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From Football Field to Classroom: Values Guide Former Irish Safety and Catholic School Teacher's Career Path

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 03 January 2013.

Fighting Irish football is capturing the public's attention as the BCS National Championship Game approaches on January 7. In a tradition as old as the Golden Dome itself, the Notre Dame team sends a message that transcends the gridiron: From Knute Rockne to Manti Teo, fans have often glimpsed how team members' experiences connect to their own personal values and to the character and mission of Our Lady's University. Former Catholic school teacher Bill Gibbs is one example of how those connections extend to the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

Bill played football under legendary coach Lou Holtz as a member of the Notre Dame Class of 1997 and then taught at a Catholic high school through the ACE Teaching Fellows initiative. Now, he continues a distinguished career in law with the Chicago firm of Corboy & Demetrio. A natural progression?

"While I miss the classroom and practice fields, as a trial lawyer I am 'teaching' jurors about our case and 'coaching' them on how to make just decisions,' says Bill. There's another tie-in, too: "Between practicing law and chasing after my three fantastic kids, my free time has been devoted exclusively to watching the Irish on Saturdays."

The teaching connection is also strong thanks to his memories of serving the students of Loyola College Prep in Shreveport, Louisiana, as a member of ACE's fourth cohort. "I was inspired to make a real impact on the lives of others by my parents—both former teachers," Bill recalls.

He also credits the inspiration of his own teachers and coaches.

“ACE provided the perfect opportunity for me upon graduation to give back a little bit and try to make a meaningful impact” on children’s lives. He stayed in the education field after graduating from ACE and started attending law school at night during his fifth year of teaching high school.

Today, Bill is a leading member of his law firm’s team prosecuting civil cases on behalf of families that have lost loved ones, or individuals who have suffered catastrophic injuries. He is a member of numerous legal organizations, including the Notre Dame Law Association. In 2009, Chicago Lawyer magazine ranked him among the “40 Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch.” He provides pro bono legal assistance to individuals through the Mercy Home for Boys.  

He says the Irish team of 2012-2013, headed to the BCS Championship game on Jan. 7, is all about the impact of leaders and teamwork.

“What an amazing run by an amazing group of coaches and players!” Bill asserts. “It is quite obvious that the leadership of the Senior Class is the stuff by which legends are made. People will be talking about this team for years because they accomplished so much for each other and our University.”

ACE teachers have the same aspirations, adds Bill. Looking back, which was tougher—practices with Coach Holtz or Bill’s first year of teaching?

“Tough call,” the former safety acknowledges. Holtz was “one heck of a coach,” whose memory still today causes Bill to “stand up a little taller or sit up a little straighter.” But the game plan in Catholic schools invoked equally high standards. “Walking into a classroom for the first time, with all eyes on you as the authority figure—that’s real pressure. I’m grateful for both experiences.”

In many ways, the lessons learned from teaching and from Notre Dame football “merge into one,” says Bill. “Both taught me, and reinforced for me, the life lessons of teamwork, dedication, determination, selflessness, living in the moment—and the importance of having fun!”

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