While students continued to endure the pandemic’s negative effects, the senior retreat personified the Dominican Pillar of Community.
By Nick Polston ’21
The iconic Fenwick atrium is my favorite part of the entire school. In the morning, walking through this part of the building signifies an exciting day ahead. In the afternoon, the speckled, marble floor glints in the sunlight that shines through the glass entrance, and I contribute to the after-school commotion as I joke with my friends. For over three years, however, I often failed to acknowledge an integral piece of this room’s welcoming beauty.
Four large banners hang above the atrium’s second set of doors, each one embroidered with a pillar of the Dominican faith: Community, Service, Study and Prayer. I learned about these values extensively in my theology classes and read about them in Fenwick newsletters; however, with all the time I spent in that Fenwick atrium during my first three years of high school, I surprisingly never took the time to stop, look up and reflect. Of course, there were plenty of mornings when I walked into school with my head down, going over some mental notes for a first-period test or simply tired from homework and football practice the night before. Only Mr. Ritten’s cheerful emphatic “GOOD MORNING!” was enough to lift my gaze. Yet all the while, those banners hung there, watching over me. It was not until my Kairos experience senior year that I truly recognized the importance of those four pillars.
It is difficult to write about my Kairos experience without giving away the activities and traditions that make the retreat so impactful, but I will do my best. Arriving at Fenwick for the three-day retreat was scary at first, even as I sat in the comfort of the atrium. I was surrounded by classmates whom I did not know well, much less with whom I could see myself sharing in the intimacy that I believed Kairos engendered. However, once we boarded the bus that would take us to the Bellarmine Retreat House, we began to talk with each other about the colleges we were attending, the sports we played and some of our favorite Fenwick memories.
After arriving an hour later, we were placed in our ‘small groups.’ Admittedly, I was nervous once again after my group assignment; it was comprised of classmates with whom I had not had a conversation since freshman year history class, and I nearly regretted my decision to attend Kairos without my close friends. Over the course of the next three days, however, my small group truly became my family. It is still shocking to me how 72 hours with a group of people I had only seen occasionally in the halls of Fenwick could turn into a support system that I know I can count on forever. Being with my small group gave me the courage to express myself and listen to others, because I knew that I was in a trusted, safe environment.
The Pillar of Community
As cliché as it may seem, Kairos gave me the perspective to truly appreciate not only the similarities between myself and others, but also the differences that make us all so unique. It was at Kairos that I began to understand the importance of Community in the Dominican faith. Judgement, shame and negativity were left at the door of Bellarmine House and replaced with courage, love and support. Kairos created a bond between my classmates and me that has yet to fade and may just remain with me forever.
I once read that praying with others is an amazing way to grow spiritually, as you carry the burdens and intentions of others with you as you pray. Kairos was especially unique in this manner. After sharing stories with classmates and internalizing the struggles and triumphs of peers, praying together at the end of the day was yet another way my Kairos group became closer as a community. I realized that prayer should not only serve as petition and intercession but as praise and thanksgiving for the blessings God gave me in my life.
One of my Kairos leaders told me, “You get out of Kairos what you put into Kairos,” and I certainly found this to be true over the three days we spent at Bellarmine Retreat House. Everyone is affected differently by their experience at Kairos; however, if you put effort into participating in the activities, expressing your feelings and listening to others, this retreat will be one of the best times of your life.
My advice to future students who will attend Kairos is to treat the experience with respect. Respect the courage of fellow students, teachers and leaders. Respect the amount of trust they have in you, and you, too, will find the courage to express yourself. Kairos is a refreshing, life-changing three days that changed my perspective on life. When I return to Fenwick, I will never fail to look up and see the four banners that hang above the atrium entrance. Living my life by incorporating the four Dominican pillars is to inherently “live the fourth.” Those who have been on Kairos know what I mean, but to the future students who are waiting to go on their Kairos retreat, I guess you will have to wait and find out.
A former class president and Oak Parker writes about trading his orange-and-blue colors of the Youth Huskies football program for the Friars’ black and white in 2011 – and never looking back. But what about that other “black-and-white” issue?
By Aaron Garland ’15
Growing up, I hated Fenwick as a kid. I believe it was because I always imagined myself in an orange and blue uniform at OPRF High School. Playing under the lights on Lake Street was a dream of mine.
I remember in grade school, I went to watch OPRF play Fenwick in a basketball game. The energy was crazy! It was standing room only at the field house. Iman Shumpert [now with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets] was the star at the time, and I felt like he embodied what OPRF was about. Another reason I was attached to OPRF was because I played for the Oak Park Youth Huskies and looked forward to continuing the sport together. A few guys who were a part of that team were Lloyd Yates [OPRF & NU, see below], Christopher Hawthorne [Fenwick ’15] and Antonio Cannon [OPRF & Augustana College].
