You know when it’s time to leave.

I’ve known Al Stewart for a number of years.  He’s a point guard who played his collegiate basketball at Drake, and for the past four years he’s been one of the top players in every league in which he has suited up.

I first met Al when he was playing for the Manchester Millrats of the Premier Basketball League about four years ago.  And throughout the game, he showed everybody on the court that if you put the ball in his hands, he could either get the shot – or pass it to the open man that no one else saw.

He’s been playing for the past two seasons in the National Basketball League of Canada, helping the Summerside (P.E.I.) Storm make the playoffs.

But after this Sunday, he won’t be there to help the team in the postseason.

He has a bigger calling in his life.  And in that, he knows when it’s time to leave.

Al Stewart. Nikon D70 camera, Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8 telephoto lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

After Sunday afternoon’s contest, Al Stewart will put away his basketball uniform and replace it with a suit and tie, as he returns to his hometown of Chicago and becomes a full-time teacher in the Chicago public school system.

This is not a hasty decision for Al.  He teaches in the offseason and takes leaves of absence from his job to play basketball.  But with new rules in the Chicago school system in place, Al either had to start his teaching position next week, or risk losing the position completely.

The decision was a tough one, but in the end, Al made the right choice.  You can inspire greatness on the basketball court, and you can inspire minds in the classroom.  We don’t give enough credit to teachers and professors and educators in this world, and if Al Stewart can motivate young minds to achieve their dreams and their goals in a setting other than the basketball court, then I’m clapping for him with both hands.

And it’s not like Al has separated his teaching duties from his backcourt duties.  In two seasons in Prince Edward Island, he made countless visits to schools and hospitals – not just for promotional duties, but to show that you can pass knowledge and education on from those who gave it to you, that you can hand down this knowledge to those who follow on the path.

“Of course Al has been critical to our performance on the court,” said Summerside Storm team owner Duncan Shaw in a press release. “More importantly, he’s been a leader in the locker room, a positive force in the community, and the face of our franchise. He’s going home now because it’s the best thing for his daughter, and that will just be one more thing she’ll be proud of her dad for.”

“You really can’t put into words what Al has done for this organization both on and off the court”, says Joe Salerno, Al Stewart’s head coach with the Storm.  “I know this has been very tough for Al, as it should be, for he truly cares about this franchise, but I think it is a reflection of his character, making the right decision for him and his daughter. We will miss Al in many ways.”

So with one final game on Sunday, in front of what should be a packed house at Credit Union Place, Al Stewart will say his goodbyes to the fans and to his teammates.

And within days, he’ll be saying hello to his new students and fellow teachers.  He’ll be providing a new series of assists in aiding these young minds to achieve greatness.

That’s Al Stewart for you.  Still providing assists wherever he can.

Good luck, my brother.  All the best.