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CHICAGO (CBS) — Most of us can fondly recall a teacher who gave us a push, extra help, the support when we needed it most.

J.J. Crawford, a special education teacher and assistant athletic director at Maine South High School in Park Ridge has been inspiring students for nearly 25 years.

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He was honored last week for his years of mentoring students, with a surprise presentation from Buddy’s HELPERS as part of their “Making A Difference On And Off The Field” campaign for National Mentor Month, and even behind his mask, you could see the joy on his face, making for an emotional moment with plenty of hugs.

Crawford is a mentor in the classroom and on the field, where he coaches the Maine South girls’ soccer team.

“It’s a great opportunity. Back when I was younger, much younger, I actually  thought about becoming a police officer, and I was able to meet a teacher who I had had,” Crawford said. “He was like, ‘You know, you should be a teacher.’ So I actually changed majors, had an opportunity to coach, and I just fell in love with it. A great mentor of mine said, ‘Hey, you know, with teaching you’re never going to be rich, but you’re never going to be poor. You’re going to make a difference in people’s lives.’ So that was my goal, and it’s nice to see some alumni come back and say that I had a positive influence, so that’s a blessing.”

As part of the honor for his 25 years of work as a mentor, he also received a donation to his favorite charity and a trip to Dallas this fall to see the Bears take on the Cowboys.

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“He helped mentor me to becoming a head coach myself; and along the way have helped me develop who I am as a person, who I am as a coach, and I’m just very grateful for everything that he’s done,” said Maine South alum Gabrielle Whittinghill, who’s also a fellow teacher and coach at the school.

“Having that positive role model in their lives is huge, and someone like J.J. is the perfect part of that for all of us here,” said Maine South principal Dr. Ben Collins.

On top of being a teacher, coach, and assistant athletic director, he’s also a father of three. How does he do it all?

“I have a great support team. My wife Cathy Crawford allows me to drive an hour to work each day, and not worry about what’s going on at home. She manages her job, and our kids, and the kids help out and step up. So then when I get home, I get to play dad, but it’s an amazing team. So that’s how we do it.”

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