Tich being Tich
By: Grant Lucas
Beneath the sunny, tropical Haitian skies, there is darkness.
Barbed wire surrounds the walls at the school where Mark Tichenor teaches, and at the compound where he lives. Armed guards patrol the school and compound grounds around the clock. The United States Department of State recently issued travel warnings in Haiti, citing the threat to Americans of crimes such as robbery and warning of political unrest that often leads to violent demonstrations in the streets.
There are no street signs. Motorists routinely drive the wrong direction on one-way roads, often with burned-out headlights.
Four years after a devastating earthquake that killed more than 220,000 residents and left more than 1.5 million homeless, Haiti remains in disrepair, the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, according to the International Monetary Fund.
But there is Mark Tichenor, along with his wife, Patty, at Place Boyer — a downtown park five blocks from where they live in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. The park, Tichenor says, was a shantytown following the earthquake, which struck in January 2010. It was renovated in 2013, including the park’s regulation-size basketball court. The retired Bend educator and coach is there, aiming to make a difference through sport.
“With Haiti a Third World country, as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the extreme poverty is all around you daily and hard to describe but as different from Bend as possible,” says the 58-year-old Tichenor, who retired from his position as Summit High School’s boys golf coach last June to cap a 35-year career as a teacher and coach at the high school and collegiate levels in Oregon.
“Patty and I have a completely different perspective on poverty now,” Tichenor says via email. “And along with the terrible destruction of the 2010 earthquake (we) are committed to these clinics as our very small way to make a difference and bring a smile to young faces that have only known sadness.”
While the Tichenors’ new digs are located in a tropical part of the world, it is anything but fun and games in Haiti.
Mark Tichenor’s coaching resume includes a small-college men’s basketball national championship, two Oregon high school girls golf state titles and a pair of state coach of the year awards — none of which, he will tell you, can compare to what he and his wife are accomplishing in Haiti.
“I’m quickly learning,” Tichenor says, “the bigger difference you make for kids, the bigger the reward.”
Twice since the Tichenors arrived in Port-au-Prince in August, Mark has organized and directed free basketball clinics at Place Boyer for disadvantaged kids — those who, as Tichenor puts it, “have only known the harshness of unbelievable poverty and destruction.”
After Tichenor stepped away from Summit — where he spent eight years as a teacher, athletic director and coach following a 10-year stint at Bend High as a girls basketball and girls golf coach and an assistant with the football team — he and Patty sought international education opportunities.
They initially looked for openings on military bases in Europe and the Mediterranean, where children of American military personnel are educated. But with cuts in the national defense budget, Tichenor feared those schools would close before they had a chance to accept teaching positions.
Then the Tichenors discovered Union School Haiti, the nation’s top private school, according to Mark. They were soon sold by the opportunity to experience firsthand a part of the world they had never seen or visited before. Haiti provided what Mark describes as a “cultural extreme experience,” and the school made the Tichenors an offer, providing travel, housing and paid positions for the two of them.
Most important, however, were the conversations they had with the Department of State regarding personal safety. The Tichenors, Mark says, were assured that armed guards would stand watch inside the barbed-wire gates at Union School Haiti as well as at their living compound.
The Tichenors were in, and they relocated to Port-au-Prince from the comfort of Central Oregon in mid-August with two-year contracts in hand at Union School, whose students, Mark says, come from affluent families (the children of the Haitian president and of the prime minister attend). Patty is a sixth-grade teaching assistant at the school, and Mark teaches 12th-grade U.S. government while also counseling students and advising athletes.
As the Tichenors were walking through Place Boyer in early September, they came across an assistant of the mayor of Port-au-Prince. Mark mentioned his extensive coaching background, and that initial meeting, he says, led to he and the mayor’s office putting on the first of Tichenor’s clinics in late October. The clinic, for boys 12 to 18 years old, was promoted by the mayor’s office through the local newspaper and radio station and with fliers posted at the park. According to Tichenor, nearly 100 Haitian youngsters turned out to learn and develop the fundamentals of basketball — dribbling, passing, shooting, and so on — with hands-on help from the veteran coach from Oregon.
