Physical education teacher Lynda Pariso has announced that she plans to retire in June 2021 after 41 years at Morgan Park Academy, bringing to a close a teaching and coaching career that touched the lives of generations of children.

A native of Northwest Indiana, Pariso joined the faculty in 1979, quickly establishing herself as an indispensable and indelible teacher and coach.

Over the course of her career, she taught P.E. classes for all ages, led P.E. curriculum development, and coached several sports. She has served as Director of Athletics for the past 21 years.

“I don’t know how it will feel to enter the gym and not see Coach Pariso,” said Head of School Mercedes Z. Sheppard, a colleague for 25 years. “The gym has been her home at MPA for the past 41 years and we all knew it!

“I have loved Lynda’s passion and single-minded drive to make MPA’s athletics program the best it could be. She has been a cheerleader for everything MPA: encouraging students to try new sports, creating opportunities for faculty and staff to coach, and ensuring that our facilities were best in class. Lynda did it all.

“I will miss walking around campus with Lynda and hearing a chorus of children calling out to her: ‘Hi, Coach P!’ She knew every student and always asked about their day or their upcoming game or musical they were involved in.

“Lynda has left her mark on MPA and will be dearly missed.”

Pariso coached volleyball and basketball early in her MPA career, but her first passion was softball, the sport she played at Indiana State University — reaching the College World Series in 1976 — and with the Terre Haute Chevettes, a traveling team that won Indiana amateur championships and earned a place in the Indiana ASA Hall of Fame.

At MPA, Pariso founded a softball dynasty that stretched across 30 years. In 23 seasons as head coach (1981-2000, 2005-2007), she won seven Independent School League (ISL) championships and five ISL Coach of the Year awards, coached four ISL Players of the Year, and enjoyed one undefeated season.

Pariso became Director of Athletics in 2000, overseeing a sports program that produced dozens of individual and team championships. She was inducted into the MPA Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.

Two years ago, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association selected her as an Athletic Director of the Year, recognizing her “commitment, desire, loyalty, character, and leadership qualities to administer a high school athletic program which exemplifies the highest standards of discipline, honesty, and dignity.”

“I have loved every part of being a teacher, coach and colleague at this wonderful institution,” Pariso said. “I have so many fond memories of my players that I coached, memories that will be with me forever. Being able to teach a young athlete about life through sports creates a special bond.”

Pariso will be succeeded as Director of Athletics by P.E. teacher and coach Vinson C. Williams, who has directed Lower & Middle School athletics for the past several years.

“I know that he will give you 100 percent,” Pariso said of Williams, an MPA alumnus who also is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. “Coach Williams will keep MPA athletics going strong for many more years to come.”

From Coach Pariso

“I came to MPA as a substitute teacher in 1979 and was asked to join the faculty as a full time teacher the following year. I was going to stay at MPA for a few years and pursue my dream of coaching college softball. Well, that dream was not fulfilled, but instead I started the softball program at MPA and never looked back.

“I have loved every part of being a teacher, coach and colleague at this wonderful institution. I have coached volleyball, basketball, and softball. I have been the head of the physical education department. But my true love was being the athletic director for the past 21 years.

“I have had the privilege of guiding many young talented athletes and coaches on the field and court. I loved preparing the gym and fields for our home games. I always wanted the athletes and coaches to be proud of their home field.

“I have so many fond memories of my players that I coached, memories that will be with me forever. Being able to teach a young athlete about life through sports creates a special bond.

“I want to thank the countless coaches who have given their time and energy to coach here at MPA. Because of them, my job as AD was extremely fulfilling.

“I would also like to say thank you to all my colleagues. You are some of the most amazing people I know.

“I would like to say a great big thank you to all the athletes for their commitment to MPA athletics. I have enjoyed watching you compete and win ISL, regional, sectional and state championships over the years. It was my pleasure to be your AD.

“And my final thank you is to the parents whose support never wavered. Through the good and bad times, you were always there supporting MPA athletics.”