My journey to Fenwick began with my Mom. Around sixth grade, she would always say, “You’re going to Fenwick.” I didn’t think she was serious until she made me take the Fenwick entrance exam. I didn’t want to do it but, in my heart, I knew it was the best thing for me. The academic expectation at Fenwick scared me. Growing up, when Fenwick High School came up in conversation, the academic prestige was mentioned. I knew Fenwick would challenge me academically. A piece of me wanted to take the easy way out and leave the exam blank on test day. That wasn’t my style, though. I liked challenges!
When it came to test day, I remember it was early on a Saturday morning. I had a basketball practice shortly after, so my plan was to take the exam as quickly as possible so I could go hoop! As I took the test, I hoped that Fenwick would not accept me.
While waiting on my results, I continued my regular routine playing sports and hanging out with friends. Growing up in the Oak Park-River Forest area was special. For the bulk of my childhood, I hung out with mostly white guys and girls with a sprinkling of blacks and Latinos.
I finally got my test results, and I was in! Two of my close friends received letters of acceptance as well. So the three of us were headed to Fenwick. During our first assembly, Mr. Borsch told us to look to our left and right. He went on to say that the person next to us would not be here in four years. I was shocked that he said that and wondered why people didn’t finish. Was it the tough academics? The dress code? Or the rules? As I looked around at the freshman class, I was hoping that I would be one of the few to remain. Sadly, after one and a half years, both my friends were gone. I won’t go into detail on why they didn’t remain; let’s just say Fenwick was not the right fit for them.
I had a couple close calls at Fenwick myself that could have gotten me kicked out. I am grateful for the mercy that was shown by Wallace Pendleton [Fenwick Class of 2005], our Dean of Students at the time. Wallace was a former Division 1 athlete [Akron football] and he is African American. I believe being black in that situation actually helped me and he saw something in me. Thank you, Wallace. At this point, I was tested to expand my friendships beyond the friends I came in with. That same year, my sister transferred to Fenwick from Trinity, so that was a plus. [BONUS BLOG: Read how alumni Maya Garland ’14, Aaron’s sister, defied the odds.]
I played basketball, football and baseball my first year at Fenwick. I later switched to only playing football. I always believed I was a great baseball player, but I knew football was going to be the sport that sent me to college for free. I later switched to only playing football. The summer before my junior year, I received a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of Connecticut.
Playing sports at Fenwick made it easy to be accepted by others. I had some good teammates like Keshaun Smith [Class of 2014], Robert Spillane [’14], Chris Hawthorne ’15 and Richard Schoen ’14, but the list goes on and on. Along with good teammates, I had some great coaches: Gene Nudo (football), Mark Laudadio ’84 (basketball) and Titcus Pettigrew (football). However, I felt bad for the minorities who were not connected with others through sports.
I would be lying if I said racism did not exist at Fenwick. I also wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said everyone there was racist. There was definitely a disconnect between minorities and whites.
‘East Kids’ and ‘West Kids’
I mentioned earlier that I grew up with mostly white guys and girls and a sprinkle of blacks and Latinos. So attending Fenwick, a majority white school, was not new to me. No matter what school I attended growing up, minorities always stuck together.
Naturally, we all feel more comfort when we are around the same race. However, I never wanted to put limits on friendships based on race, so I made an effort to be friends will all races. Personally, I can’t remember anytime that someone called me the ‘N word’ or was openly racist towards me while at Fenwick. I was the class president my junior year, so I guess I had won the hearts of my classmates the first two years. I would have been class president two years in row if I had decided to run my senior year, but I wanted to give someone else the opportunity to add the position to their high school resume. I enjoyed being class president, it gave me a sense of purpose outside of sports. It also helped me get rid of the stereotype that blacks attended Fenwick only for sports. I am not sure if I was the first black class president at Fenwick, but I’m sure I was one of the few.
Racism has been talked about for centuries. Here is my take on it: I believe it starts at home. Kids do outside what they are taught at home. In Fenwick’s situation, a lot of kids come from the western suburbs, such as Burr Ridge, Western Springs and Hinsdale. We called these people “west kids.”
Those neighborhoods lack diversity. So, due to the lack of diversity in those neighborhoods, it leads to kids being awkward around minorities. I remember going to parties in the west suburbs and feeling like I was being “watched” by the parents a little more closely than others. I am not saying everyone from the west suburbs is racist. I believe the interaction is just different with them. It’s not their fault that they grew up in a neighborhood that lacks diversity.
At Fenwick, you had two types of white kids — those who fit in with the minorities and those who didn’t. The kids who fit in seemed to have grown up in the Oak Park, Elmwood Park and Chicago area. Also known as the “east kids,” these students seemed to be more familiar with minorities due to their environment. So, it was not a problem of race but rather with environment.
I am grateful for the experiences I had at Fenwick. My classmates and teachers all made it a unique experience. Of course, academically we learned a lot and were challenged. Fenwick prepared me for college courses at UConn. Honestly, I felt like Fenwick was harder than college academically. I believe this is the reason I was able to graduate from college in three years and serve on the leadership board of the college of liberal arts and sciences.
