Good to Go Blog
At St. John's, good knows no bounds. It's greater than great academics. Here are snapshots of what it means at the Prep. Something amazing happens when you're open to good!
Of the 12 men who entered the St. John’s Prep Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017, half of the honorees had been cut from what they viewed as their best and primary sport in high school. Of course, not every new athletic venture ends with a Hall of Fame induction. But the anecdote illustrates a greater truth: When it comes to personal growth in the context of physical movement, the Prep give students every opportunity to stay on top of their game.
For starters, more than half of the varsity sports offered at St. John’s (12 of 23) feature no-cut rosters. Add to that a trio of competitive club sports (Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo and powerlifting), along with 11 intramural recreational sports, including touch football, golf, squash and street hockey.
“One of the things that makes St. John’s so progressive in this area is that we’ve built a structure that provides students so much opportunity both inside and outside interscholastic sports,” says Billy McSheffrey, the strength & conditioning coordinator at the Wellness Center. “There’s a reason this is called the Wellness Center and not the athletic center. Our job is about inclusion. We have a recreational sports coordinator whose full-time job is to provide all different types of recreational activities for young men who otherwise wouldn’t be active because they’re not playing one of the varsity sports on campus.”
By nature, the fact that some athletic teams do make cuts means a subset of student-athletes receive suboptimal news. So, what happens then?
“We have good experience here with one or more doors opening when another closes,” says Steve Brown, director of the Wellness Center. “Our first choice is to support a young man in making an athletic choice by finding another team or individual sport. It’s important for kids to embrace that their response is within their control. What’s the next step? Where are you headed? We’re looking to give them the understanding that ‘there’s more to you than any single sport.’ Who you are as a person and an athlete isn’t dependent on making that one team.
“So often, if they take a chance and step outside their comfort zone, these young men find something that suits them even better,” he adds. “If that’s not immediately evident, we have built-in recreational sports programs that they frequently connect with in a way they never did with another sport. And it’s just as gratifying to see an active student-athlete try a recreational sport during the offseason, which then becomes a second competitive varsity sport for them down the line.”
An added dimension of the Prep’s wellness initiative is giving freshmen the freedom to fulfill their semester PE requirement before, during or after school. Students in grade 9 can choose from PE options like mountain biking, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu along with indoor rowing, CrossFit training, Introduction to Strength and Conditioning and even a Couch to 5K course.
“We want the young man in Model U.N. or the robotics club, or the young man who’s fully committed to Campus Ministry or the one who’s never played a competitive sport in his life to feel just as welcomed here at the Wellness Center as any varsity captain,” says McSheffrey. “There is a physical aspect to every kid’s own personal wellness that should be just as important to them as it is to anyone here who plays a sport. It doesn’t matter what your chosen ‘performance’ is. You could be the lead in the school play or be playing a sport or participating in another school activity that gives you a competitive outlet; this physical piece of everyone’s personal wellness can help you prepare for that.”
To what extent can the sports and fitness philosophy at the Prep accommodate any student who walks in? This past semester’s Couch to 5K class, for example, included exactly one student.“Every kid should feel like there’s a home for them here,” says Vin Miserandino, chairman of the Physical Education Department, who conducted the class. “We had a blast. By the end of the course, I couldn’t keep up with the kid.”
Prep Mock Trial team aims high as courtroom clashes begin. Read more about the updates happening on the Prep campus!
For the 33rd year in a row, legal Eagles from St. John’s will test their skills of advocacy, public speaking, and the ability to think on their feet as the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Mock Trial Program kicks off its 2018 competitive season on January 29, when the Prep’s assemblage of “attorneys” and “witnesses” are ready match wits in preliminary-round action.
The Eagles go to trial inside Woburn District Courthouse and are scheduled to face Bishop Fenwick as their season-opening opponent. In the first of three preliminary trials, St. John's will represent the plaintiff in a civil breach-of-contract claim. The case hinges on whether the plaintiff's father was murdered, the victim of an accident, or committed suicide. A multi-million-dollar insurance payout is at stake.
“Every year, we switch off between a civil case and a criminal case,” explains Mock Trial Club co-president Ben Coray ’18. “Over the four years I have been on the team, I have experienced a murder/self-defense, medical malpractice, and murder/mental illness case. This year's case is unlike what I’ve ever seen before in a Mock Trial case, because the plaintiff, which represents the estate, has multiple routes they can argue. The defense represents the insurance company and holds the “burden of production” in this case, which means that they have the burden of producing evidence that it is more likely than not the policy-holder was depressed, and thus ended his own life.”
Schools participating in the program must represent both the plaintiff and defense in the case. St. John’s will advocate for the plaintiff in their second trial match against Bishop Fenwick, and return to defense for the third round of preliminary competition against Reading High.
“Watching the students’ thought processes develop and confidence grow is one of the things I enjoy most,” said Gail Dennig, herself an attorney and now in her 14th year as the team’s coach. Melrose-based practicing attorney, Adam Malinowski is assisting the team for a second consecutive season. “I think it’s so important that students learn how the courts work for both criminal and civil matters in addition to taking to heart the notion that every story has at least two sides.”
