Why one Mormon man left Hollywood to be a high school teacher

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11 2013 8:00 a.m. MST

Every now and then it still happens. Someone will stare at Scott Ditty, a local high school coach and teacher, and ask, “Do I know you? You look familiar.”

In another lifetime, Ditty was a professional actor. He made a brief career with small movie and TV roles and commercials until he decided he could better live his Mormon faith and do more good by teaching and coaching youth. These days you can find him at Alta High School, where he plays many roles: defensive coordinator of the football team, head track coach, powerlifting instructor and film studies teacher. The latter is one of the most popular classes at Alta. Students get to watch movies in class and then discuss them with a guy who was in them.

For 15 years Ditty was in showbiz. A decade ago he gave it all up and moved to Utah, trading a footloose and sometimes-glamorous lifestyle to teach teenagers in a portable on the back lot at Alta.

“Honestly, I love teaching and coaching,” says the 50-year-old Ditty. “I love these kids.”

I became acquainted with Ditty while coaching football and track at Alta myself, and I have firsthand knowledge about the intensity and passion he brings to the job. But seriously, who gives up on Hollywood to become a school teacher?

He was no star, but he was making a living and getting call-backs and bit parts regularly. He was a guard in “Con Air,” working with John Malkovich and Nicholas Cage and getting a giant, tight shot of his face on the screen. He was the henchman in a family movie called “Just Like Dad.” He had a lead role in a TV movie, “Just in Time.” He was Frank in “Last Resort.” He was Officer Gaines in a TV movie “Before He Wakes” with Jaclyn Smith (“I teased her that my childhood dream of hanging out with Charlie’s Angels had come true; she was well-mannered and sweet.”). He played a guard (again) in “Blink of an Eye” with Mimi Rodgers. He was Gerald Stone in “The Ticket” with Shannen Doherty. He had guest roles in the TV shows “Touched by an Angel,” “Promised Land” and “Extreme,” among others.

But mostly he was Jim and Ruth’s son, and ultimately that shaped his decision to make a middle-age career change. The Dittys raised five children in a tight family whose foundation was built on the LDS faith. Jim, a tough Irishman from Chicago’s south side, was a high school coach and teacher, and eventually Scott followed in his footsteps. Jim was a graduate assistant football coach at BYU and then the head football coach at Pleasant Grove High for two years before moving his family to Weimar, Calif., and making a career of coaching and teaching at Placer High.

As fate would have it, several people in the entertainment business settled in the Dittys' neighborhood. One of them heard Scott singing in church and convinced him to audition for local theater productions. He was the Artful Dodger in “Oliver” and Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” In high school he drifted away from theater to sports. He was an undersized (5-foot-7) linebacker and guard on a state championship team and later played for Sierra College. A broken vertebra ended his playing days.

Ditty turned to theater again and rediscovered his love of acting after playing one of the lead roles in “Grease.” He accepted an invitation from his sister to join her in Utah and enrolled at Utah Valley Community College, where he studied acting and competed on the debate team. Three years later, he left school and went to LA “thinking I’m going to be a star. It was a dose of reality.”

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