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Bishop Dunne's Stephen Guerrero is the Catholic Diocese of Dallas Teacher of the Year, awarded the honor last Friday at the Annual Diocesan Educators' Awards Dinner at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. Guerrero also coaches wrestling and cross country after school, and won Coach of the Year for Cross Country in 2014. He has two masters' degrees, his second was earned in Educational Leadership from Notre Dame.

Bishop Dunne’s Stephen Guerrero Is the Diocesan Teacher of the Year

At the fourth Annual Dallas Diocesan Teacher of the Year Awards Banquet on Friday night at the downtown Sheraton Dallas Hotel, Bishop Dunne’s Assistant Principal, teacher, and coach Stephen Guerrero won the coveted “Teacher of the Year” award. This is the third win in four years for Bishop Dunne Catholic School. Mr. Brad Baker, a GIS instructor and coach of the archery team won in 2012, and Jim Martin, senior theology teacher and campus minister won in 2013.

Guerrero has devoted two decades to Catholic Education, 18 of them at Bishop Dunne. He was chosen Coach of the Year for his successful cross country program in 2014.

A recent graduate of the Notre Dame’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership program for principals, Stephen encourages his students by admitting he never thought he’d get to go to his dream school, the University of Notre Dame.

Much like the beloved character in the movie, Rudy, Guerrero always wanted to attend The University of Notre Dame, but was not accepted in his senior year of high school, most likely because of the university’s low acceptance rate. Last year 17,000 high school seniors applied for 1,985 places in the freshman class.

Born in Garland and raised in Dallas and Louisiana, Stephen is a graduate of Brother Martin High School in New Orleans, an all-boy school, which he transferred into from Bishop Lynch when his father, working for the Food and Drug Administration, was reassigned. “Both my sisters graduated from Lynch,” he says, “but when the time came, I was okay with learning from the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.”

He went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of North Texas and a Master’s degree in Science from East Texas State University, then began teaching and coaching at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Garland, while also coaching part-time at Jesuit. He became Athletic Director of Good Shepherd and later Mary Immaculate Catholic School. He was hired at Bishop Dunne 18 years ago and has been teaching and coaching there ever since.

A running enthusiast, Coach Guerrero first started when he was about 10, in the 5th grade. His older sister Gloria was a runner, and so he ran with her and his father, who was coaching his sister. He ran in the parochial league in the Dallas Diocese, and was part of the Bishop Lynch District Champs in 1981 and 1982. He continues to run marathons, completing his 20th on November 7, the Moab Marathon, the toughest in his life.

He also wrestled both his freshman and sophomore years, in the 98 pound weight class, “although I only weighed about 77 pounds my freshman year, and a whopping 92 pounds my sophomore year,” Guerrero remembers with a laugh.

When his father was transferred to Louisiana, Stephen found himself at a new high school, Brother Martin, where he planned to continue in his two sports, running and wrestling.

But in the first day of wrestling practice, he was lifted up and landed hard – and felt a tingling sensation throughout his whole body. “Sort of like pins and needles,” he explained, “and my neck was really stiff.”

He went home that day and iced his injury, but woke up the next morning still feeling stiff all over. He attended practice for two more days until he woke up Friday and told his father he couldn’t move his neck at all. That’s when he went to the doctor’s office and learned that he had popped the #2 vertebra in his neck. He’d been literally walking around – and going to practice – with a broken neck.

Stephen knew he was in serious condition when he saw his mother’s face grow pale. The doctor immediately had him admitted into the hospital, and put in a halo brace. Had his vertebra moved another inch, his spinal cord would have been severed, paralyzing him from the neck down.

But the thick muscles in his neck had held the bone in place when it popped in practice. Being told he has a thick neck or “no neck” isn’t an insult to Coach Guerrero, because in his case, as he says, “it literally saved my life.”

The first seven vertebrae support the spinal cord and also our auto neuro systems – including those important things that we don’t think about: your heart beating, breathing.

“I was in the hospital for about a week,” Guerrero remembers, “but after I was in the halo for one day, the next day my vertebra was magically back in place. I was told I could live a normal life, but one bad move could result in my back breaking again, so my only option was surgery.” Guerrero agreed to have some bone from his hip fused to his first and second vertebra, stabilizing the one that had popped during wrestling practice, so now he has five vertebrae and one really big one, instead of the usual seven.

Following the surgery, he had to wear a halo brace for six months at his new school, Brother Martin, for his first semester. “I was very nerdy,” he says, “and very stinky – because I couldn’t take that thing off. I had to wash with it on, which meant a sponge bath, not a shower.” By June he was out of the halo and into a mini halo – one he could take off to shower.

His wrestling days over, Guerrero continued to run, most recently completing his 20th on November 7, the Moab Marathon, the toughest in his life, with an old friend from Bishop Lynch.  He trains by running with his cross country team members Monday through Fridays, and doing longer runs on Sundays.

He’s very proud of his cross country team’s district championship last year. Stephen explains: “Cross country is truly a team sport. You want a lower score, not a higher score, in this sport. For instance, the first runner across the finish line gets one point. The next gets two. If you only have four runners – you need five – you can’t win. So our ‘fifth man’ is just as important as our fastest runners.”

His fastest runners broke their own personal records at the district meet last year, as did the fifth man, Scott Harris. Jarod Moser came in second, Josh Benavides 7th, Jeffrey Hunter 11th and Alejandro Flores 12th. Once the scores were added up, Dunne runners took first place, winning the district meet for the first time in a decade. 2001 was the last championship year. Coach Guerrero is quick to point out, “It’s a team sport, and it’s not about an individual.” But a lot of individuals made this team a winner. The team has grown to 28 members, and a lot of that has to do with the leadership.

“Our coaches are terrific. Kevin Braun, Chris McClellan, Jacob Benavides—who helped us out last summer and is now running at UT Permian Basin—and  Robbie Zeske. We had at least two coaches at every practice every day – we all work together. It’s been great,” says Guerrero.

“Coach Guerrero taught us that it’s the little things that make a difference,” acknowledged senior Madison Haynes, her first year as the manager of the team in 2014. “We unload and load the bus and clean it top to bottom before we leave it. He says picking up trash and motivating our teammates, everything counts. His speech after the district win was awesome.  He told us that all the things we do starts a chain reaction, and even though we won, to remain humble. He’s the most inspiring, energetic, family man.”

According to his colleagues, coworkers, and students, Coach Guerrero could not be more deserving of this distinction, as congratulations continue to pour in for yet another honor, Diocesan Teacher of the Year. 

For more information on Bishop Dunne’s track team see: www.Dunnesports.com. For information on the school see the school’s website: www.bdcs.org. To congratulate Steve Guerrero, contact him at sguerrero@bdcs.org

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