From Her Colleagues

Tom Drahozal, Upper School principal and coach
“Lynda was responsible for building a softball dynasty at MPA. As Athletic Director, she has been instrumental in overseeing the athletic department as it reached new heights, including conference championships, regional championships, sectional championships, state tournament team and individual appearances, and individual state championships. Our facilities have been upgraded as well. For four decades, Lynda has been the face of the MPA athletics program. She leaves an impact on MPA and MPA athletics that will remain for many years. It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with Lynda for the past 34 years.”

Heather Kurut, Lower & Middle School principal
“Though perhaps best known for her contribution to our athletic program, Coach P has also had a tremendously positive impact on our physical education classes. Though she likes to be modest about, Coach P is an amazingly effective and compassionate P.E. teacher. She handled students having ‘big feelings’ with her trademark tough love, which more frequently leaned toward tenderness. Her classes’ routines in our annual Gym Show were always creative, contemporary, and fun to watch and perform. Forever a proponent of effort and positive attitude over talent, Coach P reminded her students that anything was possible with enough practice.”

Sue Oczkowski, retired P.E. teacher and coach
“Lynda and I knew each other before she came to MPA, and our work together over decades exemplified what colleagues could accomplish. While I often concentrated on the curriculum aspect of the students, Lynda added her care for them as athletes as well. We often had to have some give and take to make it work, but I always knew that, above all else, Lynda would do anything and everything for any of her athletes.

“She took care of every detail, from booking their games to getting officials, organizing bus trips, uniforms, awards, scorekeepers and scorebooks, equipment, etc. Above and beyond all of that, she took care of getting the fields and court ready for play, along with her other duties throughout the day. Her days, and often late nights, were full, but she did all she did because she cared for those athletes like no one else could. MPA has been blessed to have her oversee our athletics program so conscientiously for many years.”

Claire Concannon ’85, English teacher
“Lynda is a straight talker who sees things clearly and looks at the ups and downs at MPA through a lens of experience, persistence, and rationality. She speaks her mind in ways that lead others to rethink, to join in, and to follow through. She has been a leader through hard work, persistence, and perhaps most important, through meaningful relationships with people in all parts of the school.

“She was my teacher first, when I came to MPA as an eighth-grade student. I had almost no sports experience or skills, but when I surprised myself by running the second-fastest mile time in my gym class, Coach P looked at me and said, ‘That was a great effort — and pretty fast.’ That one comment changed my attitude about sports. She made me believe that effort was just as important as skill. That understanding eventually led to me becoming a runner, finishing marathons, and even qualifying for Boston — all because I learned that even in sport, effort makes all the difference.”

Dan Cantone, P.E. teacher and coach
“It’s hard to quantify the influence Coach P has had on me as both a teacher and a coach. Lynda has made me aware of facets of coaching to which I was completely oblivious and for that I eternally grateful. Coach Pariso has the unique ability to lead with both kindness as well a toughness. You always know that her words come from a place of love. Lynda has left an undeniable imprint on Morgan Park Academy and she has accomplished what I believe to be every teacher’s goal: to leave a lasting and positive impact on everyone she encountered.”

Lynsey Panek ’06, teacher and coach
“Coach Pariso’s impact on the MPA community is forever lasting. She will be missed dearly. I couldn’t be happier for her to retire and get some well earned R&R, but can’t imagine MPA without her. I feel so blessed to have had her not only as a coach and teacher but also as a co-worker. She has taught me a lifetime of lessons, which I will be forever grateful for. We love you, Lynda! Thank you for making MPA such a special and wonderful place!”

Dr. Eileen Kicmal, English teacher
“Coach P is an extraordinary educator who has inspired her students to reach their full potential. She truly cares about her students and anyone who has come into contact with her is better off because of it. Coach P will be truly missed on the MPA campus, but her legacy will live on through her students and the many programs she established here at MPA. It has been my great pleasure to be her colleague and witness her passion for physical education transcend disciplines.”

Christian Rogala, teacher and coach
“Throughout my coaching career at MPA, I have had a ton of fun with these kiddos. Lynda always encouraged me to be myself and use my energy to corral and teach my players the way of success. I can’t thank her enough for her support and friendship. I’ll miss seeing her on campus, but we’ll make up that lost time on the links.”

