Honesty. Integrity. Positive Sportsmanship: Lu Suarez’s Career Dedicated to Hitting the Bullseye

By Laine Mendenhall-Buck, director of WDMCS School/Community Relations

Honesty. Integrity. Positive Sportsmanship.

For Lu Suarez, coaching students in physical education, archery, and life has been his goal. And he’s not only reached his goal, but exceeded it, impacting thousands of students over his three-decade career with the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS).

What started out as a shared physical education teacher position in the late 1980s at Clegg Park and Phenix elementaries transitioned just a few short years later to a P.E. teacher role at Jordan Creek Elementary when it opened its doors in 1992.

He’s been there ever since.

“Time flies. I remember being the young pup on the staff. Now here I am, teaching a lot of kids whose parents I taught,” Suarez said. “I’ve been very fortunate to not only remain in the same district, but to be [at Jordan Creek] for 28 years and establish relationships with colleagues and families.”

Those relationships weren’t just fostered in P.E. class, but were often a result of connections built through the archery program Suarez launched in 2009. Jordan Creek special education teacher Robby Weissinger, a former student turned colleague, credits Suarez and archery for where he is today.

“Archery has given me about everything that I have,” Weissinger said. “It showed me that I wanted to be a teacher because I really enjoyed helping younger kids learn how to shoot a bow. When I was in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, and archery was the big thing that pushed me to that.

“Now I’m here! It’s a great school district. It’s a great school. I couldn’t think of a better place to teach.”

Suarez’s mentorship also made a lasting impression on Valley High School senior Brian Stewart.

“He helped me a lot in my archery skills. I started off not even hitting the target and then I’ve slowly progressed and have gotten a lot better,” Stewart said. “Mr. Suarez has been a great role model with life in general. He’s such a positive person, and is kind to everyone, which is something I aspire to be in life.”

Valley senior Cynnava McAvory credits Suarez for getting her into the sport that she now loves.

“We did a class in P.E. that Coach Suarez taught, and I thought it was a unique sport,” McAvory said. “It’s kind of a fantasy thing that you see in movies so I thought I’d try it out in fourth grade. I loved it as soon as I started it.

“It’s a mental challenge because archery is more of a mental sport than a physical sport. It’s helped train my mind to be persistent. It’s also been where I’ve made my closest friends.”

From Infancy to State Champions

The archery program started with just 25 students in 2009. With funding from an Iowa Department of Natural Resources grant and fundraising from the Jordan Creek Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Suarez began a program he had no inkling would be the size it is today.

“The first year I had 25 kids in grades fourth through sixth,” Suarez said. “The second year we started competing as individuals. The following year it doubled to 50. The program continued to expand to junior high. We continued to see the program grow to where last year we had over 330 kids in the district — six schools — in the archery program. It definitely exploded and I had no idea it was going to go like that.”

That explosion provided the environment and resources to build a quality program. Valley has reigned as state archery champions for four of the past five years, with additional honors awarded at the junior high competitive level. Suarez’s patience and dedication to the program and students not only results in championship trophies, but in students understanding the importance of good sportsmanship.

Jordan Creek Elementary students learn archery in a P.E. class.

“Honesty, integrity, positive sportsmanship. We talk about that a lot,” Suarez said. “Day one we talk about the importance of our expectations as a team. Ultimately, it’s the kind of person we want to be. The person that they become is far more important. I am very proud of our archers. Every time we go to an away tournament, we would be complimented on the respect archers show — especially how the older archers would help a younger archer from another school.” Stewart noted how Suarez always emphasized treating everyone fairly and kindly, especially when competing at other schools.

“We wanted to forge a nice friendship with [competitors],” Stewart said. McAvoy agrees.

“He helps with posture, support, at tournaments, and if you’re not doing so well, he’ll be there for you,” she said of Suarez.

And being there for others is exactly what Suarez does.

“He was always there to help me grow and help me learn, whether it was about archery or other things with life, in general,” Weissinger said. “He helped me all the way through high school and even in college.”

Fond Memories

As Suarez ponders retirement, he reflects on a career of good memories — including a prank he and fellow Jordan Creek teachers played on a particularly feisty sixth-grade class.

“Many years ago, Judy Geiken and a few other sixth-grade teachers had a group of ornery sixth graders,” Suarez explained. “I showed them the access to the roof and they had a cooler full of water balloons up there. I brought the sixth grade class to the back door like we were going to come into the gym so they were all huddled at the back door. If you can imagine, these teachers started to throw water balloons down at the students. The kids loved it. I wish I had that on video!”

Suarez’s love of the outdoors afforded him the opportunity to connect students with nature.

“We have had a lot of good outdoor education trips with fifth and sixth graders over the years,” Suarez said. “[I have] a lot of good memories at this school. I was here when [Jordan Creek] was built and I tell people somewhere in these walls might be my initials!”

Suarez has certainly left an impression far greater than scratched initials in wet concrete. His former students say it best as they thank him and wish him well in retirement.

“Thank you for everything. You’ve not only introduced myself to this great sport, but you’ve introduced thousands of kids throughout the years to something I love and hold dear to my heart,” Weissinger said. “You’ve helped me so much throughout the years that I don’t know where I would be without you specifically.”

“Your dedication to archery and to me has meant the world to me and to my team,” McAvoy added.

“You’ve worked so hard, Mr. Suarez. You deserve to have some time to relax. Go have some fun,” Stewart said. “You’ve touched so many people, so it’s time to enjoy yourself in retirement.”

Even though he will no longer teach or coach in the archery program, Suarez plans to stay connected.

“I will still provide some training for coaches, but I won’t be overseeing schools and coaching. It’s time for the next generation to take over the reins,” he said.

That next generation — at least for Jordan Creek — is Cade Hoversten, who is already a P.E. teacher within the district.

“I’m thrilled we have a young, new guy who will start his own legacy,” Suarez said. “That’s important to me.”

Created By
Laine Mendenhall-Buck


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