Like former Indiana congressman Charles Brownson, I usually choose not to "quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel." But a recent editorial on Oregonlive's sports page so violated basic tenets of journalistic ethics that I feel compelled to respond. Andrew Nemec not only cast aspersions on Jesuit High's administration, but called out several of our students by name. That is wrong.
Mr. Nemec did not contact me or anyone else in our administration to double-check his assertions. Instead, he made claims—about real high schoolers—that are simply not true. In seeking fodder for his editorial, Mr. Nemec tweeted a question to Jesuit students whom he then proceeded to critique by name in his editorial, entitled "Jesuit-Central Holy War has become an artificial all-star game." Mr. Nemec tweeted this question to five Jesuit football players: "What district were you in (sic) had you not gone to Jesuit?"
In two cases, Mr. Nemec apparently did not know that the students he contacted had attended Catholic school since preschool and had every intention of remaining in the parochial system for high school. In another case, Mr. Nemec contacted a JHS student who moved to Oregon after his freshman year and had never attended public school in Oregon. None of the four Jesuit students Mr. Nemec identifies by name in his article would have ended up at the public schools he claims they "departed" to come to Jesuit.
In his article, Mr. Nemec implies in sweeping terms that Jesuit High and Central Catholic are somehow cheating ("the rivalry is more artificially enhanced than baseball's steroid era"). He claims that we have "sloughed off talent" from other schools' athletic programs. Mr. Nemec implies that our athletic success is "not holy" and has begun to "infect" local public school programs.
Even when he tries to get specific, Mr. Nemec gets his facts wrong. He claims that after Jesuit's current "senior class went winless on the football team as freshmen" (a true statement), that our administration "overcome (sic) that hurdle by swallowing up the state's top athletes like a school longing for an appearance on A&E's, (sic) 'Hoarders.'"
At Jesuit, students are taught that the truth matters. In the academic realm, we insist that students support their arguments with actual, verifiable evidence. I have taught Journalism in three different high schools. A basic tenet of journalistic ethics is that before a writer or an editor publishes an article, statements must be "fact-checked." That did not happen in the case of Mr. Nemec's editorial.
As Jesuit's Principal, I feel compelled to insert some facts into the discussion Mr. Nemec has begun.
- In the United States, high school students do not "belong" to their local public school. Approximately 60% of Jesuit's current student body attended Catholic grade schools. They and their parents have the choice to send them to a religious institution if they wish.
- Jesuit's current senior class is the largest in our school's history. When these students were 8th graders, we had 656 applicants for 325 spots. The yield for the Class of 2017 defied our historic norms, and the Class of 2017 came in with over 350 students.
- Because this class was so full heading into their sophomore year, we accepted three transfer students only into the Class of 2017 out of dozens of talented, eager applicants. Still, Mr. Nemec accuses us of responding to the freshman football team's winless season by "swallowing up the state's top athletes like...'Hoarders.'" Fact: None of the three transfer students we accepted was an in-state football player. Mr. Nemec's assertion is simply wrong, and indicates a profound misunderstanding of the mission and culture of Jesuit High.
On the sideline of last Friday night's game against Central Catholic, I chatted with Gary Rombach and Tim Massey, two long-time Jesuit educators. These two men were the head and assistant freshman football coaches when our current seniors went 0-9.
After about the sixth loss that freshman season, I remember seeing Tim and Gary walking the team around campus during practice one day. They were teaching the boys about Jesuit's values, about Age Quod Agis and the magis, and AMDG. They told them about Fathers Masterson and Robinson and Hayes. They took them to the chapel, and urged them to keep the faith.
Last Friday night, Tim told me that that 0-9 season, and its aftermath, is one of his most cherished memories in 33 years of coaching. "Those guys could have given up, or gotten down on themselves, or simply found other things to do. Instead, they gutted out that season, hit the weightroom, and kept after it."
And they got stronger and better. Football is a numbers game. In many high school sports, two or three talented athletes can make a real difference. In football, a program needs dozens and dozens of committed students to be competitive.
Student-athletes need coaches who know and love their kids, who are teachers first. On our football staff, we have 11 on-campus coaches; nine of our coaches are alums of Jesuit who played for Head Coach Ken Potter. Coach Potter's staff includes teachers of history, math, science, PE, counselors, and members of our campus ministry team. Several of them will be walking 12 miles with their players and 300 other seniors this Saturday on the Senior Pilgrimage. Many of them have been coaching together for more than two decades. All are educators par excellence who care much more about their boys' growth in mind, body, and spirit than about wins and losses. Their integrity is beyond reproach.
Ken and his staff remember when Glencoe was the dominant Metro League team. They remember Roseburg's and McNary's and Aloha's and Southridge's and Beaverton's state titles. In recent years, their teams have clashed with Lincoln and Lakeridge and Lake Oswego and Sheldon and Tigard and North Medford when those programs were peaking. We won some, lost some, and had lots of fun along the way. Nowadays, Central Catholic and West Linn are on a roll. We are happy to be testing ourselves against the best. If we win, great. If we lose, we work harder, knowing that our students have much bigger goals in life than winning ballgames.
Back to the facts:
- Jesuit High School offers no scholarships. We offer no financial aid based on "merit" or talent. We offer assistance only to students with demonstrated need. The $2.85 million in financial aid we are providing to 334 students in 2016-17 is based on an assessment of each family's financial situation conducted by an independent agency in Ohio. We fully support the OSAA's prohibitions on recruiting, as well as the rule that states that "no financial assistance may be awarded based on potential or performance in athletics or activities."
- In survey after survey, our parents tell us that the top reasons they send their children to Jesuit include academic excellence (97%), spiritual formation (92%), and the students' development as "men and women for others" (90%). Athletics typically ranks about 10th, alongside fine arts, activities, but after "community" and "safe, welcoming environment."
- In our admissions process, five faculty members read every student file. They are looking for academic ability, teacher recommendations, family faith life, community service, and character. If we discover that a student is coming to Jesuit only to play sports, we will not accept that student. Our students are expected not only to be intellectually competent, but also religious, loving, open to growth, and committed to doing justice. Nowhere in our admissions process do we ask for height and weight, vertical leap, or time in the 40.
Now, my opinion:
Our current senior football players exhibit all that is right about Jesuit athletics; they are not an "artificial group of all-stars"; they worked incredibly hard under the tutelage of a superb staff of coaches to improve. If you want a look at how hard ALL of our student-athletes work in order to compete at the highest level, see this video, created by Athletic Director Mike Hughes the day before Mr. Nemec's article was posted.
If someone at the Oregonian wants a real story, I suggest they write about the amazing, powerful "purple-out for CCA" fundraiser that Central and Jesuit's student body conducted at the big game last Friday night.
I also hereby invite Mr. Nemec to come to Jesuit next Friday, September 16, for our Mass of the Holy Spirit. Mr. Nemec, at that Mass, you will discover the true source of Jesuit High's success. Give me a call, and I will save you a seat.
Note: To see a different opinion piece from the Oregonian/Oregonlive's sports staff, I suggest Daschel's Dozen from Week 2.