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Golden Apple Award recipient John U. Bacon discusses lessons of life, sports

BY ASA SMITH
For the Daily
Published March 31, 2009

American Culture lecturer John U. Bacon spoke to some of his former hockey players, students and faculty last night about his journey as a teacher, writer and hockey coach and his experiences working with legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.

Bacon’s talk last night “What I learned — Despite My Efforts” was Bacon’s “ideal last lecture,” which he got the chance to present as the winner of the 19th annual Golden Apple Award.

The award recognizes outstanding University faculty and is given by the student group Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching.

Three former winners of the Golden Apple Award were in the crowd, including Prof. Ralph Williams, who taught Bacon when he attended the University from 1982 to 1986.

Bacon, who taught “History of College Athletics” and "The Rise and Fall of the American Sportswriter" last semester, said during the speech that he felt humbled to be grouped with the former award winners.

“I am stunned," he said. "I had three former winners of this award as professors when I was a student, and to be considered the same as them, even for if only for a night, is an honor.”

Though he was honored for his accomplishments, Bacon spent much of the lecture recounting what he has learned from his failures.

He joked about his previous struggles with teaching on many occasions, and often used sports analogies to explain his points.

“This is my first teaching job!” Bacon said. “You have given your award to someone who is one for seven on teaching jobs, I am batting .143! But in life, batting average doesn’t count, only runs.”

Bacon said that he first got into teaching because of a passion for the craft. He encouraged students to do the same and follow their interests.

"If you hate what you do, it will never be enough, never enough money, never enough awards,” he said. “Do you think when I started teaching I was worried about a Golden Apple Award?"

In addition to discussing his teaching experience, Bacon also relayed stories from his relationship with Bo Schembechler. Bacon co-wrote a book with the legendary coach called “Bo’s Lasting Lessons.”

During his speech, Bacon also emphasized the importance of maintaining human connections.

"The problem when we look to the future is that we overestimate technology and underestimate the human element," he said. "Why do you think people still go to the bar, or the movie theater? People need other people, we want to laugh together and we want to cry together."

LSA senior Bryan Kerry, who is currently one of Bacon’s students, said he generally takes a lot from Bacon’s lectures and last night was no exception.

“He is a great speaker, it is a really fun class,” he said. “I took a lot out of the class about Michigan sports and about life.”

Engineering junior Shou Suzuki, who played hockey for Bacon at Ann Arbor Huron High School, said Bacon’s talents extend beyond the classroom.

“He is an excellent person, a great motivator, the type of person who makes you have a dream,” he said.

LSA sophomore Avery Robinson said he had heard about Bacon’s lecturing abilities long before he came to the University.

“My brother told me he was a wonderful professor, so I figured I would check it out,” he said.

Following his speech, Bacon received a standing ovation. Just before the thunderous applause, Bacon related his hopes for the future.

“I can’t wait to see what we do next!” he said.