When Josh Long was named Hillcrest High's 2011-12 teacher of the year, his school surprised him with a banner. The only problem was they had gotten the wrong banner intended for a teacher at another school.
"There was another guy's name," Long said. "I was like, 'What does that mean?' "
In December, when Long found out he had received the Utah High School Activities Association's 2012 Distinguished Service Award for theater teacher of the year, he had another "funny reaction."
"I had nominated a good friend of mine for a different UHSAA award, but I thought it was the same one that I got," he said. "I was kind of panicky."
After he got past the confusion, Long said he could calm down, appreciate what the honor meant and feel grateful toward Hillcrest High principal Susan Malone, who nominated him for the award.
"I feel so lucky to have such a supportive principal who sees the value in what I do here and what the art can do in the community," Long said.
The Utah High School Activities Association receives distinguished service award nominations from different regions statewide and selects one recipient in each category.
In his seventh year teaching at Hillcrest High, it is by no accident that Long continues to direct successful school theater productions every season, although going back many years, it was a draw of fate that started everything in motion for him.
"I actually got into theater by accident," Long said. "In high school they had the wrong name on the list."
That name happened to be his own, and the mistake put him in a theater class, but it didn't take long for him to realize it wasn't a mistake after all.
"Once I got there, the teacher kind of pulled me in," he said. "Just a couple of months with her and she instilled that passion for me, the desire to be good at theater, not just to do it, but do it full out and strive for excellence."
A two-year mission to Brazil for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set the scene for a unique experience that compelled Long to go into education.
"While there, I worked a lot with teenagers," he said. "I felt the need to pass along the passion I had received from my educators, to promote in the world the need for art that makes the difference."
Long received his bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and a master's degree from Western Oregon University. He said his motivation in teaching is to help students become expressive and relatable artists.
More than just acting in itself, Long said he wants to focus on the depth of drama and his role in training kids to be "responsible artists."
"I recognized the need for quality theater artists who understand the role of theater in educating and enlightening audiences instead of just entertaining them," he said. "To get audiences to think, feel empathy for different types of people."
Ranae Dalgleish, Hillcrest High's director of choirs and orchestra, taught alongside Long for six years.
"He relates really well with the kids, and the kids just seem to work really, really hard for him," she said. "They respect what he does, and they respect him as a person."
Although Long demands a lot from his students, Dalgleish said he has a strong passion for the arts and seeks to pass that love to his students. She said he's very deserving of the UHSAA's distinguished service award.
"I'm excited for him," she said. "He's so young in his career, and he's being recognized for the hard work he puts in."
Long said he loves seeing the lightbulbs go off in his students' heads. When Hillcrest High put on "Death of a Salesman" last year, he was so impressed to see the kids push themselves and succeed.
"I never thought high-school students would be able to pull off that show as it's famously difficult and mature," he said. "There were phenomenal young actors in that production, and it was everything I wanted it to be and more."
Malone, the principal, said she nominated Long for the distinguished service award because he really goes beyond his duty to serve everyone.
"He would drop everything to help another colleague," she said. "He's a mentor even if they may not work in the same school district."
Malone said Long's productions are not just crowd-pleasers but can inspire people to ponder about their own lives.
"He's not only a good teacher and doesn't just produce big shows, but he brings discovery of oneself and understanding through theater," she said.
A long time since he was placed accidentally in his ninth-grade theater class, Long said he's truly happy where he is. He did some acting in high school and college as an undergraduate, and some on the side, but he said he's very occupied with teaching now.
"My passion for theater is all over the place; most of it is now directing and teaching with the kids," he said. "I feel like I found my purpose here."
Long and other UHSAA distinguished service award recipients will be honored at the Willow Creek Country Club on Jan. 16.
In his seventh year of teaching theater at Hillcrest High School.
Graduated with a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and master's degree from Western Oregon University
Hobbies include playing tennis and going to New York City to watch Broadway shows