Aside from the books, it was the people I appreciated learning from, especially Gene Nudo and Rena [Ciancio ’00] McMahon. Coach Nudo told me to be the kind of guy that colleges want to put on the front page of their advertisements. Nudo was my favorite coach throughout my sports career. He loved his players. Ms. McMahon was my counselor. She always believe in me and knew how to listen when I needed someone to talk to. If I wasn’t in class or practicing, I was talking to Rena or Nudo in their offices.
I learned how to be a young man at Fenwick, how to speak, how to treat people and, most importantly, how to keep God in your life. One of the statements we heard at Fenwick was “Everything in moderation,” which has stuck with me until this day!
My first job when I came back from college was with state senator Don Harmon, who is now the president of the Illinois Senate. This job came from the help of Fenwick alumnus Sean Harmon [Class of 2004], Don’s cousin. While working with Senator Harmon, I started coaching freshman football at Fenwick. I am currently working at the Cook County Board of Review as an appeals analyst. I say this to show that Fenwick opened up doors for me when it was time to join the “real world.” I am confident that the prestige of Fenwick will continue to do that. Moving forward, I am going to be a helping hand in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to Fenwick so that more minorities will have the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the state.
I encourage students to love one another and find things in common with people who don’t look like you. Whether it be academics, hobbies or sports, we all can relate somehow. Also, make time to have conversations with the adults in the building. There are many great minds in that building, whether it is the lunch ladies or those working in administration, from whom you can learn something.
I want to give thanks to the following people who were not mentioned above. Mrs. Nowicki (math teacher); Mr. Arellano (retired speech teacher); Tony McCormick [’78] and Becky (athletic trainers); Mr. Ruffino (friend, former coach and facilities director); Mr. Ori (admissions director, ’03) and Mrs. (Morris) Ori (English teacher, ’06); Mr. Schoeph (English teacher, ’95); the ladies in Student Services, Ms. Rowe and Ms. Shanahan; Kita (lunch lady); Mark Vruno (football coach); Mrs. Carraher (Spanish teacher, ’96); Mrs. Megall (retired Spanish teacher); and Coach Heldmann (RIP). Lastly, thank you to my Mom and Dad for sending me to Fenwick. I am sure a left a few out … thank you all!
IN ADDITION TO INTERCEPTIONS, HARD-HITTING TACKLES AND ACROBATIC PASS BREAK-UPS, AG’S SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS FROM FENWICK FOOTBALL FEATURE SOME ELECRIFYING KICK RETURNS, TOO!
BONUS BLOG by Maya Garland ’14 (Aaron’s sister):
Read why “west kid” Jack Henrichs ’22 thinks his commute from La Grange, IL, to Fenwick was worth the adjustment his freshman year.
closest friend for 46 years summed up the great Coach’s qualities in an address
to Friar student-athletes one month after his death at age 73.
By late coach/trainer Dan O’Brien ’34 (Fenwick Sports Banquet, December 1976)
1929, 250 people applied for the position of athletic director at Fenwick High
School, an all-boys Catholic school opening in September of that year. Principal/President
Fr. Leo Gainor, O.P. selected 26-year-old Anthony R. Lawless to direct the new
school’s athletic program. From Peoria, IL, Mr. Lawless was a graduate of
Loyola University, Chicago, and the lone layperson among the then all-Dominican
faculty and staff. He was the Friars’ head football coach from 1929-56 (record:
177-43-8). A member of the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame, Lawless also was
Fenwick’s head basketball coach (1929-47) and founded the Chicago Catholic
League Coaches Association.
There comes a time in the life of every athlete when
he draws back and takes a hard look at his experiences in order to assess the
returns that might have been. His initial inclination will be to recall the
emotional peaks, the victories: the win over Loyola’s football team; the cross
country effort against Gordon Tech; the golf team’s close finish in the league
and district competition; our tennis team’s dramatic victory in straight sets.
It is perfectly natural to cling to these memories for personal satisfaction.
However, your more meaningful returns – rewards that
will affect your lifestyle and personality – will come in the form of your
character-information. This type of return will, in most cases, come as the
result of behavior patterns formed from personal contacts – benefits derived
from the regard you have for your leader or coach. No doubt most of you, presumably,
have developed this type of respect for your respective coaches.
I believe it is very timely to consider the returns we
have received from our association with the incomparable Tony Lawless. This
very unusual man had personal characteristics that are rare by any standard of
reference. His lifestyle was anything but commonplace; it was truly unique.
Father Conley’s beautiful homily reflected insight into Tony’s character in his
peak years as a coach. My forty-six years with him have given me a singular
opportunity to discern what made him tick and the legacy he has left us.
A Supreme Court justice said he learned in his youth a
lesson that remained indelible throughout his life: human happiness is not
gained from a series of pleasures but from total dedication to a goal above and
An even greater authority said: “He who loses his life
shall find it; he who finds his life shall lose it.” It is a lesson of history
that happiness comes only to those who surrender themselves to a work greater
than themselves. There is no greater delight than to feel necessary to
something you love. A young mother, even if ill herself, when walking the floor
at midnight with her sick infant, is doing what she prefers to all else in the
world. Children never understand mother until they have children of their own.
