Story by Kortny Rolston-Duce and Photography by Kort Duce, Colorado Exposure
Like many teachers, Joe Rovere holds down a second job. But unlike colleagues who might tutor or teach summer classes, the Trail Ridge Middle School teacher pursues his other passion – disc golf.
Rovere is one of the top three professional players in Colorado and has notched more than 125 wins during his 15-year career. He is sponsored by Innova Discs and is featured in YouTube videos discussing form, technique, and the go-to discs he carries in his bag.
Playing disc golf is not a career Rovere ever envisioned for himself. But then again, neither was teaching.
“It’s like teaching,” he said. “(Disc golf) is something I fell into and love.”
Rovere discovered both of his careers later in life.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from the University of Montana and worked nights at an observatory conducting research at the college observatory before moving to San Diego to become a technical recruiter. But he eventually tired of it and found himself questioning what he wanted to do.
Most of his college friends had gone into teaching and a few were living in Colorado. They encouraged Rovere to apply for a position teaching science and math in Rifle. He interviewed on a Thursday and started teaching the next Monday.
To earn his full teaching credentials, however, he would need to take an algebra course. That summer he stayed in Rifle and took the class.
It was there he found disc golf. Classmates invited him to play at a nearby course. An avid athlete, Rovere had played ultimate Frisbee and was a quarterback in high school. He accepted the invitation and at age 28, he played disc golf for the first time.
His classmates immediately commented on how well he played and the accuracy of his throws.
“They said, ‘You know you are pretty good at this,’” Rovere said.
He enjoyed the game so much that he kept playing and practiced several hours a day. He entered a tournament and won first place and $800. He was hooked.
“For a teacher just starting out, that was a lot of money and I enjoyed doing it,” he said.
Rovere officially went professional in 2006 and at the height of his career, ranked #6 In the world. During the school year, he woke up early to practice before classes started and then played again in the evenings. He practiced several hours each day to refine his technique and improve his accuracy.
After his kids were born, maintaining such a rigorous training schedule was tough and his family was his priority. He cut back on the number of hours he practiced.
While he no longer is ranked as high nationally as he once was, Rovere still plays in tournaments. At 43, he is one of the older professionals still playing – and winning.
He practices as much as he can and manages to squeeze in some throws during his lunch breaks at Trail Ridge. He has a portable goal basket that he can move around his classroom.
His students are accustomed to seeing him practice during lunch and know if they stop by a disc is likely to be whizzing through the air.
“He’s really good,” said Brielle Deba, an eighth grader at Trail Ridge. “He hardly ever misses.”
His students are some of his biggest fans. They know when he has tournaments and root for him. But as much they admire his playing, they enjoy his classes and teaching style even more.
Rovere teaches technology to the school’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students and has coached the robotics team to state championships. He encourages his students to try different technologies and pursue areas that pique their interest.
“My sister and I both take his class,” Deba said. “She likes video editing, but I prefer coding. He lets us work on projects that we like.”
Deba credits Rovere with helping her discover an interest in robotics. He encouraged her to try it and then to join the school’s robotics team. It’s something she likely wouldn’t have done otherwise.
“He’s really good at helping his students try new things and find what they like,” she said.
Rovere is proud of his accomplishments in disc golf but even more so of those related to teaching.
In 2020, he was a finalist for the St. Vrain School District’s Teacher of the Year award. It’s an impressive feat considering the district employs more than 4,500 people. In 2019 he was named Teacher of the Year at Trail Ridge Middle School.
Rovere is as passionate about teaching as he his disc golf.
“Teaching is something I really enjoy,” he said.
Rovere plans to continue pursuing both as long as he can. He acknowledges there will be a day when he can no longer compete against the younger disc golf players. But for now, he’s still holding his own.
“No matter how much I play I never get bored,” he said. “I’ll be playing for fun into my 70s.”