Story and photo by Elie Mathews
Mario Diez, supervisor of the Physical Education/Health department at Watchung Hills Regional High School will at the end of this year retire almost 35 years to the day after arriving at the school where he made his career.
"It’s almost thirty-five years ago that I came to Watchung Hills Regional High School,” said Diez, as he ticked off the years since December 17, 1979. He is due to retire a the end of this December.
And what a career it has been! Diez not only has shaped Watchung Hills’ physical education program, but is known in wider circles as a winning baseball coach, who has led Hills teams to significant championships: seven at the (Skyland) Conference level; four at the Somerset County Tournament of Champions; and three on the state level.
A graduate of Athens State College in Alabama, and holder of a Master’s Degree from Kean College, now University, in New Jersey, Diez has been named to the Hall of Fame of New Jersey Baseball Coaches as well as the Hall of Fame of New Jersey School Coaches.
But reaching even more students, Diez’ philosophy about the function of physical education as part of the total picture of a student’s development has been a model in educational circles.
Have students changed much in the 35 years of Diez’ tenure? Technology has changed, but kids essentially remain the the same, observed "Coach."
“Kids are still kids. They are a spirited bunch,” Diez said. “They love to talk and they’re interested in being social. They are facing greater challenges than my generation ever did — but they will overcome these, as every generation does.”
While at Watchung Hills, Diez has been instrumental in developing an elective phys ed curriculum that is progressive and current, one that is student-centered and individualized. Rather than a one-size-fits-all curriculum to which all must subscribe, the Hills physical education course of study offers options that develop life and wellness skills which students can pursue outside of school and beyond school years. Team sports of course, are still included on the physical education “menu.”
Among options selected by students on a half-semester basis are such courses as fitness, yoga, dance, judo, power walking, Project Adventure, body sculpting, wellness education, marriage, and more. These are the activities they can still pursue as adults, Diez says.
Students also fill out a “fitness-gram” which helps them assess their aerobic capacity, strength and agility and other aspects of physical capabilities, all of which may play a part in their choice of phys ed courses.
The Watchung Hills elective physical education program, started in the mid-80’s, has been both successful and well-received by Hills students and has been visited by instructors from other schools.
The physical education offerings in the schools in the local K-8 sending districts are coordinated with those at Hills.
Diez also is supervisor of the Business Arts Department. In addition to overseeing financial, family and consumer-oriented courses, he has been interested in developing courses in sports management and entrepreneurship.
Working at Watchung Hills has been "the thrill of a lifetime," Diez concluded.
But he is looking for retirement, too, to bring its joys, such as working in his Whitehouse Station garden, playing with his four grandchildren, some informal coaching, fishing, and finding out what else he can learn to do. Retirement will thus be a special adventure, just as teaching was for Diez.
Life will continue to be, as it always has been, a “perfect 10” for this retiring department head.