LAYTON, Utah — Andrew Olson wasn’t sure what to expect when he popped in on his students, five months after leaving them for a tour in Afghanistan.
He poked his head in first, sneaking into the class quietly with no more warning than an announcement that the class would be having a guest speaker.
But as soon as the boys he coached saw him, they erupted. Boys leaped over their chairs, some of them openly crying, rushing over to give their favorite teacher a hug.
It was a moment so heartwarming that, when a video snapped on a student’s cell phone made it online, it went viral, spreading across the country almost overnight.
Olson spoke to KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic about what he was feeling in that moment and about the irreplicable bond he feels for his students.
Andrew Olson: solider, teacher, and coach
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 6, 2019
“It was extremely overwhelming,” Olson says. “It was just a surreal moment.”
The boys you see in the video, running at their teacher and openly embracing him, are all basketball players, Olson says. Every one of them plays on the basketball team he coached at Northridge High School, and most had signed up for the football team he coaches, as well.
Each day while he was teaching in Northridge, Olson says, he spent an extra two hours outside of the classroom with those boys, mentoring them both as athletes and as human beings.
That time spent coaching them had given him the chance to develop an incredibly deep bond with the boys.
“In athletics, there are a different set of experiences,” Olson says. “You’re gonna celebrate successes together, you’re gonna share disappointments and losses together, you’re gonna go through adversity and trials, tribulations.”
His students’ reaction, he says, was a moment of validation for him that all those hours and all that effort had made a difference.
“Very humbling experience,” Olson says. “I know I love those boys so much, with all my heart. … To see that reciprocated and show that they cared about me too, that’s definitely something that I’ll hold tight to me.”
Olson stepped away from his teaching job for a tour of Afghanistan partly because serving in the military was an honored tradition in his family. He says that his father, stepfather, and brother-in-law have all served in the militay. Their courage, he says, affected his decision to go.
“in 2007, when my dad left to Iraq, … the feeling of pride and the patriotism of serving came over me,” Olson says. “I said: ‘Y’know what? This is what I’m going to do.’ And so shortly after that I decided to join.”
That commitment took him away from his responsibilities as a teacher and a coach for nearly half of a year. But now, Olson’s back and eager to get back into his old career.
“It’s going to be an adjustment, going back into the classroom,” Olson admits, acknowledging that, for a soldier returning from a tour of duty, moving back into civilian life is always a challenge.
Still, he says he’s looking forward to it: “I’m extremely excited to get back with my students and get back to normal life.”
More to the story
If you missed him live on the air, you can hear everything Andrew Olson had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.
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