Tony would have no trouble discerning that young mother’s feelings.
Father Gainor, the founding principal of Fenwick and a
priest of exceptional talent and insight – who brought Tony to Fenwick – had a “rule
of thumb” in judging the potential value of a student or employee. He believed
that a person, regardless of his shortcomings, had value to Fenwick if he had
demonstrated love for Fenwick. Tony Lawless was close to the heart of that
Tony truly loved his work in a most extraordinary way;
he really relished coming to work in the morning. The size of his salary was of
little or no consideration with him. He filled his every day in a work he
deeply loved; being paid for it was a bonus.
Tony was a romantic at heart. While still very young, he fell in love with Fenwick and all it stood for. To the very end, that love was undiminished. What he left us came from a great heart in love with a sublime dream.
Growing up on Chicago’s West Side near Cicero and
Madison, I could have gone to St. Mel, St. Phillip, Austin or St. Ignatius. I
decided on Fenwick because I knew it was a good academic school and I had heard
about the football program coached by Tony Lawless.
I was a big kid in eighth grade, 6-1, more recruited
for basketball than football, and I almost went to St. Phillip because of coach
Bill Shay, who later coached at Fenwick. But I wanted to see if I could play
football at Fenwick. It was a challenge.
At the time, I didn’t know if I would go to college.
Neither of my parents nor my older brother and sister went to college. They
couldn’t afford it. At Fenwick, I learned a lot. I wasn’t dumb, but it took me
a year to acclimate to the school. And Lawless taught me so much.
Fenwick had won the city championship in 1945. I went
to the game at Soldier Field and was impressed. I knew Lawless was a hard-nosed
coach who taught the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. He was a winner, a
legendary figure on the West Side.
He taught me persistence and fundamentals, not to
think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.
“[Coach] Lawless taught me … persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.”
– the late, great John Lattner ’50
I never regretted my decision to go to Fenwick.
Learning to play both ways – I also was a defensive back – helped me to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. I went there because, like Fenwick, it was a challenge. Some people said I wasn’t fast enough and never would play at Notre Dame, that I’d just be another number on the roster.
But Lawless taught me to stick to my books, to hang in
there, to play when you’re hurt.
It helped me to get through Notre Dame. I was in awe
of the program … Frank Leahy, Leon Hart, Terry Brennan, Johnny Lujack, George
They were unbeaten for four years. I hoped to make a name for myself.
Three Fenwick senior student-athletes have made their college decisions, while Class of 2021 classmates and juniors weigh their options. Congratulations to Fenwick volleyball All-Stater Beau Vanderlaan ’21 (above): The 6’2″ senior middle blocker from Oak Park has committed to Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) in the prestigious Ivy League!
Fellow senior and Friar swimmer Angelina Cakuls ’21 (right) from Palos Park has committed to continue her education and athletic career in the pool at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in the MAC.
Golfer Jake Wiktor ’21 (River Forest, IL) has committed to North Carolina State. Jake earned All-Conference honors for the third consecutive year and also is the Chicago Catholic League’s Lawless Player of the Year!
Basketball All-Stater Bryce Hopkins ’21 is expected to make his decision soon. The much-sought 6’6″, 220-lb. power forward, who de-committed from Louisville this past summer, has narrowed down his top nine college choices: Cal, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Providence and Texas.
To date, 26 colleges have verbally offered athletic scholarships to seven Fenwick football players: three seniors and four juniors. Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana) offered the four members of the Class of 2022 on the same day in early September!
Junior QB Kaden Cobb ’22 now has nine D1 scholarship offers (and counting): Ball State, Boston College, Bowling Green, Howard University, Northern Illinois, Mizzou (University of Missouri), Toledo, Vanderbilt and West Virginia!
Junior center/offensive lineman Jimmy Liston ’22 (No. 64) has been offered by Ole Miss (University of Mississippi), Ball State and Central Michigan so far. “Jimbo” also is a heavyweight wrestler for the Friars.
Junior slot receiver/tight end Max Reese ’22 has five offers from Alcorn State, Arizona State, Ball State, Bowling Green and Kansas. Reese also plays basketball for the Friars.
Lanky, junior wide receiver Eian Pugh ’22 now has seven offers, from: Ball State, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Howard, Indiana University, Toledo and the University of Kansas. Pugh also is a Fenwick basketball player.
Senior wide receiver Jonas Capek ’21 has offers from Roosevelt University (NAIA, Chicago), Lake Forest College (D3 in Illinois), St. Ambrose (D3 in Iowa), St. Norbert (D3 in Wisconsin) and St. Olaf (D3 in Minnesota).
Senior running back Isaac Novak ’21 has offers from Wheeling University (D2 in West Virginia) and St. Norbert (D3 in Wisconsin).
Senior offensive lineman Jamie Moran (No. 70) has a pair of D3 offers from Augustana College (Rock Island, IL) and North Park University (Chicago).
