By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

When Chris Dattoria walks past the cafeteria at Glenwood Elementary, the room erupts in cheers. Celebrity-level status with the primary school demographic is a job perk that Dattoria initially hadn’t expected when he first decided to become a physical education teacher. Drawn to a PE to emulate the career of his favorite teacher, mentor, and coach, Tom Ryder (LAAA ’05), Dattoria proudly proclaims that helping children build their confidence through developing their physical and social skills is “the best job in the world.”

Chris Dattoria was born and raised in Harpursville, NY. He flourished as both a student and an athlete, earning the distinction of being the salutatorian of his class. While Dattoria enjoyed all of his classes, he particularly looked forward to PE. It was during gym class with Coach Ryder that Dattoria first took note of Ryder’s role as a physical education teacher and his ability to connect with each of his students, especially those who were not nearly as enthusiastic to spend a period in the gym. 

“As an athlete, I always counted down the minutes until gym class, but that’s not every student’s experience. It would be easy to default to engaging with the athletes, but I was touched by Coach Ryder’s efforts to build a relationship with every student to ensure that everyone felt comfortable,” Dattoria said. “This greatly impacted me and showed me how influential a PE teacher could be in students’ lives. I knew right then that I wanted to do the same thing.”

Unfortunately, Dattoria’s zeal for physical education was not always met with enthusiasm. While his parents and sister, Kaitlyn, supported his passion for PE, most were quick to suggest alternatives. 

“Every time I mentioned that I was planning to study physical education/sports studies at SUNY Broome, I got the same two comments back over and over,” Dattoria explained. “People either warned me that I would never get a job because the PE market was so competitive or told me that as the salutatorian, I should be ‘doing more than just being a teacher.’ It was hard not to get discouraged.”

Feeling pressured to pursue a different path, Dattoria changed his major to Business Administration: A.S. But as the beginning of the semester neared, Chris compared the options of always having a job but not being fulfilled by his work v. putting all of his efforts into finding a position in a rewarding field that brought him personal joy. A quick call to the Admissions Office and Dattoria was back on track to pursue PE through the Sport Studies: A.S. program. 

While his degree program wasn’t always clear, Dattoria never wavered on his decision to be a student at SUNY Broome. At Harpursville, Chris took full advantage of his high school’s partnership with SUNY Broome’s Fast Forward program and completed a full academic year’s worth of transferable credits. On top of his sophomore status, Dattoria was selected as a Presidential Honors Scholarship recipient, SUNY Broome’s highest honor that includes a full-tuition scholarship. Now confident in his desire to pursue a career in education, Dattoria set out to make the most of his year in the Sport Studies: A.S. program. 

Through a wide variety of activities, Dattoria’s students learn healthy, lifelong movement habits. Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

Unquestionably, one of the Sport Studies: A.S. program’s best features is its transferability, particularly to fellow SUNY institutions. Within his first few weeks of classes, Dattoria’s SUNY Broome professors facilitated a meeting with a SUNY Cortland Admissions Counselor to map out his personalized transfer pathway. 

In addition to completing his classes, which ranged in topics from anatomy and physiology to sport psychology, Chris made an effort to accept subbing positions in every grade in as many local districts as possible. Through subbing, Dattoria found the most joy in the elementary school setting. 

Thanks to his foundation from SUNY Broome, Dattoria breezed through his semesters at SUNY Cortland. With his diploma in tow, Chris ventured into the job market that so many warned him about. Much to Dattoria’s delight, an elementary physical education position became vacant in the Vestal School District at Glenwood Elementary, and the rest is history. 

Dattoria admits that he never struggles to wake up on a Monday morning, in the apprehension of a full and fun week teaching his students how to win with composure, lose with grace, and develop healthy habits through movement.

“Not everyone is meant to be a competitive athlete, but everyone should develop the physical skills to maintain a healthy life full of activity,” explained Dattoria. “When I teach kids how to throw a ball, I picture them using those same hand-eye techniques to throw a ball to their kids one day. It’s an honor to teach these lifelong skills.”

Did Chris’ story inspire you to teach the next generation how to live a more active and confident life? If so, your next step is to enroll in SUNY Broome’s Sport Studies: A.S. program. 

Dattoria has a special soft spot for his kindergarteners!  Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

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