City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

The Real Ted Lasso

Local teacher is inspiration for Apple TV hit show character

Be a goldfish. Believe. The harder you work, the luckier you get. Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing. If you’re a diehard Ted Lasso fan, you likely recognize these little pearls of wisdom as classic Ted Lasso-isms. Fans all over the world have fallen in love with Ted’s midwestern folksy charm because it’s just so darn endearing. What the average viewer may not recognize, however, is the inspiration for the character and origin of many of Ted’s inspiring phrases - actor Jason Sudeikis’ high school teacher and basketball coach, Donnie Campbell, who now lives and teaches in Lee’s Summit.

Sudeikis grew up attending Shawnee Mission schools, and in high school at Shawnee Mission West he and his teammates were exposed to daily doses of character via stories Campbell would tell at basketball practice. “Every day I would start practice with a story to reinforce a character trait we were emphasizing. Many of them I got from John Wooden. For example, “Discipline yourself, so others don’t have to” or “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” 

“I thoroughly enjoyed the group of boys I coached at Shawnee Mission West. They were all very coachable, fun to be around, played hard, and really had a good basketball IQ. All those boys who played with Jason are still great friends to this day. I felt I did not ‘teach’ basketball. I taught attitude every day. My job was to help develop kids to be leaders first, then basketball players. Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” says Campbell.

Campbell recognizes some of his own phrases and stories in the Ted Lasso script, and he feels some of those served as the inspiration for other life lessons the show’s characters are learning  in their quest for soccer success. “One of my favorite phrases from the show about a riding a horse. If it is comfortable, you probably aren’t getting any better. Learning to be comfortable when you are uncomfortable is such a great lesson for all of us. Anything worthwhile in life is going to be hard. Anyone that has been successful at anything has had to overcome some sort of adversity. We need to learn to embrace adversity,” he says.

Although Campbell has worked with literally thousands of young people during his career as a teacher and coach, he has vivid recall of Sudeikis and some entertaining stories. “Jason was a good basketball player, but he didn’t always play the kind of defense I wanted to him to play. That is why I nicknamed him Jason Sueikis. I took the D out of his name. All the kids, including Jason, thought the nickname was hilarious.” 

When asked why he believes Ted Lasso has elicited such a following, Campbell says “I think in our world now, especially coming out of Covid, everyone wants something to watch that makes them feel better. That’s what the show is all about! Many of the lessons with each character in the show can be used in everyday life. For example, be a goldfish. What a great lesson for all of us not to dwell on the past. Be where your feet are.” 

“The show is so endearing; you just feel great after watching it. All the characters in the show are casted so well. To me, it is a sports show that takes life lessons and uses a sport as a vehicle to teach great lessons for all of us. It is about life and optimism. It is truly surreal when I see many of the same lessons I tried every day to teach our players woven into the show, and it’s humbling and a thrill to hear Jason mention me when he talks about the show.”

On the show, Ted Lasso serves as a father figure for several of the players. Campbell says Lasso’s relationship with the soccer players mirrors the relationships high school coaches have with their athletes.  “With the exception of parents, coaches and teachers have the most impact on kids. I always loved my players and treated them like they were my sons. The impact you have on kids you coach lasts a lifetime. Look at the impact I had with Jason. That is the same with coaches and teachers everywhere. They are all making such a profound impact on their players/students. Who knows, maybe someone out there is coaching another Jason Sudeikis,” he says.

While Campbell still keeps in touch with Sudeikis and would be open to a cameo appearance on the show, should that opportunity present itself, he says he doesn’t have any insight into how this season, rumored to be the last, will end. “I hope there is a way for Ted and Nate to still stay friends. I don’t know how that is going to play out, but everything in the show is about positivity. So, I am sure there will be something positive to come of it and a great learning lesson for all of us.”

Cameo appearance or not, Campbell says he is proud of Sudeikis.  “Not just for the success of the show, but more importantly, for all the charity work he does for KC. He has not forgotten his roots and is willing to help others. That says a ton about his character.”

“I think in our world now, especially coming out of Covid, everyone wants something to watch that makes them feel better. That’s what the show is all about! “