Catching up with future coach Keshaun Smith ’14 (with son, Kameron) andfuture teacher Laura Kelly ’19.
Fenwick Graduation: 2014 Hometown: Maywood, IL Grade School: Irving Elementary College: Illinois State University (Normal, IL) Major: Recreational Management Internship: Crossfit Iron Flag and Athletic Performance
Career aspirations: To train children and teenagers to become
drastically better at whatever sport they are playing. Eventually, I will begin
coaching football or basketball. Now that I’ve graduated from college [last month],
I am taking over my dad’s furniture-moving business (Smith Furniture
Fenwick achievements/activities: three-year varsity basketball starter; two-year
varsity football starter.
Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on
you: Ms. Carraher/Megall
Fenwick class that had the most influence on
you: Spanish III with Ms.
Best Fenwick experience/the one you would like to live again: Coming in early in the morning before my second-period class freshman year to tutor for Spanish. I had never been taught Spanish before high school, unlike all of my classmates. I struggled the first semester, until I began tutoring with Ms. Carraher. This turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done because it made me comfortable speaking with my professors [in college], especially when I needed extra help.
Fenwick experience that changed you the most: My junior year. I remember driving to Ms. Megall’s house to get tutoring in Spanish III. I realized how tough her class was early in the semester and I made sure I was going to pass Spanish III. This changed me because instead of ignoring my struggles as I did first semester freshman year, I took action and actually passed Spanish III. I was afraid of Ms. Megall’s class because I heard about how hard it was and how ‘mean’ she was. As I began to get to know Ms. Megall, I realized something and this is what changed me: I realized Ms. Megall was actually a very sweet woman and I would never listen to anyone else’s opinion about another teacher again until I see for myself. Ms. Megall’s class is challenging but if you put in the work, I guarantee you will succeed.
Note: Before transferring to ISU, Keshaun played football at Loras College in Dubuque, IA, then basketball at Dominican University in River Forest, IL.
Fenwick Graduation: 2019 Hometown: Western Springs, IL Grade School: St. John of the Cross Current School: Fordham University (New York City) Major: Digital Technology & Emerging Media with minors in Italian and Theatre Performance
Summer internship: Unfortunately, my opportunity to be a
counselor at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan for the
entire summer was postponed. However, I just accepted a position as the Arts
Administration Apprentice at BAM Theatre in Hinsdale. I have worked at this
program for several years as an intern and assistant director, but now that
arts education is occurring in a virtual format, I am able to take on a new
position and can explore how teaching and performing can still happen remotely!
Career aspirations: In eighth grade, I was voted “Most Likely to
be a Teacher,” but I never really understood why … until I came to Fenwick and
met Ms. Lamoureux and Ms. Hennessey. At some point in my life, I would love to
be a secondary educator and theatre director so I can work with young people
and shape their lives just as my favorite teachers have shaped mine. Using the
major I am pursuing at Fordham, I am also very interested in working in media
management for entertainment companies like Netflix or Spotify.
Fenwick achievements/activities: Middle America Regional Champion in the Optimist Club Oratorical Contest with Mr. Arellano, National Honor Society, Illinois State Scholar, Tri-M Music Honor Society, Italian Honor Society, nine productions in the Blackfriars Guild, Honors Chamber Choir, girls’ tennis team, contributor and Diversions editor for The Wick, Write Place tutor, Kairos leader and rector.
Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you: Ms. Hennessey was my
Italian teacher for four years, and I am extremely blessed for that. I decided
to take Italian on a whim, not knowing anything about the language, and it
ended up being my favorite class for four consecutive years. She is more than
an amazing educator, she is also a wonderful mentor. While she taught me about
Italian grammar and culture, she also helped me through some difficult times in
and Coach Matt Barabaszwill begin his fourth
school year at Fenwick in August.
What is your
MB: I graduated in 2014 with a BS from Illinois State
University in Secondary Mathematics with a Middle Level Education Endorsement.
In 2019 I earned my MA from Concordia University (River Forest) in Educational
Leadership Program. Right now, I am looking to begin a Doctorate Program
in Educational Leadership; currently looking into Lewis University.
What did you do prior
to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
MB: Upon graduation from college I took my first teaching
job at Saint Patrick High School. During my first year teaching, I also
coached the sophomore football team and both varsity/JV track. The following
year I was named the head sophomore football coach and head varsity track coach,
which I continued to hold until I made my move to Fenwick.
During my time teaching and coaching, I
also gave presentations on different educational philosophies and skills that I
have been learning and using within my years as a new teacher. In 2015, I
presented “Brain Breaks” at the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics
(ICTM) Conference, and in 2017 I presented “The Use of iPads to Create an
Engaging Classroom” at the Mathematics Teacher Association of Chicago (MTA) dinner.
(Roger Finnell has been on the board of this committee since 1968.)
