A regular on the seaside Hermosa Beach volleyball courts, pro athlete Stafford Slick, 26, has been training hard this summer for a season of tournaments, including the upcoming on Saturday and Sunday in Hermosa Beach.
Slick, a 6-foot-8 strong hitter, and teammate Evan Engle also will be playing in the Jose Cuervo Manhattan Beach Open next weekend and in a National Volleyball League tournament in Aspen during Labor Day weekend.
But while the tough side of Slick shows on the local courts and in the games, once he passes through the glass doors of on Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach, another side shows itself.
On Tuesday evening, as he sat in his office at the school, notes were written on the white board above his desk along with clippings of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons—one cartoon clipping was taped to the office door.
"Calvin and Hobbes has always been one of my favorite comics," he said with a grin.
There was just one remnant of his life outside the academy rolling quietly back and forth in the corner—a neon blue, yellow and white volleyball.
Slick serves as the director of student development and a physical education teacher at Fusion Academy, that enrolls students in grades six through 12.
With a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in educational psychology, Slick told Patch that his position at Fusion is "the perfect fit." But in a tough economy, his journey to finding this job and continue volleyball training wasn’t easy.
Coming to Hermosa Beach
Two years ago in May, as a standout athlete at the University of Minnesota in indoor volleyball, Slick tried out for a high-performance USA Volleyball beach team—"and made a good impression," he said.
"They thought I was really raw and really new to the game, which I was. I had only played indoor volleyball in college and so they took me out for two weeks to Hermosa Beach and I came out here just to have that experience," said Slick, who's from Andover, MN.
After training in Hermosa, Slick knew this town would be his new home, he said. Just as quickly as he learned the nuances of beach volleyball, as it differs from indoor, Slick settled into Hermosa, which he now calls "my bubble. … I ride my bike everywhere," he said.
A bump in the road
Last year, soon after moving to the West Coast, the company Slick was working for while also training suddenly laid off all remote staff, including him.
"I came out here to pursue volleyball, [and] at that point it felt like the rug got pulled out from under me," Slick said about losing his job.
In the education field, he found the job market tight, with less experienced candidates competing with seasoned teachers to find work. For example, Slick said that he applied to work at a public school in the South Bay and was one out of 170 applicants.
He daily checked the website Craigslist for job listings and found one that read, "Teachers wanted." He paused when he saw that the position would be in a one-to-one learning environment at Fusion Academy. He had to learn more.
"I felt like I was annoyingly persistent," he said about the application process, in which he called Fusion often.
Not only did he want to join the teaching staff, but he was eager to learn more about the one-to-one teaching model at the academy. Each class includes just one student and one teacher to develop a more personalized education, Slick learned.
He was later hired as a homework instructor at the academy—and credits determination for getting him there.
"I wouldn’t have been so persistent if I didn’t want to be a part of Fusion," he said.
Slick was promoted in June to director of student development. He now plans and schedules academic courses for all Fusion-South Bay students and monitors their path toward graduation.
Slick tells students who are applying to college that persistence is the key to achieving their academic goals, giving his job search as an example—by being persistent, employers or college administrators begin to see that "you’re not just another application," Slick said. "One of the things I say is, you need to tell them who you are."
Fusing volleyball and education
Slick said that he’s now grateful he can continue a career in education while competing professionally in beach volleyball—despite the economic state of the country.
"One of the biggest things is just how supportive Fusion has been of my pursuit of volleyball," Slick said. "It’s not every day you can find a job that will support your passion and your dreams. ... By all means, teaching is my passion [but] the company and organization understands that beyond that we have our own individual passions that drive us too."
Slick added that he invited his students to the Wide Open tournament this weekend for extra credit.
"It’ll just be a whole different side of me for them to see," he said.