25 Years of Friars Playing Water Polo ‘Down Under’

This past June, members of the Fenwick boys’ team made another splash in Australia, where they studied and competed in cricket, footy and, of course, pool-polo!

By Kyle Perry

The Dominican shield logos of the Blackfriars Priory School in Australia (left) and Fenwick High School in Oak Park, IL, USA.

At a Dominican conference about 30 years ago, so the story goes, two Dominican priests — both presidents of their all-boys, Dominican-sponsored schools (the only all-boys Dominican schools in their respective countries) — overheard each other bragging about the competitiveness of their water polo teams. Blackfriars Priory School, located in Prospect, a suburb of Adelaide, Australia, already had a “world tour” in the works with stops in China, France, England, New York, Los Angeles and Waikiki. Both presidents were determined to put a quick stop in Chicago on the itinerary. So, in 1992, the first group of Blackfriars boys and school representatives arrived at Fenwick as part of their world tour. 

Mr. Harmer (center) flanked by the eight Aussie school boys at Fenwick this past May.

Since then, Blackfriars has visited Fenwick four times while Fenwick has visited Blackfriars three times. In addition to these water-polo exchanges, there have been two students from each school who participated in student exchanges, and two teachers participated in one six-month teacher exchange. There’s even a marriage in the exchange’s history; and in 2016, a Fenwick alumna and a Blackfriars old scholar welcomed their first child into the world!

Australia means a lot to me. When I think of Australia, I often think of my father [Coach Dave Perry], who as I am writing this, passed away eight years ago today. When I was seven, my family spent the entire summer traveling the continent. I returned again after college when my sister was studying there. My parents had already been in Australia for several weeks and eventually joined us for the end of the trip as part of one of our last big family vacations. When I think of these two trips, I am reminded of how much I love my family and how much I miss my dad.

The late, great Coach Dave Perry first took his Fenwick boys (below) “Down Under” 25 years ago.

“So, do you want to go to Australia … with our kids … and a bunch of high school boys?”  

When the 2016 exchange occurred, my wife and I were realizing the joys of parenting a three-year-old and a one-year-old. Australia would have to wait. My sister, alumna Elizabeth Timmons ’04, a science teacher and aquatics coach at Fenwick, headed up the 2016 trip. In 2019, realizing that parenting had not really gotten any easier now that my son was six and my daughter was four, I figured why not give this a shot. My wife needed a little more convincing. Thankfully, she gave the green light, and the Perry family, along with our seven new “sons” (Nathan Krippner ’19, Wil Gurski ’21, Peter Buinauskas ’21, Liam McCarthy ’21, Owen Krippner ’21, Caden Gierstorf ’21 and Ethan Wyles ’22) soon found ourselves on the longest direct flight out of Chicago to Auckland, New Zealand. From there, another short flight brought us to our final destination, Adelaide, South Australia. After 26 hours of travel, our host families greeted us at the Adelaide airport; the Fenwick boys went with their host families, and my family went with our host family, Sue and Jon Harmer.

The Friars “Down Under” with the Perry children.

School in the summer?

We met outside the St. Dominic statue at Blackfriars Priory School (BPS) at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 11th, for our first day of school, a tradition we maintained every day that the boys went to class. School started each day at 8:40 a.m. with home group. Students then attended three classes before having a 20-minute recess. Following recess, students had two more classes and then lunch. After lunch, students finished up their day with their final two classes.

BPS has an open campus, and since winter temperatures typically fluctuate between the fifties and the sixties, a full hour of the school day is spent outside! Our first day also coincided with Nathan Krippner’s 18th birthday, so we gathered together a large group for the traditional happy birthday song. In addition to attending classes, Blackfriars arranged for our boys to practice some cricket and Aussie Rules Football, or footy as they would say. Our boys thought challenging their Aussie hosts in basketball would be a good idea; no one on the Fenwick side probably wants to remember that game. In addition to the boys attending classes, my wife, a teacher too, and I had opportunities to observe several classes. My son, Ryan, had a blast becoming best friends with the 17 other boys in his year-one class, and my daughter, Nora, enjoyed attending Blackfriars’ Coed Early Learning Centre.

Koalas are not actually bears.

Feed a kangaroo. Check.

Picture with a koala. Check.

Get a little too close to an emu. Check.

Touch the weird Australian large ratlike animal. Check, but Caden, please don’t do that again. Look, now there are six of them all crowding around us and creeping me out.

Koalas, Kangaroos, Emus, Wombats and Bandicoots (that ratlike thing Caden was touching) were just a few of the amazing Australian animals we encountered while we visited the Cleland Wildlife Park.

Surfing USA: With temperatures in the fifties, most of the locals were bundled up as if they were ready for Chicago in January; our adventurous group decided that surfing would be a great idea on the coldest day of winter in Australia! Unable to feel our feet (trying to get our shoes and socks on after surfing was more than comical!), most of us were still able to catch a wave or at least have a laugh watching each other “catch” a wave. The trip home included some warm food and drinks as well as plenty of vanilla slices.

Water Polo

Also, we played some water polo.

I cannot even begin to really explain how incredible the experience of bringing these boys and my family to Adelaide was. I am grateful that Fenwick and Blackfriars have continued to cultivate the relationship between our two Dominican schools. Blackfriars Priory School and South Australia Water Polo overwhelmed us with their hospitality and friendship. I want to thank our Fenwick host families who added an Australian son to their families last spring as well as the Blackfriars’ host families for welcoming our boys into their homes this past June.

In addition to hosting duties, I want to thank our Fenwick families for entrusting me with their sons and allowing me to take them to the other end of the world. I am especially indebted to Jon and Sue Harmer. In addition to Jon being the major facilitator for our trip, he and his wife welcomed my crazy family into their home with love and kindness. Lastly, I want to thank my wife and kids, who allow me to chase ghosts and read books.

Here’s to another 30 years of connections between Fenwick and Blackfriars. Anyone ready to go on the next exchange?

Editor’s Note: Administrators at Fenwick and the Blackfriars Priory School are considering expanding their international exchange program beyond the pool. Stay tuned!

About the Author
Alumnus Kyle Perry ’01 is married to the most outstanding and amazing woman in the world, Courtney Perry. On a daily basis, they work together to outsmart their very clever and adorable children, Ryan and Nora. His responsibilities at Fenwick High School include English teacher, assistant boys’ swimming coach, head boys’ water polo coach, director of the Fenwick Summer Swim Lessons program, and assistant aquatics director.  In addition to coaching at Fenwick, Mr. Perry is the high performance director for the water polo club, Windy City Water Polo.  He currently serves as the water polo chairman of the Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference, the president of Illinois Water Polo, and helps with the college scholarship named after his father, and long time Fenwick coach, Dave Perry.  Outside of the pool, he enjoys reading everything that he can possibly get his hands on and spending time with his family in the pool and out of the pool too!

Mr. Perry received his B.A. in English from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his M.S.Ed in Leadership and Instruction for Inclusive Classrooms from Utica College of Syracuse University in Utica, New York. While at Fenwick, he participated on the swimming and water polo teams and was a member of the National Honor Society. His family currently resides in Oak Park.

Coach Dave Perry’s jacket from the Friars’ 1994 “Australian Tour.”

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