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Jordan Graduate Austin Scher Credits Parents, DPS Teachers with Being Where He’s Called to Be

Austin Scher

DPS graduate Austin Scher believes he’s always wanted to live and work in the world of sports. He remembers his summer internship with the Burlington minor league baseball team when he commuted to Burlington from his home in Durham every day. He worked 14 to 16 hours each day after the commute. When his mom asked him how he liked it on his final day, he said without hesitation, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Scher said the fatigue and sleep deprivation didn’t matter, nor did the grueling commute he took with windows down and music blaring to stay awake. All he needed to do was get home and get some rest so that he could do it all again the next day. 

Scher said his mom— a teacher with Durham Public Schools—taught him that ‘no job worth having is a Monday through Friday, nine-to-five, punch-the-clock and move on job.’

Scher adds, “Every job that you care about, every career that you love, you’re going to have to put in something extra if you’re going to make it worth it for yourself and everybody else involved. I don’t know if I would be in this career if I didn’t have really both of my parents, but specifically my Mom because of her role as a teacher,” he said.

Now General Manager of the Danville, Virginia-based Otterbots Appalachian League baseball team, Scher credits his parents and his rich experience as a K-12 student with preparing him for his career. Recently named Executive of the Year in the Appalachian League, he says there were a multitude of teachers who influenced him greatly, starting with his mother although he didn’t really appreciate her profession when he was younger.

He and his sister spent hours after school with her, running the school halls where she worked, and doing homework with other teachers’ children while his mom prepared lesson plans and grade papers. Then, he says, it was just what his mother did for work. As an adult, his admiration for the teaching profession has grown and he remembers vividly those who influenced him greatly.

He attended R.N. Harris Elementary in kindergarten through fourth grade, Forest View Elementary with his mom for fifth grade, Rogers-Herr Middle for sixth through eighth grade, and C.E. Jordan High School in 2010 where he graduated. He then matriculated to the University of Wisconsin and graduated with a degree in Religious Studies, which grounded him in his life’s work.

Chasing a Feeling

Growing up, Scher loved all kinds of sports and soon found that the industry offers a plethora of opportunities from broadcasting to food and beverage to sales and marketing and many roles in between. Field trips to the Durham Bulls ballpark, meeting and seeing former Mayor Bill Bell score a three-pointer, and then starting his career with a game-day staff position with the Madison Mallards in Wisconsin as a beer mover (moving kegs across the ballpark from freezer to tap) fueled the desire.

His fan experience with the Bulls, passion, obsession, and summer behind-the-scenes work convinced him that minor league baseball was his career choice.

“The looks on those people’s faces when you pull a kid out of the stands to go play one of those games on the field…being able to provide that experience and see that kid’s face was a direct connection to how I felt. You can chase this feeling forever. You can spend your life making people have the memories and experiences that you treasured as a kid, even if you didn’t appreciate it at the time, which I very much did not,” said Scher.

What he also came to know was how he could make lasting change. One of his final classes at the University of Wisconsin was taught by Allan Huber "Bud" Selig, the longest standing Major League Baseball commissioner, and an American baseball executive who currently serves as the Commissioner Emeritus of Baseball. Selig served as the ninth Commissioner of Baseball from 1998 to 2015. Professor Selig taught Baseball and Society Since WWII and kicked off class with a three-hour lecture about Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player who broke the color barrier in the years immediately following WWI. Scher said it was Fall of 2015, and the country was changing. It was on the verge of an impactful election, and he was a soon-to-be college graduate.

“Baseball is a microcosm of American society. What happens in a clubhouse is happening in the country. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. The Montgomery bus boycotts were years later.” 

Scher said he realized he could follow his sports passion and make an impact.

He went on to earn his degree in Religious Studies, writing an undergrad thesis on the relationship of baseball to American society through the lens of evangelical Protestantism, graduated, and took a job with the Greensboro Grasshoppers as a sales associate. From there, he traveled to Florida for a promotion with the Daytona Tortugas (which plays its home games at Jackie Robinson ballpark) as Director of Sales, Director of Corporate Partnerships, and then Assistant General Manager, which led him to his lifetime goal of becoming a general manager for a minor league baseball team.

“I wanted to be the one setting the policies. I wanted to be the one pushing the issues that I believed were important for the industry forward without having to answer anybody else for those decisions.”  

He was 28 when he was named GM, in a city that he says reminded him of home.

As the one setting policies, Scher hosted a Pride Night in a city with a “nasty” history from the Civil War to Reconstruction to the Civil Rights movement. “Fortunately now, it’s a phenomenal place to live,” he says. “It was important for the league and it was the right thing to do.”

