January 27, 2020
|Jack King has worked 50 years at Nolan High School. Most of that time was spent teaching math and computer science and coaching. (NTC/Rodger Mallison)|
FORT WORTH — David Handler isn’t surprised Jack King spent most of his adult life in a Catholic school classroom. The former TV sports producer, now a motivational business coach, was a 14-year-old attending Nolan Catholic High School when he first met the longtime educator.
King had a knack for making algebra fun, but that’s not what the former student remembers most about his freshman year. When Handler’s mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his math teacher was someone who would listen to his concerns and offer reassurance.
“It was a pretty tough time for a 14-year-old,” the Houston resident said. “Mr. King was someone I could confide in. He really cared about the students and would ask questions and talk rather than just telling you what to do.”
So, when Handler read in an alumni newsletter that his former teacher was honored for 50 years of service to diocesan Catholic schools, the news didn’t come as a bolt from the blue. He always knew King didn’t consider teaching a job. It was a vocation.
“He would have been successful at anything he did in life,” Handler suggested. “It was very clear he was dedicated to helping kids become educated and find their way.”
Jack King’s career in Catholic education began in 1968 at his alma mater—St. Andrew Catholic School. His mother, Mary King, worked at the parish before becoming business manager for the Diocese of Fort Worth under Bishop John J. Cassata and then Bishop Joseph P. Delaney.
“When I first started teaching, I was known as Mary King’s son,” he said with a small chuckle before admitting, “she influenced me to become a Catholic school teacher.”
The decision came after the Fort Worth native, who graduated from Laneri High School in 1961, spent seven years in the seminary. He studied first at the now closed Saint Bernard College in Alabama and then Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned degrees in philosophy and math as well as a bachelor’s degree in divinity.
“When I came back to Texas, my mother knew the nuns at St. Andrew needed a math and religion teacher for the fifth grade so that’s where I got my start,” recalled King, noting one of his students, Tim Knight, is now his dentist.
A few months later, he joined the faculty at Nolan to fill a vacancy in the math department. During five decades at the high school, the husband and father of three daughters coached baseball, girls basketball, and cross country at various times in addition to teaching math or computer science. Today he’s an assistant director of technology at the school.
|Jack King (NTC/Rodger Mallison)|
The years were full of inspiring colleagues, class clowns, and challenging workdays, but one memory stands out as special. In 2002, the Nolan boys cross-country team he coached decided to win the state championship for a female teammate battling a relapse of leukemia. Jill Bertapelle, a gifted long-distance runner, helped her team win the girls state title two years earlier. With her health quickly deteriorating, Nolan’s cross-country athletes wore T-shirts declaring, “This is for Jill. Nothing else matters.” They also paid hospital visits, prayed for the ailing senior before practice drills, and promised to bring her their championship medals.
Judy Bertapelle believed the support and emotional boost from teammates extended her daughter’s life. Jill died just a few days after the boys won the TAPPS championship and presented her with their medals.
“What I remember most is how the kids took care of her,” said King, who coached several championship cross-country teams over the years. “That’s what Catholic education is all about. Everybody counts and we take care of others. Life is the most important thing. That’s the message Jesus Christ gives and that’s the basic thought behind everything we do.”
Carol Walsh Leito’s basketball team never won a championship, but the 1975 Nolan graduate looks back on her years as a high school athlete fondly.
“As a coach, Jack King was a lot of fun,” said the retired physical therapist, remembering how he piloted the school bus filled with giggling girls to away games. Years later, those same girls — now women with careers — planned a surprise party to show their appreciation. “He cared about his players. It wasn’t all about winning and losing.”
King showed the same concern in the classroom.
“He always helped struggling students and made algebra easy for me,” Leito continued. “He found ways to explain concepts. If you didn’t understand it one way, he found another.”
She met her husband, Jim, at Nolan, and, like other alumni, they sent their three children to the school.
“I admire the teaching profession and Jack King is one of the admired teachers I had,” Leito added.
David Handler shares her opinion. The 1978 Nolan graduate, who had three older brothers and a younger sister attend the school, credits two teachers for helping him carve a path to professional and personal success. Sister of Saint Mary of Namur Joan Markey guided him toward a career in writing and journalism. The other is Jack King.
“You never know who is going to influence a young life,” he said, thoughtfully. “I was lucky.”
Editor's Note: Because of an editing error, this article incorrectly stated that Jack King was retiring. This was updated and corrected on Jan. 28.
FORT WORTH — David Handler isn’t surprised Jack King spent most of his adult life in a Catholic school classroom.