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Mr. Bird: A Sundevil Legend

Bright yellow Spikeball nets scattered across the quad are the key to unlocking MC’s campus culture. Students decked out in red on a Friday afternoon, balls flying from one player to the next — a picture of lunchtime is incomplete without the camaraderie and good natured competition in each game.

Mr. Bird with physics students | Photo Courtesy of Mike Bird

But nestled in the corner of campus, students uninterested in the competition of Spikeball could slip inside a classroom full of positivity, passion, and physics. Toys littered the teacher’s desk, puzzles, knick knacks and other games, all meant to challenge and comfort even those who struggle to calculate velocity. This moment in time is a representative trifecta of what makes it great to be a Sundevil: caring teachers, community, and compassion. At the center of it all lies physics teacher Mike Bird, and his incredible connection with the entirety of the community.

“I think that’s what makes Mt. Carmel special, it’s the people,” Bird said.  “So many people over my 21 years there have been great […] teachers and principals and students, that’s really what the impact has been, I just met so many great people.”

As much as the campus has impacted Bird, it seems as though he has had an irreplaceable effect as well. Whether faculty or student, everyone seems to agree on one thing: MC won’t be the same without the presence of the physics teacher. Tyler Green, a volleyball player, MC alum, and ex-physics student explained what he finds incomparable about Bird’s spirit. 

“He was like, Mr. MC you know? I mean, he perfectly resembles what MC is all about […] adds to that perfect campus culture,” Green said.

Mr. Bird was always an enthusiastic participant on spirit days, including Halloween | Photo Courtesy of Mike Bird

For Bird, that MC community was an important support system. After campus closed its gates in March, he found himself struggling with distance learning and searching for a reason why. Bird spent four nights in the neurological center at UCSD, undergoing numerous scans in an attempt to understand sudden symptoms of dizziness, lethargy, and nausea. Finally, his doctors diagnosed him with Stage 4 thalamic glioblastoma — inoperable brain cancer. And even in the face of that news, Bird has kept his characteristic positivity and good spirit. 

“I think God just said, ‘Okay, Mr. Bird — Mike — you’re not ready for [distance learning] because you need those relationships, so He kinda took me out of it,” Bird said. 

For him, that’s the blessing in disguise of the situation — reconnecting with old relationships and having the opportunity to impart wisdom on new ones. With the diagnosis, he says, comes an awareness of time and interpersonal relationships that he did not have before. These  lessons of kindness and acceptance that he has always tried to impart on students matter on campus and off. 

“It’s weird because you guys aren’t [on campus], but I just tell the kids to love each other, to love your families. And don’t worry about the little things so much. I think today, you know, just listen […] I just want people to get along. That’s what I’ve always wanted, for people to get along with each other,” Bird said. 

Those lessons extend beyond the physics textbook, the volleyball court, and the Spikeball net. They are lessons that Bird seems to carry within the very fiber of his being. 

Positivity; kindness; grace; faith; all traits that Bird has imparted on his students for the better. People like Spikeball Club President Kristian Chamian (11) have experienced his influence first hand. 

“He’s brought joy into our lives connecting [Spikeball Club] together […] He brought happiness wherever he went, and the memories we made with him were wonderful and will never be forgotten. He is the reason we’ve had fun these past years,” Chamian said.

Bird at a Spikeball tournament with students | Photo Courtesy of Robert Austin

Coworkers, too, have so much appreciation for Bird. Principal Greg Magno appreciates Bird’s “positivity and can-do spirit” and expressed thankfulness for his ability to bring students together on campus. David Whittaker, the president of the Seaside Volleyball Club where Bird coached, called him “as fine of a human as anyone could ask to be involved with.” 

AP Physics teacher John Earnest, who has shared a classroom wall, a love of physics, and his faith with Bird for 21 years, expressed how much he admired the other teacher’s tenacity. He also expressed his genuine love for Bird, and how much he enjoyed spending school hours with the other physics teacher just a door away.

“I’ve liked [how] in between class, I can just run over there and say ‘hi’ and just check in on him. We’ve gone through a lot of life together and I’m really going to miss that. I already miss him not being there,” Earnest said. 

Bird and Earnest, dressed as hippies for one Halloween | Photo Courtesy of Mike Bird

The two teachers had a particular rapport and camaraderie that came with time and proximity. Together, they have made the MC physics department a memorable feature of campus while showing off school spirit. 