Baseball held an important position in Danville’s story, said Scher, and his objective was to honor its history.  The Negro American Association’s Danville All-Stars played in Danville in a ballpark where Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson, and Satchel Paige played. Tragically, the park was bulldozed by the City Council in 1952 because it was outperforming the white ballpark. Now, Scher hosts games on Juneteenth, annual celebrations, and ensures that the All-Stars’ story is told. He also works with the Boys & Girls Club to bring the team to local youth, and has hosted a camp at the ballpark teaching participants how to swing and throw.

Scher says a second Pride night was held this past season and it was the third largest attended game in history.

“It’s not a political statement, it's not a social statement, we sit here and say our ballpark has something for everybody. Everybody’s welcome at our ballpark,” he said.

During a brainstorming session with the Grasshoppers, Scher once suggested an interfaith night. They loved the idea and told him to make it happen. The event became the first interfaith celebration during a baseball game in the country’s history. Lesson learned: the game was scheduled during Ramadan so even though no outside food and drinks are allowed in the ballpark, the Islamic centers of Greensboro and High Point were allowed to bring dates into the ballpark to break their fast. Scher also had space set up in front office as a dedicated prayer space.

Scher said he didn’t remember being in a baseball park and seeing Muslim American families. 

“That night was a visual changing point for the Greensboro team, and for me and my career.

The crossover is there.”

He’s given seminars on the interfaith and community night, worked with Minor League Baseball FIELD (Fostering Inclusion and Educational Leadership Development), and served as a mentor and panelist. He’s mission-driven to be a catalyst to push the industry forward.

Influenced by Teachers

Scher came to realize as an adult that teaching was not a 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. job. “That just was not the case,” he said.

“My bus stop on certain days of the week when I was leaving Rogers-Herr was Forest View because she had lesson plans to do, and she had tutoring, she had after-school activities, and she had the Scholastic Book Fair. So, I would leave school to go back to school, do my homework. I didn’t appreciate the gravity of what it meant for her to be a teacher and the hours that it took. Even when we would leave the school at 5:30, 6 at night… she would be lesson planning well into the night.”

In addition to Mom, Scher said two R.N. Harris teachers stand out: Ms. Carolyn Pugh, his fourth grade teacher and a former principal, who was “phenomenal in every sense.”

He said his most vivid memory of Ms. Pugh was the morning of 9/11. “I really enjoyed her as a teacher before that.  But it’s just this ability that good teachers have that even on a day like that, her ability to keep everybody calm and make everybody feel safe. She was remarkable.”

He’s kept up with her career.

Mr. Fritz, his art teacher at R.N. Harris, had a knack for making art fun even though Scher knew he wasn’t an artist. 

“I don’t have an artistic bone in my body but he made art fun. Every year that I was there, no matter who the classroom or elective teachers were, everybody was always excited to go to art, which especially at that age, I thought it was really impressive the way he was able to captivate everybody the way he could.”

When his grandfather died– which was the first grandparent of his to pass– Ms. Jenzano “separated me the student from me the child. She separated me from the son of a peer (his Mom). She also told my Mom I was good, attentive, and loud,” he said with a smile.

His seventh grade Language Arts teacher Mr. Ziegler had a powerful way with words that he tried to instill in his students. He remembers reading The Bronx Masquerade and having to perform for the grade level.  He and his classmates performed News at 5 from the book, and it was his first time on stage except for a band. This is when he began “chasing the feeling of grabbing people’s attention,” he said. Now when the on-field emcee is out, he gets behind the microphone.

“As a student in DPS as the city and the school system were changing, we didn’t focus on how old the desks were and whether it was hot or cold that day, we’ve gone on to be successful in and outside of Durham is because the teachers we had at the time were really, really, really highly qualified teachers. And DPS set the foundation for me.”

He goes to name others like eighth grade Social Studies teacher Ms. Smith, whose curriculum was fascinating. “Her lessons were rather impactful and made me veer towards majoring in history.”

At Jordan, Mr. “A”, showed his passion for learning, studying, and understanding history. Then there was Ms. Brown, who taught AP English.

“She was the first Language Arts teacher that made me excited about sitting down and reading and appreciating the time spent reading, not just reading for subject matter but reading for the sake of reading and understanding and appreciating what words could do when strung together in a certain order.”

Scher said there were “a ton” of teachers who impacted his learning and his life. He also notes the experiences and the partnerships that Durham Public Schools had with the Durham Bulls and Duke athletics which broadened his exposure.

“I’m now in a position where I can make our team the vision of what I want all minor league baseball teams to be: a true affordable family fun option for every member of your community, a true welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for every member of your community, and then a spot where–when it’s summertime and it’s baseball season–everybody from infants to retirees wants to be at the ballpark and wants to be a part of what we are building. Again, ultimately, I do credit growing up in Durham and going through K-12 in DPS, that gave me the framework for the vision that I wanted to put in place here. I think this is a direct result of my time in Durham Public Schools.”

Scher believes he is where he is supposed to be as he recites a quote by Frederick Buchner, who said, “The place you’re called to is where your deep passion and the world’s hunger meet.”