a community engagement initiative of Waverly Community Unit District #6
I can’t help but laugh as Waverly science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) teacher and football coach Oliver Quass explains how he ended up in America. In retrospect, I can only assume it’s a story he’s told countless times. It could be his Danish accent, or maybe it’s his delivery. Regardless, expecting anyone to try and retell Oliver’s American origin story is unfair. In-person, he executes with the steady delivery of a stand-up comic, his accent magnifying the impact as he pauses for the laughter he fully—and accurately—anticipates.
From Copenhagen to Waverly, Oliver brings a unique perspective to the classroom.
Oliver traveled from Copenhagen, Denmark, to the United States at fifteen. He suggests his mother classified him as an ‘immature soccer kid.’ While he meant to study abroad for a year, a chance encounter on an American football field would change the trajectory of his life, ultimately landing him in Waverly as a STEM teacher. But as a six-foot, one-hundred-fifty-five-pound kid wearing Umbros, he assumed he would play European football (I believe it’s called soccer, which I regrettably admit was reduced to a week of Jr. High PE during my youth). Instead, he signed himself up for a quick lesson in cultural misunderstanding that he describes as a wonderful year in America.
Oliver shares, “Morton Anderson, the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame kicker, the Danish kicker, well, he was big over here, so they said we’re going to try to make this soccer kid a kicker. They put me in a 0-0 game with three seconds left, they’d lost for two straight seasons, and the coach’s career was probably on the line. I went in there; I’d been in the States for two weeks, didn’t even know a field goal was worth three points. And I kicked it through, thirty-four yards, no pressure.”
He continues, “Consequently, one thousand people jumped from the stands and chased me. They have this on TV. I started running. I thought I’d done something wrong and was trying to get away from these crazy Americans. That was the start of my kicking career.”
After finishing the school year, Oliver returned to Denmark, as did his newfound skill. Soon, his coaches were making international calls to talk to his parents, assuring them that if Oliver returned, college scholarships and the ability to play professional (American) football would be in his future. Oliver returned, put in the work, and ended up with the second-highest punting average in the nation, kicking the ball 50.3 yards per kick before playing football at the University of South Carolina.
Oliver signed to play for the NFL Europe, the NFL’s summer league, before returning to the US and starting teaching school. Oliver has worked in various settings, from private schools to what he classifies as at-risk schools. He moved to Copenhagen for twelve years but returned to visit his host family. While in the US, Oliver met Dr. Andrea Guerrero, and while he wasn’t interested in the math position that was currently open, they kept in touch. He eventually accepted a position to teach STEM and coach football and basketball.
Oliver pushes students to get past an academic understanding and look at his subjects from a practical standpoint, adding that he considers himself a STEAM teacher with the A standing for arts. He breaks down his approach using drones as an example and a metaphor.
“First, you take them in here and let the kids get hooked on them, then you say, alright, let’s get to work. We learn block and java programming. We use real-life scenarios like search and rescue, surveying, and farming. We discuss ways that someone could graduate, go out and purchase a couple of larger drones, and spray farmer’s fields,” says Oliver.
From Copenhagen to Waverly, Oliver brings a unique perspective to the classroom, all because he accidentally showed up on a football field, several decades ago, hoping to play soccer.