Batavia High’s Varsity Football Head Coach Brennan Briggs (2004 BHS graduate) and Science teacher Elena Chmielowiec (2006 BHS graduate) participated in homecoming each year while attending the high school.
Briggs was the starting quarterback and Chmielowiec was a varsity cheerleader. Both experienced a more permanent homecoming when they returned to their alma mater as staff members and to Batavia, a city they are proud to call home.
In addition, Briggs and Chmielowiec are both following in their fathers’ footsteps.
Jim Briggs was a Physical Education teacher and the varsity football coach at Gates-Chili for more than 30 years.
From the time his only son, Brennan, was born, he spent his fall Friday evenings at his father's games. Brennan grew to love football and has become a continuous student of the game. When asked about his coaching mentors, he is quick to give credit to his father (first and foremost), and his own coaches.
He describes how he has been able to choose aspects from every coach he has learned from and adopt the things that fit for him. He doesn’t stop at learning all he can from the coaches he knows personally.
A copy of the book "How Good Do You Want to Be?" by University of Alabama’s Coach Nick Saban lies on the desk next to him. When asked about the book, he smiles and says, “I’ve read it, along with the books of (Auburn University’s) Gene Chizik and (Seattle Seahawks’) Pete Carroll.
“No matter how long you coach, you never stop learning. I don’t want to get to the point where I accept where I am and stop striving to improve.”
Briggs’ vision includes goals for Batavia
“I’d like to see the Batavia football program back in its winning position. We need to start with a winning record, then set our goals on a sectional championship and just keep moving on from there.”
The success of the Batavia football program is obviously important to Briggs, a true competitor; however it’s hard to tell whether it trumps his underlying motivation for the success of the individuals he is tasked to lead.
“I want to see our student athletes placed in the best position they can to succeed, not just in high school, but throughout their lives.”
It is Briggs’ former teachers and coaches at Batavia and at college in Homer that helped him develop a desire to influence student athletes.
“All my high school coaches provided guidance to me; however, Coach John Kirkwood (his modified football coach and sports medicine teacher) taught me to work hard and good things will come from it. Coach Kirkwood has always been a hard-working man, and he respected my work ethic, so we related to each other very well.”
Briggs is also quick to credit teachers with impacting him and specifically recalls the influence of Global Teacher Nan Zorn.
“Miss Zorn was strict, and she made things fun. I worked hard, and I did goof around a little bit. She appreciated my sense of humor while challenging me to learn and grow at same time.”
Briggs can easily describe why he chose to return to Batavia. He says that he loves this community, because his family is here and he wants to continue to make this city his home. When asked about the size of his own family, he responds in an unexpected way: he first explains how many siblings each of his parents have, and then he goes on to talk about his own two sisters and nephews.
Briggs’ sense of family is broad and deeply ingrained in his sense of self. When talking about his hobbies outside of work, he is enthusiastic in his description of the family cabin in the Southern Tier and his love of hunting and fishing.
He can quickly articulate a goal for hunting -- to get a trophy buck. In speaking about his hunting record so far, it is not surprising that Briggs is patiently awaiting the perfect target -- there will be no waste to his methodical pursuit of this goal nor any other.
Unfortunately, Briggs did not experience a homecoming win while playing football for Batavia. When asked if he thinks Batavia can defeat Hornell, Briggs lights up and says, “my dad says Vandetta Stadium is made for snapping streaks. Notre Dame High School snapped Cal-Mum’s 49-game win streak in 1981, and we are looking to snap Hornell’s 42-game win streak.”
I have no doubt that Briggs will eventually lead Batavia to a sectional championship. His pursuit will be purposefully sought and patiently waited upon. When it does come, the opponents will be surprised -- a little like Briggs’ future first trophy buck -- unprepared and suddenly discovering itself as a bowl of venison stew at a very large Briggs family feast.
Elena Chmielowiec “inherited” her love for science from her dad. Don Chmielowiec, an Earth Science teacher at Brockport High School, taught Elena, through his own passion, to be both amazed at and inquisitive about the Earth.
Don has supplied rocks for Ward’s Science Supply Company for as long as his daughter can remember.
“When I was growing up, we went on rock-hunting expeditions all over the Northeast. We searched for fossils or specific rocks with a certain kind of color or texture, and I loved it. My Dad loves rocks, and I love stars...I was just destined to be a nerd.”
Chmielowiec knew, from the time she was in third grade, that she wanted to be a teacher. Other than her father’s influence, she was greatly affected by Sarah Grammatico, her teacher in both third and fourth grades.
“Mrs. Grammatico is the reason I wanted to become a teacher. She had a way of teaching and caring at the same time that made you just want to do well in her class. I wanted to be able to make the same difference in the lives of students that Mrs. Grammatico had made in mine.”
During her four years at Batavia High School, Chmielowiec joined the varsity cheerleading squad.
“We were terrible when we first started, and the other squads made fun of us at competitions. Kristen Shamp (Glow) was our coach, and she was determined to build the cheerleading program into something Batavia could be proud of.”
Coach Shamp drove the team to learn all they could about cheerleading.
“We attended camps, and studied the winning squads," says Chmielowiec, “and we worked through the spring and summer to learn to stunt and improve our gymnastics abilities.”
Chmielowiec also gives credit for their success to the families of the cheerleaders.
“Every family was involved and worked together to ensure that the squad had everything it needed. It was a year-round commitment for all of us.”
The result of this hard work was that the squad won sectionals her senior year and went to nationals.
“We went from the laughing stock of the section to winning sectionals in those four years. That whole process really built up my confidence.”
When it came to homecoming, Batavia never won a homecoming game while she was in high school, but Chmielowiec is quick to point out that fact didn’t make homecoming week any less amazing.
“I loved performing at the pep assembly, attending the bonfire, the powder puff games and hall decorating. We still have most of those traditions today.”
Chmielowiec’s desire to become a teacher in Batavia seems almost destined. After graduating from Brockport with a degree in Science Education, she applied for only two teaching positions -- one in Batavia and one in Hawaii. (Chmielowiec decided to apply for a teaching position in the Maui City School District after she and her family traveled to Maui upon winning a trip from the Regis and Kelly television show.)
After completing a student teaching job in Batavia, Chmielowiec received a call that she had been granted an interview in Maui; however, in the same week, she received a job offer from Batavia High School, where she had performed her student teaching.
“There was no doubt in my mind. I wanted to be in Batavia.”
Chmielowiec was highly motivated by her dad’s approach to teaching and to life: “When I saw my Dad being successful, even on the days he was frustrated with his job, it taught me to power through and go back the next day ready to make a difference.”
She realized the difference her father had made in the lives of his students from the feedback he has gotten and continues to receive from former students.
“One of my former students searched and found my sister on Facebook and told my sister what a difference I had made in her life, and that kind of comment makes it easy to overcome the tougher aspects of the job.”
Chmielowiec hates to see students wish away their high school years.
“It’s important to be involved and make the most of high school,” she says. “Once it’s over, you can never get that time back, so you need to embrace each day by learning all you can, both academically and with extra curricular activities.”
When she’s not teaching, Chmielowiec enjoys spending time with her flat-coated retriever "George."
“I call him Geo, because it means Earth,” laughs Chmielowiec. “We enjoy hiking, running and walking. He’s 60 pounds, but he thinks he’s four pounds. I’m thinking of bringing him to school, because he’d be a nice addition to my classroom.”
It’s doubtful Chmielowiec’s students will spend time with Geo in the classroom. However, it’s quite possible they may run into Chmielowiec and Geo searching for rocks in a local park or marveling at their favorite constellations in a clear Batavia evening sky.