Michael Ellis, teacher and coach
“Coach Pariso has been an amazing colleague, both at work and after hours. When you were coaching, she was aware of what needed to be done, and made sure it got that way — sometimes by doing the work herself and sometimes with a tone that made sure you got it done. You knew Coach meant business when she had her ‘field clothes’ on. Something was being lined, cut, dragged, etc. She knew those unseen little things make for student enjoyment, and so she operated happily behind the scenes.

“Coach was not as subtle when it came to fun. She was the life of the party at faculty parties and would make sure all the coaches felt appreciated at the athletic department’s coaches’ appreciation parties. Coach will be missed for all the amazing things we know she does, and even more for the things we will only notice once she is gone.”

Kathy Keelan, retired second-grade teacher
“Lynda’s commitment to and enthusiasm for Morgan Park Academy have made it a better place. She has compassionately shaped thousands of students, and they have become better people because she has been a presence in their lives. I know she always brightened my days when I would run into her around campus. She is one of the most genuinely honest people I know, and her sense of humor always puts a smile on my face. Congratulations on a job well done, Lynda. I hope your next chapter will be filled with good health, green golf courses, and nothing
but happy times.”

Emily Fitch, teacher and coach
“Coach P has a special way about her that allows anyone in her class to feel like an athlete. Her fantastic sense of humor makes her a wonderful colleague and teacher. I will always appreciate her patience when she was teaching me to work the clock for basketball games. I had to be shown more times than I can count! Each question I had, Coach P would show me yet again, with of course some friendly teasing about my inability to remember anything!”

Vanessa Cleys, teacher and coach
“Lynda was the first person I met when I came to MPA, when she encouraged me to help coach tennis. Immediately, we developed a bond over our love of athletics and laughter. She probably has met hundreds of new colleagues over the years, but she still took the time to make me feel welcome and appreciated. Lynda has had a huge impact on the culture of MPA. Now I’m going to keep practicing my golf so I can one day rival her on the greens. Thanks for everything!”

Emily Drown, teacher and coach
“I have always been impressed with Lynda’s ability to get the best out of those around her. Whether it is a kindergarten student just learning how to properly throw a ball or an Upper School athlete honing their pitching mechanics, she has the perfect approach to support and challenge these students at the same time. I always felt this way as a coach, too. Lynda met me where I was with my coaching ability and always found ways to provide constructive feedback that helped push me to be a better coach each successive year.”

Catie McAlister, math teacher
“There is so much to say about Coach P’s contributions to the MPA community. She is loved by faculty and students alike. Her passion for teaching physical education, her encouragement of students’ involvement in our sports teams, and her kind and welcoming spirit are all things that will be missed next year. Coach P is witty, kind, and hardworking. I wish her well in her well-deserved retirement, but know that none of our faculty gatherings will be the same without her presence!”

Dr. Heng Zhao, Mandarin teacher
“My favorite memory of Coach P happened two years ago, when I asked for her help with a problem we were having planning a student activity. I thought it was not easy. She was sitting in her office, as cool as she always is, and problem solved! The real cool people always help to fulfill other people’s wishes even if it’s not easy for them and make other people’s lives easier. Stay cool, Coach P!”

Tom Malcolm, retired science teacher
“Lynda, I want to wish you a very healthy and happy retirement. You always went beyond the call of duty. I cherish a lot of good memories of MPA and you are one of them. Enjoy the next stage of your life and behave yourself — oh forget that — stay healthy and enjoy life on the course, the field, the beach, and wherever life takes you. Have a great day!”

Tom Daker, former varsity girls volleyball coach
“I want to thank Lynda for giving me the honor and privilege to coach volleyball at MPA from 2006 to 2014. She made coaching at MPA fun, rewarding, and inspiring. Nothing is more exciting than coaching a big game in the MPA gym with a packed and vocal crowd.

“All my players loved Lynda, and it was easy to tell that the feeling was mutual. I noticed that any time a student, no matter the age, would see Lynda at the gym or anywhere else on campus, they would light up, because Lynda had the ability to make everyone feel special.

“Lynda is a fantastic athletic director, but she also spends countless extra hours grooming the fields, sweeping the gym floor, keeping score, cleaning up after all the games, and making sure all the coaches, players, and fans have a great experience at MPA. Thank you, Lynda.”