Local football coach and teacher Mark Lavine isn't satisfied with just teaching kids. After watching classes of boys and girls grow into young adults, he's written his first book to share valuable lessons about life, teamwork and growing up in a small town.
"I've always wanted to write a book," said Lavine. "As a teacher, I think it is important to find something for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade boys to read that has a message behind it."
"The Next Great Class, Freshman Year" is Lavine's attempt to capture the struggles and triumphs faced by young adults in a small town. One main character, a football player just entering high school, is faced with some tough decisions.
"This character has to make a choice, and choose which way to go with his life," he said. "You could drink and get into a bad crowd, or choose to stay away from these things."
Throughout his struggle, the main character learns to depend on his friends and fellow athletes.
"Sports is a family. The entire team goes places together, and they take care of each other," he said. While the book is "patterned" around small-town life in this area, Lavine argues that sports, family and friends play an important role in every small town.
The book is geared towards junior high boys, who are making decisions that will impact their futures. Junior high is also a last chance for teachers to encourage a love of reading, and finding books written for young men can be difficult.
"I really started to read around this time," he said. "Growing up, I enjoyed reading. If there was something about sports, I ordered it." He is grateful for books today like the "Harry Potter" series, which have encouraged both boys and girls to read for pleasure.
"Before that, there wasn't a lot for boys to read," he said. "It's my goal to reach that demographic." Just 90 pages long, he hopes the book should appeal to young adults.
Lavine did not share the plans for his book with anyone, including his wife Jennifer. He asked Chris West, former superintendent at Panther Valley, for his advice about the work in progress.
"He's a very smart guy. He gave me a lot of great ideas, and had some good insight."
Lavine quietly completed the manuscript before sending it to several publication companies. He received numerous rejections before stumbling upon a book written by fellow teacher David Holland, who published his first book through Publish America. After speaking with Holland, Lavine sent his story to Publish America and soon received an acceptance letter.
"The whole thing just took off," he said. Within two weeks, Lavine was finalizing his manuscript and sending it to the publisher.
As a teacher and coach, Lavine is always searching for the stars among each new class. Six years ago, the current senior class at Panther Valley was in junior high, and their teachers knew they had something special.
"We're always talking about the next group of kids," he said, noting that this year's senior class at Panther Valley inspired him to write the book. "They were the 'next great class' when I coached here. We couldn't wait for them to reach high school," he said.
But while this year's senior class at Panther Valley is full of talented athletes, they also show a commitment to both teamwork and academics.
"They went to their friends' games. They're all in National Honor Society. It's just a special class, and they've turned Panther Valley around," said Lavine. He recently thanked the class and asked these students to sign his copy of the book.
Lavine currently teaches sixth-grade math at Panther Valley Middle School and also coaches football at Northern Lehigh High School. He graduated from Panther Valley and now lives in nearby Lake Hauto with his wife and children Sean, 7, and Megan, 4.
He hopes to continue "The Next Great Class" series, writing a total of four books that follow this group of students through their high school years.
"I'd like to follow this group. They have a lot to accomplish," he said. "They had a lot of success in this first book, but you can't always win."
While Lavine hopes his students will learn something from the book, he also hopes to inspire any potential writers in the junior high with his story.
"If you want to try something, do it. The worst anyone can tell you is 'no,'" he said. "We have some talented kids. I just wan