“If it was Friday, he was always dressed up in red from head to toe. And we always did something [at Halloween] … we dressed up as hippies one Halloween, and gosh, I think that was about two or three years ago. […] That was a good memory,” Earnest said.

Bird’s love of physics is clear to any and all who have stepped foot inside his classroom. It is only surpassed by his love and care for the people around him. Each test day, students would enter the class to find photos of puppies on the projector — a calming process that hints at Bird’s true care for his students as well as their education. 

“With physics, physics is important and it’s wonderful and I love physics, but it’s not always about that. Again, it’s about building relationships and loving people,” Bird said. “I kind of got a better perspective on it since I’ve been diagnosed with this, it’s like, you have to focus on the relationships and how beautiful those are and how important those are. And that’s what I’ve tried to do, and I think that sometimes people lose that.”

This philosophy is evident in his approach to coaching volleyball as well as teaching. Alum Tyler Green fondly remembers a time when the 2019 boy’s varsity team, on their way to a championship, stopped at an ocean outlook and bonded over takeout.

Some of the members of 2019’s varsity boys’ volleyball team, enjoying an ocean outlook before their Orange County game | Photo Courtesy of Mike Bird

“It was a pretty cool move by him, because he didn’t have to. We could’ve just gone up for the game, you know?” Green said.

“I just want to thank people for their patience, for their kindness, for their love. I look back at my students and then my players, and all of their uniqueness — it’s been cool, to see how they grow and mature. I have not one single regret from Mt. Carmel, which is beautiful. I appreciate every moment there,” said Bird.

That’s the essence of Mike Bird: he did not have to put in the extra effort, but he did. MC, and all the people he has impacted, are much better for it. But Bird doesn’t seem to realize how integral he has been in creating a positive campus environment. He had nothing but gratitude and humility to express towards the people at MC. 

The science department at MC, dressed as “Shark Week” | Photo Courtesy of Mike Bird

And despite the challenges that currently face him, Bird is still spreading positivity and light on campus and off. Whether it’s leading prayers with the pastor at church, sending Bible verses to old college roommates, or attending the science department’s Zoom meetings, he seems to always have a positive message to impart. He’s not afraid, he says, of what’s coming, but instead welcoming this time to bond with his family and friends. 

“In a simple way, it’s just be kind to each other. I mean, that’s really the bottom line […] I think people are forgetting that, that we just need to accept each other and be kind to each other,” Bird said. 

It’s a simple message, but a powerful one. Above all else, emulate the philosophies that Bird extols, and honor the great Sundevil community that has been a home to so many over the years. And to Mike Bird, those of us at MC just have one more, simple thing to say: thank you for making it great to be a Sundevil. 

About Chloe Johnston

Chloe Johnston
Chloe Johnston is a senior and the current Co-Editor in Chief of the MC Sun. Chloe is an Activism writer for Pure Nowhere and is featured in Antifragile Magazine. She can often be found with a latte in hand while working on her next piece.

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5 comments

  1. Avatar

    This is a wonderful article about a wonderful man. Well written. Mike – you are someone who simply puts JOY out into the world on a regular basis. Thank you for being you.

  2. Avatar

    Wow. I graduated in 2015 and if I remember one teacher it was Mr. Bird.. He is a saint for staying positive through this!

  3. Avatar

    Mr. Bird is one of my favorite teachers, always so happy and passionate about his work. Thank you for writing this and thank you to Mr. Bird for having such a lasting impact on everyone you meet.

  4. Avatar

    Mike is a brother in Christ and such an example of what Christ’s love looks like—sacrificial. He had a sweet impact on my husband and I as we spent time together with him and Chris at TriCity Bible church. God’s ways are not our ways and it’s difficult to think of the great void he will leave in many lives. Yet his love for others has left a great impact on those same lives. Mike would be the first to tell you that we can only love others because of what God has done for us. Mike lives out the greatest commandments. “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.””
    ‭‭Mark‬ ‭12:28-31‬ ‭

  5. Avatar
    Jennifer Lee Drummond

    Coach Bird was one of my amazing high school teachers. There is no doubt that I became the teacher that I am because of the relationships built back at Highland High. (Distance Learning kicks my tail, too!) My thoughts are with you, Coach..thank you for all you’ve done and the legacy you took part in creating.
    Jennifer Lee c/o ‘93

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