John Cheffers, a School of Education professor emeritus of curriculum and teaching, was an authority on crowd behavior, focusing his studies on the behavior of sports fans. He advised the International Olympic Committee and the New England Patriots on crowd control techniques, and his research on violence in sports was featured in a 1983 Sports Illustrated article.
But Cheffers wasn’t always an academic. He began his career as an athlete and then a coach before joining the BU faculty.
Cheffers died on October 28, 2012. He was 76.
He grew up in Melbourne, Australia, with dreams of competing in the decathlon at the Olympics, according to the Boston Globe. Just weeks before he was to compete in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, ending his athletic career. It was then he turned to coaching and teaching.
He coached the Carlton Football Club in Australia, the team he had played for years earlier, and continued coaching various sports teams in South Africa in the early 1960s. He became the track and field coach for the Olympic team of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1968, but Mexico refused to recognize the athletes’ passports and denied them entry into the country. He wrote about the experience in his memoir, A Wilderness of Spite: Rhodesia Denied (Vantage Press, 1972).
He began teaching at the School of Education in the 1970s, and his office was legendary among students. In the small space crammed with treasures from all over the world, including a boomerang, Cheffers always welcomed students. In class, he would sit at a large round table, stroking his beard and discussing the essentials of great teaching with his graduate students while classical music played in the background.
“His methods changed the behavior of everyone who had the good fortune of being his student,” says Leonard Zaichkowsky, a retired professor of counseling psychology at SED and the School of Medicine and a friend of Cheffers’ for more than 30 years.
Cheffers led the Human Movement Program at BU for more than two decades. In the late 1970s, he started the Tuesday/Thursday Physical Education Program. Twice a week, students from Boston public schools with limited access to physical education facilities are bused to Boston University, where physical education certification students run classes. The program is one of the longest-running community service initiatives at BU, with more than 300 children participating every week.
“His thinking was well ahead of his years, as he used interdisciplinary activities to teach and reinforce movement,” says Eileen Sullivan (SED’81), a former doctoral student of Cheffers’ and now an assistant dean at Rhode Island College’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development. “He is and will remain a legend.”
In 1984, Cheffers began a two-year term as director of the Australian Institute of Sport. That same year, he became president of the Association Internationale des Ecoles Superieures d’Education Physique, a post he kept until 1998.
After retiring in 2004, he moved back to Australia.