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
am reading Teacher Man by Frank
McCourt, which is a tribute to teachers everywhere. I was given this book
from my then great mentor and now friend, Chad Cluver. Chad was my
corresponding teacher while I was a student teacher at Moroa-Forsyth [near
Bloomington, IL]. During the year I spent there, I learned and grew an
incredible amount due to Chad and the amount he continued to push and support
me. He is currently doing amazing things both in and out of the classroom.
I am truly blessed to have a great friend to continually provide me advice and
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
MB: I have many interests that take up my time outside of the
classroom. Aside from continuing my education through completing various
grants and courses, I also coach football for Fenwick. Away from Fenwick,
still working within education, I am a member of AdvancED, which is an organization that
conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of a variety of educational institutions and
systems to ensure that all learners realize their full potential.
On a more personal level, I compete in many
intramural leagues, football and softball, across the different neighborhoods
in Chicago. I love animals and the outdoors. From sixth grade until I
accepted my first teaching job, I volunteered and worked at the Park Ridge Park
District Nature Center. When I was younger, I would volunteer every Saturday
at the Nature Center. Once I turned 16 I took on many roles there. I
was hired as a manager to oversee the volunteer staff, run nature birthday
parties, run campfires, run outdoor skills courses, and for six years I ran one
of their nature summer camps.
Animals have been and are a huge part of my
life. In the summer of 2018 I adopted my dog, Bella, and she takes up a
lot of my time. Each day we go on a lot of walks and adventures around the
city. Also, almost every summer morning I will drop my kayak into the
Chicago River and spend a few hours paddling.
When I have time I love to get out my old
charcoal and graphite supplies to draw. Art has always been a big passion of
mine as well. At Illinois State University, my original plan was to double
major in Mathematics and Art; however, the scheduling did not work within the
four-year constraint I wanted to complete it in.
Lastly, I am a huge Chicago sports
fan. If there is a Bears, Cubs or Blackhawks game on, if I am not there I
am watching it.
To what teams and/or
clubs did you belong as a student?
MB: Going back to
when I was in high school I was a member of Student Council, Art Club, Football
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
Sophomore Football Coach: 2017-19
Freshman Football Coach: 2020 – current
Sailing Club Moderator: 2019 – current
PAWS Club Moderator: 2019 – current
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
MB: The two
biggest qualities I see in all the students I teach are determination and
self-advocacy. Each year I am continually surprised by how much I can
educationally push these students and what they can achieve. Also, I am
continually impressed by how much they will speak up for their learning and
themselves. It is amazing to see this skill being engrained with so many
of our students. So many people are okay being passive and not speaking up for
themselves; however, at Fenwick the students advocate for themselves and their
learning and will not settle for anything but the best.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you
choose this field?
MB: There are two distinct things that have paved my
path. I remember sitting in my sophomore Geometry class, thinking, “What
the heck are we learning?” This is a typical thought that runs through most sophomores’
heads as they are trying to grasp the brand new concept of Geometry. Mathematics
was a subject that I was always okay in. I didn’t hate going to class, but
most of the time, like most students, I felt lost and confused. It was in the
Sophomore Geometry class where I started to realize [that] everyone is just as
confused as I am! Once that reality clicked, I started to put more time
into studying with friends and concepts started to click. As we would work
together and learn, I gained a feeling of great accomplishment. When
something finally makes sense to someone else, there’s this little look that
always happens. It is that look and that feeling of accomplishment that
partially drove me to the field education.
The second was my grandfather. As a child, I only had one pair of grandparents (my father’s parents both passed when he was a teenager). My grandfather was a man I cannot even begin to describe. Anytime there was something wrong, he was right there with me. He sparked my passion into the arts, being an incredible artist himself, and was always someone I needed by my side. When I was younger, I was always spending my weekends with my grandpa. My grandfather made a huge impact within the educational world. He was a teacher for many years, but then made his way to being the president of a Chicago school. To this day, my grandma shows me articles of the amazing things he had accomplished and all the recognition he gained for his hard work and dedication to the students and families. If I can become half the teacher and man that he was, I will have a very successful career and life. [Note: Matt’s grandfather, the late Dr. Allen Zak, retired in 1991 as superintendent of School District 102 in La Grange Park, IL. He also was a former superintendent of schools in West Northfield District 31 in Northbrook, IL.]
It should come as no surprise that lacrosse is one of
the fastest-growing sports in the United States. The sport’s participation
numbers have been on the rise for the better part a decade. Nationally, more
than 210,000 high school student-athletes now played organized lacrosse (as of
2018), according to statistics tracked by the National Federation of High
School Associations. Some 113,000 of those
participants were boys, while nearly 97,000 were girls. At the youth
level, more than 825,000 children age 13 and under now play “LAX,” reports US
People from the East Coast know lacrosse; most of us
from the Midwest, not so much. More than 30 years ago, some college boys were
playing catch — with nets on sticks — an hour north of Chicago. “What is that?” asked a local, curious observer
while his friends from Boston, New Jersey and New York looked on and laughed.