“The mayor’s and my mission theme of these clinics is to bring kids together from rich to very poor and allow them to have fun and enjoy themselves together playing the great game of basketball,” Tichenor says. “Though soccer is a religion in Haiti, basketball is really growing in popularity and probably the second-most played sport currently.
“I was really impressed with the Haitian kids’ love and passion for sport,” Tichenor adds, describing the first of his clinics. “And (I) quickly learned that though my ability to speak French/Creole (the country’s primary languages) is at a beginner’s level, basketball has a universal language all its own.”
Kids worked on what Tichenor describes as “team basketball skills development.” They scrimmaged full-court. And they did it all clad in gear donated by Tichenor’s contacts at Summit and Bend high schools, and by Central Catholic High in Portland.
See, Tichenor had become aware that those kids in Haiti lacked the equipment necessary to play organized basketball — things like socks, shoes, shorts, jerseys and basketballs. He reached out to his coaching buddies in Oregon: Summit boys basketball coach Jon Frazier, Bend High athletic director Craig Walker, and Central Catholic boys basketball coach Dan Munson, who was the boys basketball coach and athletic director at Summit from 2007 to 2011.
From there, Tichenor’s colleagues took over.
“We had any families and so forth in our program — either shoes that didn’t work for the kids or things they’d outgrown or anything like that they wanted to donate — we collected all that,” Frazier says. “We had any extra gear that we’ve accumulated over the years that we were no longer using, those were things we donated too.”
Munson followed a similar plan, and he also put Tichenor in touch with his assistant coach at Central Catholic, Gordon Hewitt, a facilities manager for the adidas sports apparel and accessories company. Hewitt helped ship all the equipment to the Caribbean — a shipment that included unused adidas gear such as jerseys, wristbands and cones for drills.
“Gordon went to town with the resources that they have,” Munson says. “Between us and him, we had some shoes and socks and shorts and reversible jerseys and old game jerseys that were outdated. … These kids need it more than our kids do, and we’ve got extra laying around.
“He (Mark) has just been around youth and athletics and education, and he’s always done what is best for kids,” Munson continues. “The fact that he could make that happen — he’s the guy that sent out the email, he’s the guy that’s down there doing it, and rest of us are on board sending stuff because we believe in him and know that he’s doing great things.”
Tichenor directs the clinics with his wife by his side, helping organize the sidelines, passing out equipment and directing community service workers.
“It’s really a natural thing for Mark and I to connect with kids through the love of sports,” Patty says. “Making a difference in young peoples’ lives is what we did for 35 years in Oregon and now we are doing it in Haiti.”
The Tichenors’ efforts and the donations from Oregon have generated something of a fan base for Summit, Bend and Central Catholic high schools, as well as for adidas.
“That’s what he (Tichenor) was laughing about,” Frazier recalls. “‘I can’t wait to be walking down the streets of Haiti and see some kids in a Summit jersey and a Bend jersey and a Central Catholic jersey walking around with a basketball.’ It’s pretty cool that there’s at least a little bit of Central Oregon down there.”
Tichenor is grateful for the donations. But as Frazier and Munson will attest, Tichenor crediting others, putting on the youth clinics … that’s Tich being Tich — doing good and staying humble.
“I’ve seen him in my four years at Summit take some kids that maybe other teachers gave up on or some players that other coaches maybe gave up on,” Munson says, “and just talk to him and spend some time with them in some aspect.”
“Any little thing you do here for others is tremendously appreciated,” Patty Tichenor says, adding that “the joy and smiles on faces of the kids during our basketball clinics in Haiti is the strongest reward we have ever received. This is truly a life-changing adventure and experience for Mark and myself.”
“It surely is an adventure,” Mark Tichenor says. “And I believe, though full of challenges, we will not regret taking it on.”