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Ripple of Hope and Riptide of Influence: Brian Bylicki says goodbye

Olivia Dinis, Staff Writer

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Mr. Bylicki as a senior at LHS.

On June 6, 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered an influential speech at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, during which he stated, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others… he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

It was 10 years later when Brian Bylicki, sophomore at Ludlow High School, discovered the speech while writing his first research paper. It changed the direction of his life, motivating him to pursue a teaching career, and ultimately inspiring hundreds of Ludlow High School Students.

Bylicki began teaching in Ludlow in 1983 as a long-term sub and came back in 1986, where he would continue teaching for the next 32 years.

Mr. Bylicki’s first year teaching in 1986.

Since then, he has been a coach, the student council advisor, and, quite possibly, the toughest government teacher that has ever walked the tiles of this school.

Although he’ll joke that he just wanted the summers off, it was Robert Kennedy, in addition to several teachers throughout his childhood, who inspired Mr. Bylicki to become the teacher he is today.

When asked about his first day of teaching, he recalls it as “terrifying” saying that, “nothing can prepare you for the [first] question and nothing can prepare you for that first day…”

Since then, Mr. Bylicki has taught at least two classes of government every year. I did some quick mental math and was astounded by the number of government classes this man has taught. I felt the need to ask how he never got sick of it. His reply: “Because it’s always different; it always changes.”

1999

In a constantly changing United States government, he describes his greatest challenge in teaching being, “Making government relevant… People don’t think government is relevant, but it is. It has an effect on your life every single day in whatever you do.”

The 1978 “As Schools Match Wits” Team

His favorite part of teaching: “watching students learn, understand, think.” More specifically, “where students just all of a sudden [say], ‘Wow, I got it.’”

Some current faculty members at LHS sat in Bylicki’s classes as high school students.

Portuguese teacher Joann Santos-Pontes (who Mr. Bylicki apparently helped recruit to Ludlow High) explains what it was like to have him as a teacher: “[There] was never a dull moment. He was the kind of teacher where you walked in and he was excited, so you got excited… He was really great about letting us voice our opinions and letting us hash it out, have a discussion, diplomatically, politely, appropriately.”

Martin (Marty) Fanning, who has been teaching alongside Mr. Bylicki since the beginning, says “I always have called Mr. Bylicki ‘Bob Woodward.’ I don’t know if you know the author, Bob Woodward,”

(Indeed, I did not. I later learned that Bob Woodward is the author that recently wrote the controversial book Fear, on Donald Trump. He is also famous for being one of the journalists who broke the Watergate story, leading to President Nixon’s resignation.)

“I always say about Mr. Bylicki is that he likes to stir it up. He likes to cause controversy, so my nickname for him would be Bob Woodward.”

Politics aside, we flip the conversation to after school and extracurriculars. Mr. Bylicki ran student council for 32 years, participated as an advisor to some senior classes, and coached baseball and basketball (both sports he also played as a student at LHS).

He recalls his top highlight coaching baseball being, “in ’99, we scored three runs in the bottom of the last inning to come from behind and beat Westfield in baseball and qualify for the Western Mass tournament.”

Coach Fanning adds, “Mr. Bylicki and I both have had a great love of baseball…He was always the example to the younger teachers that you have to get involved with students in areas other than in the classroom.”

Another major part of Bylicki’s time at LHS was running Student Council.

“I got to see a whole different group of kids, I didn’t always see them in class,” said Bylicki, “[I] tried to instill in them some of the same values… that you have to be active, you have to take part…  I got in trouble for probably more of what Student Council did over the years because they spoke out and they were people who were bright, intelligent, and wanted things done.”

His top student council highlight came to him quickly (maybe too quickly), with a smile on his face, and an unmistakable gleam in his eye. “I got in trouble because the president of Student Council walked 125 students over to protest the board of selectmen,” he confessed.

Getting in trouble was his top highlight? I urged him to continue. “It was late nineties and there were budget questions and the board of selectmen was talking about not funding the schools appropriately. The president of Student Council — this is before cell phones and before the internet, or email, or anything like that  — managed to get a whole bunch of kids without me knowing to walk over and protest at the board of selectmen meeting.”

The pride is still reflected on his face after more than 20 years.

Mr. Bylicki wasn’t only into extracurriculars during his teaching career, he also participated in after-school activities when he was in high school.

“I played sports, I was ranked 33 out of 383, I was in the Junior Classical League, which was the Latin Club, eventually becoming president of the Latin Club, and state president of the JCL. [I] did the normal things that kids in the 1970’s did,” said Bylicki, thankfully leaving details of that last part to the imagination.

With a little more than a month left until retirement, I wondered what plans he has. I was not disappointed. “I’m going to see the Red Sox in spring training. That’s always been one on my bucket list. I’ve got other trips planned…  but I’m going to take a year to, kind of, just let things go and then see what happens after that,” he gushed.

It was only after the “formal” part of our interview that he let me in on several more of his plans. He and his wife are going to To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway in December. They have plans to go to Hawaii sometime soon. Paris and Rome also make an appearance on the bucket list.

I finally asked the question that had been looming over the history department: “Will you ever be back?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know. There’s a lot of factors that get involved, but I don’t want to be a day-to-day sub,” vowed Bylicki.

I later asked Mr. Fanning what he thought of Mr. Bylicki’s retirement. His answer was nothing short of, well, Fanning.

“When you are here as long as I have, and you are a Ludlow person, you are going to know there’s a group of people that stand out over time, and Brian’s one of those people. He should be listed with the icons of LHS,” yakked Fanning, adding “We’ll miss him around here. We already kind of do.”

Luckily, the legend Brian Bylicki left us with a few words:

“My message to students is… be a ripple of hope, have an impact, don’t sit back and let things happen to you, make things happen.”

 

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Ripple of Hope and Riptide of Influence: Brian Bylicki says goodbye