“Lacrosse is a great game,” attests new Fenwick Boys’ Head Coach Dan Applebaum, who grew up in Oak Park, IL, playing baseball as a kid since the age of six. Applebaum worked at New Wave Lacrosse in Naperville and assisted the staffs at Oak Park-River Forest (his alma mater) as well as Lyons Township high schools in La Grange. He was a Friars’ varsity assistant coach for several seasons before accepting the boys’ head coaching job at Northside College Prep in Chicago (2018-19). Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 tapped Applebaum as the Fenwick boys’ head coach earlier this year.
Applebaum first picked up a lacrosse stick as a
freshman at OPRF in 2005-06. “I wasn’t good enough to play baseball in high
school,” he admits, adding that perhaps he had outgrown America’s so-called pastime,
which was beginning to bore him as a young teenager. What he liked most about
lacrosse is that it is “such a skill-based sport,” the coach explains. “You
don’t have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest [athlete].” The blend of
athleticism and physicality appeals to many boys. It may sound overly
simplistic, but “if you can pass and catch, you can be on the field,” he
Molly Welsh ’20, a senior leader on this coming season’s team who hails from Elmhurst, has been a member of East Ave. for the past two years. “I started lacrosse when I was in fourth grade but quit because I had other sports,” Welsh explains. She picked up a stick again as a freshman and has “loved it ever since. Lacrosse is very different from other sports,” she says. “It is one of the fastest and most competitive sports I have ever played.”
Junior teammate Maggie Chudik (Western Springs) had a similar experience. “I had tried lacrosse in elementary school, but it wasn’t until my freshman year at Fenwick that it became my main sport,” she says. “The Fenwick lacrosse team is such an amazing, supportive group of girls that I feel so lucky to be a part of. “
Fellow junior Declan Donnelly ’21 adds: “Lacrosse has been a large part of my life at Fenwick. My lacrosse experience started at a young age playing for the local lacrosse team,” says Donnelly, a two-sport student-athlete (he started at linebacker this season for the Friars’ varsity, playoff football team) who lives in Berwyn and attended St. Mary’s School in Riverside. “Not only has lacrosse helped me to make the transition into high school, but it has allowed for me to develop skills that would be helpful to me in other sports,” the defenseman points out. “Being a lacrosse player has allowed me to develop skills that have helped me greatly while being on the football field.
“The summer of seventh grade I decided to attend the Fenwick Lacrosse Camp because I was hoping to play for the Friars,” Donnelly recalls. At the end of the camp, Jerry Considine (then coaching at Fenwick) asked whether Declan might be interested in playing for the combined youth and high school lacrosse [U14] team that he was putting together. This was the start, in 2015, of the East Ave. program, which added a girls’ division two years later headed up by Tracy Bonaccorsi, who now is the new girls’ HC at Fenwick (see below). Donnelly plays for Fenwick and East Ave., the latter of which he describes as “a thriving program with teams of all ages, for both boys and girls hoping to play lacrosse for sport or fun. The best part about having an elite, club program in the local area, notes Coach Bonaccorsi, is that it gives kids “the opportunity to improve their game and play more than just the three-month high school season.”
Donnelly credits the East Ave.
program and coaches for most of his high-school lacrosse success. “When I came
to Fenwick I was nervous to play lacrosse,” he admits, “but once I met the team,
I never looked back. I was on varsity my freshman year when we made it to the
Super Sectional Round. To this day, I am friends and stay in contact with many
of the guys on that Super Sectional team. Fenwick lacrosse is a family and
always will be.”
“Lacrosse is fast-paced,” adds Coach Applebaum, who helps
to direct the East Ave. club program (he is one of three founders), now in its
fifth year. “There is a lot of running up and down the field. Guys [and gals] get
gassed, even in practice! The game is engaging and exhausting, which is partly
why parents love it,” he laughs.
All kidding aside, Applebaum notes that the sport’s creativity
was a lure for him. Lacrosse is “a very individual team sport.” What does he
mean by that paradox? “What I mean is that every person on the field has his or
her own style of play – but there still is a team around you.” He acknowledges
that much of the game’s strategy is similar to basketball. However, the skill
set is very different. “I didn’t need anyone else to go out with me to
practice,” he continues. “I figured out ways to make wall-ball fun.”
He expects to see as many as 45 Fenwick boys out for the two teams (varsity and junior varsity) this coming spring. The girls’ squad has even bigger numbers: “There are 70 [female] names on my list for JV and varsity,” reveals new Head Coach Tracy Bonnacorsi, who comes to the Friars by way of East Ave. and Trinity High School in River Forest, where she built up the Blazers’ program over the past three seasons. Five of her players have gone on to play collegiately.
The girls’ version of the game features more finesse and less body checking. (The boys wear helmets.) “We have 20 to 30 girls consistently showing up for [weight] lifting and open gyms,” Coach Bonaccorsi says. One of those players is junior Caroline Finn(Western Springs), who was an All-Conference selection last season as a sophomore.
