Congratulations to the Highlanders of Gregory the Great Academy for their victory on May 19, when they won the Pennsylvania state rugby championship title. It is truly wonderful to see our school of 60 boys achieve so much facing off against enormous schools fielding athletes of talent and depth. There is something so powerful rooted in the brotherhood our school fosters and forms, allowing our students to rely on one another and succeed in a remarkable way. After long training throughout the hard winter months in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the team’s incredible dedication and hard work have reaped great reward.
The playoffs took place over a sunny, hot weekend on the campus of Penn State University Berks where the Highlanders first defeated St. Joseph’s Prep on Saturday by a score of 32-24 and then Cumberland Valley on Sunday by a score of 18-10. This is the third state title the Academy has won, the last being in 2017.
Many to the members of our community whose donations helped see that the practical needs of the team and coaching staff were met, as well as the fans from near and far who united with us at the weekend’s matches or by watching the live stream. Your prayers and enthusiasm were a source of great motivation and encouragement.
Every year on December 8th, the Saint Gregory’s community celebrates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The regular daily routine is forgotten for the day, and the students instead attend a beautiful High Mass, participate in a sevens rugby tournament, and attend a banquet in the evening. Over the years, several traditions have formed surrounding the school banquets. At every banquet for example, each class sings a folk song they have been especially preparing for the occasion. But there are also some traditions that are particular to certain banquets. One such tradition is the singing of the Boar’s Head Carol by the senior class as they process around the room with the object of their song. Such traditions, says Hilaire Belloc, nourish the soul in a mystical way and help to make sense of the strange and perhaps even horrifying fact of our mortality. At Saint Gregory’s we wish to show the students under our care the importance of good and beautiful traditions so that they in turn might show it to their families and communities and thereby make the beginning of a restoration of what is quickly and tragically being lost in the world today.
Man has a body as well as a soul and the whole of man, soul and body, is nourished sanely by a multiplicity of observed traditional things. Moreover, there is this great quality in the unchanging practice of Holy Seasons, that it makes explicable, tolerable, and normal what is otherwise a shocking and intolerable and even in the fullest sense, abnormal thing. I mean, the mortality of immortal man.
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.