Stephen Danford learned the ABCs of life from his parents, both school teachers with 60 years of combined teaching experience. And his father was quite clear in instructing Stephen, “Do what you were meant to do.”
That advice, though initially sharp, eventually hit the mark and Stephen gave up his corporate salary to become a school teacher. Today he teaches special education students at Arcadia High School.
“I should have been a teacher from the very start,” Danford admits. “My worst day teaching is far better than my best day crunching numbers for a mortgage company.”
Eight years after starting to teach he has earned widespread praise from his students, thereby confirming that his father’s intuition was correct. “He told me that I should be a teacher and – what’s that saying – father knows best?”
However, his pathway into the classroom was quite serendipitous. He started dating Jennifer Clar, who taught at Arcadia. She loved basketball and attending AHS games was their way of hanging out together.
They fell in love and married. Soon thereafter, he would become an assistant and then head coach of the Titans basketball team. “It was like a dream come true as basketball was always my passion,” he said.
Unfortunately, the Danfords’ fairytale story ended quite a bit sooner than they had envisioned, as Jennifer was diagnosed with cancer and passed away 10 years ago later this summer.
“Arcadia High and the neighborhood that feeds it is an incredible place and I got to witness that in my darkest hour. They supported me in ways that you can’t imagine. A year after Jen died, people were still bringing me meals until I finally convinced them that I knew how to cook,” he remembers.
Basketball is how Danford has most distinguished himself at Arcadia, turning a mediocre program around and transforming the school into a respected opponent. Recently, he notched his 125th coaching victory at AHS and along the way the Titans competed for a state championship for the first time in school history.
“I love coaching the kids. It’s so gratifying to make an impact in their lives,” Danford says.
“My goal is that they leave high school better people than when they arrived and better prepared to face the world that lies ahead.”
He is serious about his guardian role as he sets academic standards for his players that are even higher than those of the school district. “The first thing a college coach will ask about is their GPA so I’m trying to position them for a college education,” he says.
So, what does Danford like more, the classroom or the court?
“That’s a jump ball. It can go either way on any given day. My special needs students are just that – so very special. And basketball is great because it teaches so many life lessons. I just love Arcadia and honestly, would never think of teaching anywhere else.”
His only regret is that his father didn’t live to see that he ultimately took his advice. “I think he would have been proud of me.”