A Championship Season – Graduation 2017

coach_davis2017Dear Parents, Family, Friends, and Students

I am Garret van Beek the athletic director and head coach for the Highlanders.

As I know you are very well aware, the Highlanders have brought home the 2017 Pennsylvania State Championship Title for Boys High School rugby. Gregory the Great Academy is the best and most successful team in this state, and this was achieved by your sons.

(pictured right: Coach Garret van Beek with 2017 rugby captain Jack Davis)

This is true if your son was the captain, which meant he had to be the decision maker and both friend and leader of his fellow men on the field of battle; if he was a starter, earning his jersey and number, in order to leave it in a better place; if your son was a substitute, charged with the difficult task of always being prepared to come into a match at any time: if he was a junior varsity player, building up the team and fostering the courage to challenge the varsity players, knowing that it is the only way the varsity will be successful on the weekend; if your son was a manager, staying up late in the evenings to have food ready for the players, and doing countless nitty gritty and tiresome duties; if he was a touch judge, helping to officiate the match, and therefore not being able to watch the match in leisure; if he was a water-boy, running on the field to give players the hydration they need, knowing they were too focused on the match to say a thank-you; if he was an enthusiastic and passionate fan and supporter, chanting the Academy’s very own Haka developed by former player and coach Brendan Landell; if he was the bagpiper, waking the student body up with their music and encouraging them during the match; or if your son was the President, Founder, and Sole-Member of the Highlander’s Audio Visual Club, supplying the coaches and players with video for analysis.

A tremendous amount of work was done to get the trophy within the walls of this building we now call home.

For those who never saw our previous location in the Poconos: imagine that we had two fields – yes two fields – but only twice the size of this refectory, which equals about a ¼ of a standard rugby pitch. To state the obvious—it had its challenges and required some ingenuity from both coaches and players.

We pushed and encouraged this team to strive for excellence in the smallest of details such as micro movements in passing. The students developed and strengthened their bodies in the weight room to prevent injuries, slamming tractor tires with sledgehammers. We taught them mental fortitude through such exercises as a trip to the stream for a quick dip in the cold months of March. We told them to dream big: and they did, bringing home the PA state title. We created an environment for self-reflection and honesty through preparation note taking and mini-group discussions. This team was selfless, playing this beautiful game not for themselves but for their brother, the school, and ultimately for the Lord.

There is an extra quality this team has developed over the past few years and which has come to fruition this 2017 season. Rugby – and life – does not always happen as expected. To be successful on the field and beyond, therefore, I had to intellectually turn over much control of the team to the players themselves. We would stop practice or video analysis and give players the opportunity to talk, discuss, and strategize about the problem that lay in front of them that needed solving. This demanded the players be open, honest— sometimes brutally honest with their peers – and to make demands and concessions for the greater good.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, as the saying goes. This season is a testament to the players for putting their trust in the coaching staff, and most importantly in each other.

I hope that you never forget the feeling you had when the final whistle sounded and you were crowned champions. Seeing Aidan Hoffbauer jump for joy with his hands not in his pockets for once, but straight up in the air, says it all. This state title is well deserved and I look forward to telling the story of this season to future Highlanders – as well as hearing the stories spread from student to student, especially when it gets to the point where Vincent Duhig was 6’4” and 230lbs!

I speak for myself and for the rest of the faculty and staff and those that have represented the Academy in past years when I talk about the great admiration we have for this team. This admiration is evident in the number of alumni both old and young that came to watch you beat the number #1 ranked Cumberland Valley. I thank you and am proud of all of you.

Sudden Inspiration: A Letter from a Friend

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In the rush of running a lively boarding school for boys, it is easy to lose sight of the impact that our work brings to individuals and thereby to the world. When one lives every day with singing jugglers, monastic culture, an ongoing conversation about the highest things, and the constant support of friendship and the sacraments, it is easy to take even these blessings for granted. Every once in a while, however, something happens that brings the effect of our efforts dramatically to the fore—and it is always a humbling experience. Every now and again, I am reminded of the wonderful importance of our work, and often suddenly, through a conversation, a phone call, a reaction from people we meet on our adventures, or, in the case I would like to share with you, a letter.

 

Dear Mr. Fitzpatrick,

I am a retired accountant, educated in the public schools, 70 years old. I was raised in the Episcopal Church, from which I became estranged many years ago. I have not attended any church service in over 30 years.

I have been receiving your great newsletter, The Minstrel, for a couple of years now. I don’t remember how it first came to me, but it doesn’t really matter. You might ask, as I have asked myself, why a fallen-away 70-year old Protestant would contribute to a Catholic school for boys, 3,000 miles away. I read your newsletter carefully. It inspires me. As nothing else has in more than three decades, it makes me feel closer to God. I greatly admire your mission to turn boys into Godly, strong men. Our country very much needs Godly strong men. I read the letter from your founding Headmaster, Alan Hicks with his description of the elements of education at Gregory the Great, including “…Latin, poetry, music, Classical Logic, Rhetoric, the Great Books, rugby, the direct experience of nature…” That is the description of a classical education, something that is non-existent in the public schools, public universities and even many Catholic universities.

God bless you, your staff and your boys. Keep up the great work!

 

I received this letter recently from a man I do not know, but who knows us, and reminded me of who we are and what we are doing. I am deeply grateful to him for his acknowledgement, for his encouragement, and for his support—but especially because he told me how we have touched his life. It is a gift, perhaps even a grace.

The Great Guilds Program

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Over the last four years, one of the more striking developments in the curriculum at Gregory the Great Academy has been the introduction of the great Guilds Program. On Thursday afternoons students and staff alike retire from the normal routine of academic study in order to pursue the development of artistic and craft oriented skills.

Teachers and staff members have been developing their own unique guilds according to their individual interests, hobbies, and talents. One staff member has equipped his classroom with the tools and materials of the traditional leather working trade. His students fashion books, wallets, belts and the like with elaborate designs and the insignia of boyhood pursuits. The school’s cook, who is also an accomplished painter, instructs his guild members in the principles of drawing and illustration through a disciplined series of exercises. Andrew Smith, the Academy’s artist in residence, alternates between a sculpture guild which focuses on clay modeling techniques and a printmaking guild. Another teacher is sharing his interest in the art of pysanka (the Ukrainian folk tradition of decorating eggs with elaborate, colorful designs) with a small group of students, while, at the same time, dorm father John Prezzia shares his expertise in the fundamentals of wrestling. The bush-craft guild, lead by another dorm father, David McMyne, teaches leadership and wilderness survival skills within the context of the great outdoors.

Students cycle through this broad array of guilds over the course of the academic year, spending six to eight weeks with each discipline, and, over the course of their time at the Academy, have the opportunity to explore at least a few guilds more than once.

Beyond being good in and of itself, the guild program gets at the core of the educational model that characterizes Gregory the Great Academy. That is, that students will come to know the good, the true, and the beautiful through exposure to teachers who are in love with their own disciplines and are committed to forming bonds of friendship with their students.