Once a Mustang, always a Mustang.
It's a mantra Tim Massé has probably repeated thousands of times over the last 29 years, during a lengthy teaching and coaching career at George McDougall High School.
And after nearly three decades at the west Airdrie school, Massé is officially retiring at the end of the month. His final day of teaching will be on March 31.
“It’s bittersweet to leave,” admitted Massé, who joined the George McDougall faculty in 1994 after he'd started his teaching career at schools in Calgary.
“I know I’m leaving it in good hands. All the teachers genuinely care about the kids, like I do. We’re just so proud of the Mustang heritage and the ‘creed’ that is the Mustangs.”
Massé has taught various subjects at George McDougall during his 29-year tenure, including biology, science, and math. But as a lifelong coach, athlete, and all-around sports-lover, he said his heart was always in the physical education department. He taught Phys.Ed, sports medicine, and sports performance classes at George McDougall for most of his career.
“I like the other stuff, but that’s my passion,” he said.
A few weeks ago, Massé was honoured during a pep rally in the school's gymnasium. During the event, faculty and members of George McDougall's various sports teams paid him a touching tribute by wearing Mustangs jerseys with his name on the back.
As someone who'd rather not be the centre of attention, Massé said the tribute was touching, if not a little uncomfortable.
“Oh, it was hell,” he joked. “It was an impromptu thing. I’d told the staff on the Monday of that week that I was going to go at the end of March. The leadership teacher, Suzie Beckett, asked and wanted to know if she could do something at the pep rally.
“I’m kind of a shy guy and don’t want a lot of publicity, but said sure. She kept it to a minimum, but she killed me. It was an athletic pep rally and all the athletes were there with their uniforms. They’d photocopied my name and put that on the back of their jerseys – that really touched me.”
In addition to his many years in the classroom and gymnasium, Massé was also a long-time coach of George McDougall's sports teams.
For many years, he's manned the bench of the Mustangs' volleyball teams. Massé's involvement with the sport dates back to his own competitive athletic career, as he previously played volleyball for Medicine Hat College, as well as the University of Calgary Jr. Dinos.
Massé was a multi-sport athlete through-and-through, however, also playing competitive basketball, hockey, and baseball as a youth.
“I had an opportunity out of high school to play basketball at U of S, and volleyball at U of S – all my provincial team friends went there,” he said. “But I went to Medicine Hat and played there for two years, and then went to U of C.
“During [the Dinos’] national championship years, it was really difficult to make the varsity team. And I was being scouted by the Montreal Expos to play baseball, so I went down to California and played for a year under their watchful eye. I came back, finished my degree, and started teaching.”
While he is often associated with the Mustangs' volleyball program, Massé admitted that reputation can irk him a little bit, as he cares just as deeply about George McDougall's other teams and extra-curricular clubs.
“I take as much pride in our cheerleading squad, our football, our badminton, and our track team as I do in our volleyball,” he said. “The Mustangs are my sports teams. Or the drama production or the band. I just love the kids and their learning and their getting better, and seeing them achieve stuff. I’m not just a volleyball guy – I like everything.”
He pointed out he's coached more than 30 title-winning sports teams at George McDougall over the years – a considerable portion of the banners on the school's gymnasium walls were earned by teams he'd coached.
Yet, even though winning championships and tournaments is highly satisfying, Massé said it's been just as satisfying to see the kids he's coached or taught go on to become good people and ambassadors after leaving high school, and to see them find success in whatever endeavours they pursue.
“I’ve taught and coaching Olympians, and I've taught and coached people who played co-ed, mixed-league, lower-level intramural sports," he said. "I think of them as the same. It’s about kids getting better, enjoying themselves, and maybe [learning] some life lessons along the way.
“I’m very proud of the kids who have gone through my classes or my teams who I see doing other stuff later on, and seeing them become big parts of the community or having their own kids. It’s a life-long passion to be a teacher.”
Considering his longevity at George McDougall, Massé admits he's lost count of how many Airdrie families he's taught two generations of. He said it's become fairly common in recent years to be teaching the son or daughter of one of his former students.
“I’m just happy I haven’t taught any kids who I’ve also taught their grandparents,” he joked.
“I think that’s the fun part – it’s not just a job, it’s a family. Yeah, we get upset at our family sometimes because they’re not acting the right way or not doing what we think they’re capable of. But they’re always your family, and we’ll still love them and forgive them, and want what’s best for them.
“So, yeah, I’m going to miss it – I’m going to miss it a lot.”