Participating schools across the state are divided into 32 geographic regions for the preliminary rounds. The team with the greatest percentage of wins in each region advances. Regional winners then compete against one another in match pairings assigned at random. On the same day, the 16 winners from the regionals then compete by random draw. The “Elite Eight” and “Final Four” are held immediately afterwards. During the 2015-16 academic year, St. John’s won its regional title and advanced all the way to the round of eight.
“I found Mock Trial when my parents told me I should join, because I argue so much,” said Brendan Deller ’19. “I was looking for something I enjoyed that was also competitive on campus. I have made friends with people who share a certain interest with me and I like the way we work the case together.”
Coray and Deller are joined on the squad by co-president John Gold ’18 and veteran classmate Timothy Hornick. Other team members likely to see plenty of action in the preliminary rounds are Nick Rice ’19, Nick Malinowski '20, Jarred Nowak ’20, Ryan Reynolds ’19, Mitchell Robson ’20, Zach Grunes ’20 and Joe DeSimone ’20. Other core members include Neil Isaac, Luc Hoch ’21, Tim Perry ’20, Peter McDowell ’20, Alex Troisi ’20, Dan Dischino ’21 and Sam Indresano ’19.
“I love being able to look into how real court cases are documented and how court proceedings function,” says Coray. “Although the Mock Trial cases are fabricated, they give you a feel for how easily some court cases can sway one way or another. But being a co-president of the club is what I enjoy the most because I get to teach the younger members the skills I have learned over the years. Leadership is a huge passion of mine, and I am able to exemplify it while talking about something I am equally passionate about in Mock Trial.
What happens when a school event seven months in the making gets cancelled?
If you’re a well-oiled machine that empowers students to regroup with the support of teachers and administrators, then adaptation and resilience become the rule rather than the exception. A perfect example of this dynamic within the Prep community is the recent postponement and rescheduling of the 12th annual St. John’s Prep Model U.N. Conference.
On Saturday, December 9, more than 700 delegates from nearly 50 schools across New England were scheduled to attend the event, forming committees to address each of 16 separate global issues. Elaborate briefing papers crafted throughout last summer by members of the Prep’s Model U.N. Club (MUN) were to form the basis of committee discussion. But in an early harbinger of what’s turning out to be a brutal winter, wind-blown snow was predicted to descend on the region beginning on the evening of December 8.
Throughout that Friday morning, schools began declining their invitations to SJPMUN XII due to the iffy weather forecast. By early afternoon, the partnership within and among key constituencies of the Prep community had kicked into gear. Assistant Principal for Student Life Wendy Olson called an emergency meeting with MUN membership. What ensued was a calm and measured dialogue primarily driven by student input.
“We all brainstormed a variety of ways that we could make the conference work with an impending snow storm, but we kept coming back to wanting this to be a great experience for everyone,” recalls Mrs. Olson. “The students concluded relatively quickly that having some schools miss out due to the storm and either shortening the schedule or removing speakers and programs would not be our best option. Our MUN team is well traveled and have attended many conferences. They know what they want the student experience to be, and that trying to run a conference overshadowed by hazardous travel conditions, cancelled programs, etc. was not going to provide that experience.”
MUN team Secretary General Chris Jerrett ’18 picks up the story from there.
“When we all got together and considered all the alternatives, we knew we had to cancel,” he says. “The first thing we did was make sure we reached out to all the moderators at other schools to inform them. After many months of hard work, postponing the conference was a huge disappointment, but I think that after working together as a team, we were eager to prepare for the conference a second time together. We are hopeful that we can take advantage of the new timeframe to get the most out of work we previously completed and make the event run even more smoothly.”
Choosing a date to reschedule was equally challenging. The original, December 9 date conflicted with no school sporting events an no competing conferences. But the team, the student life office and club moderator Mrs. Pamela Bronder-Giroux persevered and played the hand they were dealt, eventually settling on March 17, 2018.
“It’s not ideal, because it does conflict with a MUN conference at Boston College, as well as with spring break for some private schools, but it was the best date available,” says Jerrett. “We have already heard that some schools won’t be able to attend, but we intend on leaving a legacy for the club with this event and we’re hoping to recruit new schools to achieve the same numbers we had coming back in December.”
For her part, Mrs. Bronder-Giroux, just like her team, is focused on upside.
“In every conference, certain planners get overworked, and don't have time to properly pull in an underclassman to shadow them and learn the job for next year,” she explains. “This reschedule gives us a chance to do that better. Also, the new conference date falls on the the weekend between winter and spring sports seasons here at the Prep, so we can offer the MUN experience to more St. John’s students who might be able to try it out, especially underclassmen. Our students put in an astronomical amount of work writing their briefing papers—they are very motivated to make this happen.”
One of the hallmarks of a Xaverian education is a powerful emphasis on the development of relationships rooted in respect and kindness. The first step every student takes onto this campus animates a partnership—amongst the students themselves and between students and adults. The positive and productive outcome to what could have been a wholly disheartening experience vis-a-vis the Model U.N. club is an excellent illustration of this partnership in action.
“I was more than impressed with the way the students handled this disruption,” says Mrs. Olson. “Model U.N. isn’t just a club. It’s a forum in which students learn about leadership and about taking any situation they may find themselves in and influencing for the benefit of others.”
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