Jasper’s journey: from soldier to teacher


Curstine Guevarra

Pascack Valley girls basketball coach Jeff Jasper could achieve his 1,000th career win Thursday against Northern Highlands. The game will be home at 4 p.m.

In the middle of a torrential rainstorm, in the midst of an artillery fight in Mekong Delta, Vietnam, 23 year old Jeff Jasper was thigh deep in standing water leading a company of men. All around him, tracer rounds and artillery shells were going off.

During a lull in the fight, hidden under a poncho, he lit up a Marlboro cigarette.

It was in this moment that he says he had an epiphany.

“When I get out of here I want to do something that will make a difference. I want to teach and and I want to coach,” recalled Jasper, who just won his 1,000th win with the Pascack Valley girls basketball team.

Serving in the military as an Infantry Airborne Lieutenant from 1969 to 1970 laid the foundation for Jasper’s teaching and coaching career at Pascack Valley.

Jasper was against the war and had considered fleeing to Canada to dodge the draft.

However, his father Walt, a World War II veteran, helped in convincing him otherwise.

Dear old dad

Jasper always says that his father, Walt Jasper, was the most influential male in his life.

Walt owned a gas station where he worked as a mechanic. When Jeff was in college and people asked what his dad did, he would say “Oh, my dad’s in oil….right up to his neck.” Jeff described his father to have been hard working and always having blistered, callused, grease stained hands to prove it.

“My father only had a fifth grade education, but was one of the smartest men I had ever known,” Jasper said. “He was truly brilliant.”

Jeff remembers being cut from a little league all-star team he tried out for when he was 8 years old.

“He [the coach] cut me and it was really awful because I never got a chance to go up to bat,” Jasper said. “All I did was catch.”

Jeff said he was sitting on his front porch crying when his father got home, and began to discuss what had happened with his father.

In the end, it turned out that the try out was only for 9 and 10 year olds.

“My father said to me, ‘Son, make sure you ask some good questions along the way, but it was a good learning experience for you to go,’” Jasper said.

The Jasper family lived in Midland Park. Jeff attended Midland Park High School and attended Ohio University. Later on, he received his master’s and did his post-grad work at New York University.

Jeff said that he received one of the greatest pieces of advice from his father when he was in high school and thought he was a “hotshot high school athlete.”

“He said to me, ‘Son, the highest form of a compliment is when it comes from a third party,” Jasper said.

Jasper said that his father told him to “stop using that ‘I’ pronoun and let other people tell you how good you are.” His father was also the person who told him “you got to be the boss of yourself.”

Jasper says he uses that ideology often.

“Remain humble. I use that with my team. Don’t be up in anybody’s face about how good you might be,” Jasper said. “You know who you are: You are the boss of yourself,” Jasper said.

In the year before Jasper would graduate from college, he told his father of his plans to head to Canada and avoid the draft. His father, a World War II veteran, listened as they drove.

“He said to me, ‘Son, many have defended your right to disagree and to challenge authority, but to escape, well, think that through,” Jasper said.

Jasper said he did think it through and he came to the realization that “war is a part of life and he might as well experience it.”

He says his father was surprised when his orders came. He told him, “Son, you are a college graduate. You have a future.”

Jasper told his dad that he would return. When he did come back, he ended up in California.

His father called him one day informing him of an opening at a high school named Pascack Valley. Neither Jasper nor his father knew where the school was. An old family friend of theirs as well as Jasper’s high school basketball coach, Jerry Thomas, was the Vice Principal of PV’s sister school, Pascack Hills and was the one to tell Walt about the job opening.

Jasper said he was not interested in the offer and would rather be “hanging out here in California.” His dad pushed to get Jasper home to interview and offered to fly him home and fly him back if it did not work out. Jasper agreed to fly home and interview for the position.

He met with the PV principal at the time, Balkom J. Reaves. Jasper described him to look just like Lyndon Baines Johnson — Texas accent and everything.

In the interview, he said to me, “Son, what are your goals? Where do you see yourself five years from now?”

“You know, Mr. Reaves, I am not really sure what I am going to be doing when I walk out of your door,” Jasper said.

Jasper recalls taking a deep breath and a step back as Reaves said to him, “Son, you need goals.”

Jasper said he really did not have any goals and has “always been in the moment.”

“He must have liked what I said though because he sent me to the superintendent, Jack Lewis, and he talked to me for a bit before offering me the job,” Jasper said.

When Jasper told his dad the news and then said that he told the superintendent he would think about it, all his dad said was, “What!”

His dad asked him what he would be doing instead of teaching.

Jasper then called the superintendent and said he would take the job. Reaves told him he would be starting Monday. He was going to be replacing a teacher who had a nervous breakdown while teaching.

The first half of his career was spent as an English teacher. In the late nineties, he taught both English and history and now, he teaches solely history.

Contributed by Lois Jasper
Jeff in his army uniform with his mom Gussie Jasper. Jasper fought in the Vietnam War and says fighting in the war shaped him to be who he is.

Mother Dearest

The Jaspers were the only Jewish family living in Midland Park while Jeff was growing up. He said that growing up as the only Jewish boy opened him up to cruelty from his classmates.

“Part of the thing when I first got involved in what was the Gay Straight Alliance was that I knew that words are so powerful,” Jasper said. “People can think that you are saying something and it is not a big deal, except for the person it is directed at or the side person who hears it.”

Jasper, in his sophomore year of high school, described himself to be “everyone’s best friend.” He was president of his freshman class, sophomore class, and also senior class.

Towards the end of his sophomore year, three friends of Jasper’s came up to him and told him that “he was not in their little club anymore” because he “wore the same shirt too often.”

When Jasper went home, he told his mom, Gussie Jasper, about what happened. She told him that it was really because their family was Jewish.

Jasper said he was sheltered from any anti-Semitism up until this point. He asked his mom if he was different from everybody else.

“No, you are better than everyone else,” Gussie said.

Jasper says that moment gave him inner strength from that point forward in his life.

Still, he “felt confused” after the whole situation, and therefore did not run to be junior class president.

In his senior year, he captained the football, basketball, and baseball teams and was senior class president.

“I was a good athlete. I became a great athlete. I was a good leader. I became a great leader,” Jasper said.

He says that this moment taught him to be very self-driven and woke him up to a world he was not familiar with.

He does not consider himself to be Jewish since he “does not follow any of it.” He believes in Jasperism.

“Jasperism — it is my own little religion,” he said. “I believe in myself.”

Pursuing his passion

When Jasper’s kids answered the phone to people looking for their father, they would always say, “He is at school,” rather than responding that he was at work.

That is exactly how Jasper said he looked and continues to look at it.

“I think coming to school is like a paradise — it is like living the dream every day,” Jasper said.

Jasper says that he finds how much he loves teaching and coaching to be so spectacular.

“There are not people who have been at it as long as I have that feel the same energy they did when they started,” Jasper said. “I come in energized and I leave energized — I do not know how many other people can say that.”

Jasper said that people often ask him how much longer he is going to be teaching and coaching.

“I will go until such days that I am no longer relevant,” Jasper said. “When I walk into a classroom one day and they go ‘who the hell are you,’ the next day I am gone.”

Jasper says that he is incredibly lucky that he gets to do what he loves and will always remember the moment in Vietnam when he had his aha moment.

“It is that moment that drives me about why I truly love what I do,” Jasper said. “I am never upset by it. It is who I am. It is a constant reminder to find the good in life, the good in all my students, and find a greatness in my coaching. I am always reminded of why I am in this and why I do what I do.”