Eagle Valley High School’s Cliff Zehring retires after 32 years | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley High School’s Cliff Zehring retires after 32 years

Zehring is leaving behind a legacy that his students, colleagues and community won’t easily forget

Eagle Valley High School math teacher and football coach Cliff Zehring is retiring after 32 years at the Gypsum school.
Preston Utley/Vail Daily archive

Eagle Valley High School math teacher and football coach Cliff Zehring is retiring after 32 years at the Gypsum school, leaving behind a legacy that his students, colleagues and community won’t easily forget.

Zehring initially came into education by way of football. Growing up in Nebraska, he was raised with a love for the sport and ultimately a desire to share that passion with others.

“I love the game of football, I think it’s the best sport that tests kids mentalities and athleticism,” Zehring said. “There’s so much teamwork cause you’ve got 11 men on the field and you’re all working together for one specific goal.”

When he got into the University of Nebraska, Zehring began in the engineering program. However, sometime in his sophomore year, he decided to use his math credits to become a math teacher — a road that would allow him to coach football.

After college, Zehring taught for one year in Iowa and two years in Nebraska. But in 1990, he and his wife made the move to Gypsum, where he would spend the next three decades teaching at Eagle Valley High School. He joined the school that year not only taking over for George McCollum as Eagle Valley’s math teacher, but also joined John Ramunno’s football coaching staff.

Over the years, Zehring would coach for a total of 12 years and even served as the school’s athletic director for a year.

“Cliff is from a generation of teachers that made strong impressions on the traditions and culture of Eagle Valley High School. He was part of a legacy group: Nolan, Ramunno, Rhoweder, the Scotts, Hollandsworth, and Zimmerman,” said Danelle Rivera, who graduated from Eagle Valley in 1993 and joined the staff as a teacher in 2017. “They were and will always be what I picture when I think of the teachers in Eagle Valley High School’s formative years.”

As far as first impressions go, intimidation was the first word many of his colleagues and former students used to describe him. However, quickly, this first impression is overcome by a myriad of adjectives like kind, sincere, honest, ethical, respectful, genuine and caring — once you get to know him.

Building relationships

Over the years that Zehring has taught at the school, Eagle Valley has grown from 250 students to over 1,000 — with five building additions to accompany the growth.

“The growth of the community has exploded,” Zehring said.

But even as the downvalley communities and the high school grew and evolved, Zehring’s style of teaching — and coaching — was a constant for his students.

“It gets back to relationships, you have to build a relationship with each and every kid. Some kids really struggle with mathematics, and if you can build the confidence in them that they can understand it and work hard,” Zehring said, “they’ll get the results, and a lot of kids, the light turns on for them — especially in math — where they have that confidence and they work at it and they see the end result finally.”

Eagle Valley High School Principal Greg Doan has seen the impact of Zehring’s approach to teaching first-hand through substituting in his classes.

“Students are incredibly honest and candid about what they think about their teachers if you ask,” Doan said. “When Mr. Zehring is gone, students will comment on how much easier it is to learn math from him and his teaching style. They are not worried if he is gone for a day because he will take the time and ensure everyone knows what to do and how to do it.”

Zehring’s own daughter, Ally Zehring — who graduated from Eagle Valley in 2013 and now serves as a permanent substitute at the school — said she grew up hearing about how this teaching style impacted students, and even experienced it herself.

“I’ve spent my entire life hearing, ‘Your dad was the best math teacher I’ve ever had, I actually learned and understood it,’” Ally Zehring said. “I hear this from past and current students, and having him as a teacher myself, I 100% agree with that statement. I believe that’s one of my many impacts he has made at Eagle Valley High School. Math can be such a hard subject for certain students, so hearing that statement time and time again truly never gets old.”

For Zehring, building relationships was not only how he taught math, but how he coached football for the Devils. Both, he said, are all about the process.

“You start with one idea and then you build on that idea, it’s the same way in coaching. It’s a process, trying to get those kids to develop their skills to becoming a team, meshing together,” he said. “It’s a process of working with those kids in both coaching and in teaching.”

It’s these relationships that Zehring will miss the most as he moves into the next phase of his life.

“It’s going to be the relationships with the kids and my cohorts. Just building that rapport with kids and wonderful teachers that we have at Eagle Valley High School, supporting each other and those kinds of things,” he said.

Making an impact

Cliff Zehring taught math to students in a way that built their confidence.
Vail Daily archive

Throughout his career, Zehring’s impact was felt not only by the students that he taught, but by his colleagues as well.

His go-to advice for first-year teachers is: “Come in, be yourself, set your standards that you want in the classroom, don’t give into other outside entities and just enjoy teaching.”

For Rivera, she learned from Zehring to: “Listen, smirk, and speak only if necessary. The less you speak, the more people will listen.”

Katie Uhnavy is an English teacher who said Zehring served as her “work dad” for many years. Uhnavy joined the school as young teacher and was lucky enough to teach across the hall from Zehring.

“He always looked out for me and was willing to lend an ear when needed. He made my first few years of teaching incredibly enjoyable, and in all the stress I felt was always someone to laugh with in the halls,” Uhnavy said.

“One thing I have learned from Cliff is to keep kids accountable and to keep yourself accountable. Strategies and systems come and go but one thing you can do as a teacher is simply to focus on the kids and focus on how it is you teach them and what you ask of both them and yourself,” she added.

Even Doan, who joined the high school in 2011 as its principal, said he learned a lot from Zehring.

“Even though I came in with the title of principal, it was Cliff who had more experience and knowledge of administration and the culture of the Eagle Valley High School community,” Doan said. “I will be forever indebted to Cliff for being a mentor and adviser to me as I grew into my role as principal of Eagle Valley High School.”

While Ally Zehring is now teaching at the school, a lot of what she learned from her dad is less about education and more about getting through life.

“I’ve learned a lot from my dad but the one thing that sticks out the most would have to be how he never lets others get inside his head,” she said. “I was very insecure growing up and watching him shake off certain comments from others inspired me to do the same. He taught me to get up and to keep trying, even when things are tough, you just gotta keep pushing; continue to picture the finish line and you’ll get there.”

Now, Ally Zehring said she is “the most confident I have ever been and I thank him for inspiring me along the way.”

The next Adventure

After 32 years, Zehring decided it was time to retire alongside his wife, who is also retiring and dreaming of warmer weather (specifically, Arizona).

“It’s been a wonderful ride at Eagle Valley High School and I’ve enjoyed the students and staff — I made a lot of friends and a lot of memories,” Zehring. “It’s going to be sad, but I know I’m going to spend more time with my grandkids, so that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”

And as Eagle Valley High School and the community send Zehring off into retirement, it is easy to see the legacy he is leaving behind.

“Cliff represents the very best in education,” Doan said. “He is dedicated to his students and the community he serves. He is a professional who can be counted to do what is right and what is needed. He is a father who had his own kids come through Eagle Valley High School and he supported them through their endeavors. He is a model of who we continue to try and hire and add to our community. He is one of a kind and irreplaceable and we wish him the very best as he heads into retirement.”

And for his daughter, this legacy exists both inside and outside the walls of the high school.

“It has been an honor to grow up with one of the best math teachers I’ve ever met,” Ally Zehring said. “Thank you for allowing me to grow up in one of the best communities I’ve seen. Eagle Valley High School will always have a special place in my heart because of you.”

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