“I have played with Coach ‘Bono’ [at East Ave.] since I was a sophomore,” Welsh notes. “She is a very encouraging and determined coach. I believe she will push us more than we have been in the past in order to go far in playoffs.” Teammate Chudik adds: “Coach Bono brings a positive energy to the field that I think drives my love and my teammates’ love for lacrosse.”
Bonaccorsi was a multi-sport athlete who graduated from Montini Catholic in Lombard. She became interested in lacrosse when her older sister, Annie, instituted the first-ever lacrosse team at the high school in 2005-06. After playing for the Broncos, the younger Bonaccorsi played and studied at Concordia University in Irvine, CA. Before returning to the Chicago area to take the job at Trinity, she coached at Beckman High in Irvine for two years (while still attending college) and with the Buku club team in Southern California. Her degree is in business administration with an emphasis in sports management. At Fenwick, Tracy’s full-time role is as an assistant to the athletic director.
As for Applebaum’s LAX “pedigree,” after his
All-Conference senior season at OPRF, he played junior-college lacrosse in
Pennsylvania — and then at Mars Hill University (NCAA Div. II) in North
Carolina. As a midfielder there, he garnered second team All-Conference
recognition. Applebaum also has played internationally at the Indoor World
Championships, coming in fifth place as a member of Team Israel.
Increased media visibility is aiding lacrosse’s popularity
among American youth, Applebaum believes. Fifteen years ago, “there were like
four games on TV all year,” he remembers. “Now, they broadcast college games
four to six times per week! You just have to know where to look for them.”
Like ice hockey, lacrosse has a reputation of being an expensive sport to play: Buying a new helmet, stick, gloves, elbow and shoulder pads can cost upwards of $500 per player. However, organizations such as US Lacrosse are making it more affordable, especially for rural as well as inner-city kids. (US Lacrosse is the national governing body of men and women’s lacrosse in the United States.) Its “First Stick Program” grants sticks and protective gear for up to 20 field players and one goalie. Heading into its ninth year, First Stick has leveraged the support of generous individual, foundation and corporate donors into $10 million worth of equipment to give more than 22,000 kids on 760+ teams (448 boys, 320 girls), in every region of the country, the opportunity to play lacrosse — many for the first time.
Locally, Coach Applebaum cites the OWLS sports-based, non-profit youth development organization, which creates opportunities for underserved youth in Chicago. With lacrosse as its foundation, OWLS provides impactful mentorship and access to scholarships, improving the academic and social outcomes of the youth it serves. Bonaccorsi serves on its executive board.
Did you know that lacrosse has its origins in a tribal game played by eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes in what is now the United States of America and Canada? European colonizers to North America extensively modified the game to create its current collegiate and professional form.
Friars in 2020
“I am excited for this upcoming lacrosse season and highly
recommend anyone who is considering playing, even in the slightest, to come out
and try it,” Donnelly encourages. “There is always room for new players, and
all are welcome. You won’t regret it, and I know this because I didn’t.”
Donnelly says he is eager to see how Applebaum
plans to take the Fenwick program to an even higher level. “I have now known Coach
Dan for many years,” Donnelly concludes. “He is a great coach who I know has
the skills and ability to lead us on the right path. I have great faith in him
and the coaching staff that he is bringing in to help him. Coach Dan … is
a large reason why I have become the player I am today.
“If you would like to play, don’t be shy, contact me or any
of my fellow teammates.”
Catching up with two young alumni from the Class of 2017: Rachel McCarthy, recently back from Japan, and Ellis Taylor, an American footballer in NYC.
Rachel McCarthy (shown here in Tokyo) will be a junior at Illinois Wesleyan University in downstate Bloomington.
Fenwick Graduation: 2017
Grade School: St. Mary School
Current School: Illinois Wesleyan University
Current Major: English Literature and Psychology
Summer Internship: This summer I was a teaching assistant at Technos College, where I spent an unforgettable seven weeks living in Tokyo and helping English students practice conversations/interviews with a native speaker. I also did a lot of behind-the-scenes planning for the college’s annual cultural exchange event with 10 other sister universities from around the world.
Career aspirations: I’ve looked at a few different career options in the past two years, but right now I’m exploring the possibility of being an English professor. I’ve always had an interest in academia, and my experience at Technos College taught me the joys of working one-on-one with students to help them blossom.
Fenwick Achievements/Activities: Lawless Scholar, Illinois State Scholar, Girls Cross Country, Blackfriars Guild and Novel Writing Club co-founder.
Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you: A better question might be who didn’t inspire me, but one teacher I do think of on a regular basis is Mr. Arellano. Though his speech class was tough, the way he cared for each and every one of his students was readily apparent, and I still think of his encouraging feedback whenever I have to give a major presentation.
Fenwick class that had the most influence on you: My junior year AP Language and Composition class was pivotal in shaping me as a writer. That class pushed me to write critically about a wide range of fascinating, real-world topics, and I loved the freedom we were given to pursue our own interests. As I prepare to spend a year studying English as a visiting student at Oxford University, my heavily annotated APLAC textbook remains a valuable guide to this day.