Charlie Strandlund credits a teacher from his first years in school for instilling a love for learning that carried him through his years as a student, athlete and beyond.
Although he recalls many teachers that left a lasting impression, Strandlund said Tom Cullen at Millstream elementary in Langford immediately comes to mind. These are the kind of stories highlighted in the Great Teachers series, brought to you by Black Press Community Media and Staples Business Depot West Shore in partnership with Camosun College. This feature includes stories that highlight the amazing work teachers do every day in classrooms throughout the Capital Region.
“[Cullen] was always very engaging,” said Strandlund, in his first year as coach and manager of the Victoria Eagles in the Premier Baseball League. “He really promoted learning, working hard and chasing your dreams. He was always a very positive person and wanted all of us to do good things.”
Strandlund said he took schooling seriously throughout the years he developed as a ballplayer.
“The importance of schooling was always impressed on me,” he said. “I took pride in carrying the name student athlete.”
Strandlund also has fond memories of his teachers and time at Belmont secondary school.
“I made some great friends that I’m still connected to,” he noted. “There were lots of good times and great experiences.”
One that stands out in particular was having the opportunity to be part of the Legends of the Road Tour in 2000, which recreated the barnstorming tours that were a part of life for black players in the Negro Baseball League in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Strandlund and a couple of schoolmates cycled 5,000 miles across parts of the U.S., getting the chance to meet some baseball legends while playing 33 games along the way. Strandlund was recently in Kansas City to attend the debut of a documentary on the trip.
“I’ll never forget meeting the late, great Buck O’Neill,” Strandlund said. “He was a friend and a pure ambassador of the game. Those memories will last a lifetime.”
He cited Gary Thomsen, a Seattle teacher who organized the Legends of the Road Tour, as another guiding influence.
“He had a massive impact on me at 14,” Strandlund said. “We became great friends, and that continues to this day.”
Strandlund earned a degree in kinesiology and sports medicine after high school, attending colleges in Canada and the U.S. where he was able to combine baseball with schooling. A couple of years spent playing for Team Canada’s university and amateur teams included trips to the east coast and the world championships in Taiwan.
“Travel is a great way to broaden your horizons at a young age,” he said. “You have to grow up and learn how to do things for yourself.”
Strandlund, who once played all nine positions in a game with the Victoria Seals, has some advice to share with young athletes.
“You have to focus on school if you’re going to truly be a student athlete,” he said. “If you’re good enough to move to the pros that’s special, but if you’re part of the majority going to university or college as an athlete, you’re not going to get anywhere without getting good grades.”
Strandlund is enjoying coaching in his hometown. “It’s a great experience to pass along skill and knowledge to young players,” he added.
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