a hard time remembering their names. It took me about half the season to know everyone's name. Playing for so long, there's just so many names and so many faces. They keep me young. They keep me informed with what's in and what's out. They help me out on my phone. You think as a 46-year-old playing with teammates who are in the mid-20s, it's an honor to still be able to play at this age and still feel like I'm 25.

You've been compared to NHL great Wayne Gretzky. What's your reaction?

That started a long time ago I think because of my statistics offensively and that's obviously an honor in Canada. I grew up in Toronto so I'm a big hockey fan and Wayne Gretzky is one of the all-time bests if not the best hockey player. So to be compared to him is obviously a huge compliment. Hockey is such a more popular sport than lacrosse is. Unfortunately, I don't take compliments that well. I just don't ever want to be satisfied with my results and my statistics in my playing days. I just want to always get better as a player, not be satisfied with the past.

Your nephew John Tavares, a star for the Islanders in the NHL, says you're his most influential role model. Why?

Sometimes when you're being a role model, you don't always realize you're being a role model. When he was growing up, I didn't realize I was being a role model to him. We talked about sports. When I wasn't joking, I just told him things that I thought he should know. It wasn't a lot, but again, it just went back to being a good teammate, making players around you better, putting an emphasis on assists and not goals, playing hard on both ends of the floor or ice. It looks like it's paid off. He was also a ball boy for Buffalo, which gave him an opportunity to be in an arena. Maybe it was me being a role model, but it's more of his observations. I'm not really good at hockey, so I just gave him some advice about being a good person and a good teammate. That's what I tried to teach him.

How would you compare your lacrosse and teaching careers?

It's a juggling act because both are professions that I love, but I'm definitely more myself when I'm playing lacrosse. If there was one thing I was born to do, it's to play lacrosse. A lacrosse stick is definitely an extension of my arm. I love playing, not to take anything away from teaching, but with teaching, there's this image I have to maintain. Sometimes you're just not yourself because I'm there to teach a curriculum and help students learn mathematics, whereas when I'm with my buddies playing lacrosse, I'm doing something that I've been doing since I was four years old. The goal is to be competitive. They're two different animals and I love them both in two different ways. With lacrosse, I get to get all my competitiveness out of me. I get to be active and exercise and hang out with guys who are 21-40 years old. When I'm teaching, I'm in charge. Kids are watching every move I make and I have to watch what I say and how I say it. Kids are there to learn and get a good mark, but some of them are there looking to fit in and discover who they are, finding their identity. I'm dealing with different people and they're both challenging roles I play. It's a good balance in my life.

Do your students know about your lacrosse career?

The community I live in, lacrosse is not popular. There are a few students that know I play and you hear them whispering, 'That's Mr. Tavares, the best lacrosse player ever!' And I would say, 'I'm not the best player. I'm the oldest player!' They don't know a lot about it and the most popular question is, 'Why don't you just play in Toronto?' I've had some players who came to Buffalo to watch me, but not many.

Any plans to retire from lacrosse?

I've definitely been thinking about retirement. I'm on the verge of retiring, but it's tough to give up something you love so much. But I have to understand at 46 years old and if I play next year, I'll be 47, I have to think back to this past year and ask myself if I helped my team or if I helped them enough to win. It's a tough decision to make. As of now, I don't know what I'm doing next year but I definitely feel like my time is near in terms of retiring.

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