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.
Continue reading “25 Years of Friars Playing Water Polo ‘Down Under’”

Students-Turned-Teachers Help to Advance the Friars’ Mission

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

By Mark Vruno

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.

Alex Holmberg ’05

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Kevin Roche ’05

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Liliek ’08

Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:

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Fenwick Athletes Find Success at the American Water Polo National State Challenge

It was a productive summer showing for polo-playing Friars in the pool!

By Kyle Perry ’01, Head Boys’ Varsity Water Polo Coach

For the second year in a row, the American Water Polo National State Challenge, July 12, 13, 14, and 15, was held at Fenwick High School’s state-of-the-art Dan O’Brien Natatorium.  “We were excited to return to Chicago for the 2018 National State Challenge,” stated AWP Director of Membership Damon Newman. “Last year’s tournament was a success with many competitive games played.  We are looking forward to the potential participation of teams from throughout the country.”  Teams from Illinois, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee all participated in the high school boys and high school girls tournament.

Paulina Correa ’19

On the girls’ side, the Windy City Water Polo team consisted of returning members of the Fenwick girls’ water polo team, which finished 2nd in the IHSA State Tournament last spring.  After the first four games, the team entered their championship game undefeated.  The team had outscored opponents 68 to 25 in the first four games with wins over Chicago Water Polo Club 24-7, Pittsburgh AQ 15-9, Red Hawks 12-3 and NIPC 17-6.  The championship game saw a back and forth battle between Greenwich AQ and Windy City.  Though Windy City jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, Greenwich AQ was able to get two more goals before the end of the first quarter.  The second and third quarter were much the same, ending in a 4-4 tie and then 7-7.

After five minutes of scoreless action in the 4th, Greenwich AQ found the back of the net to go up 8-7.  Two Windy City goals in the final minute of play sealed the deal and gave the 2018 National State Challenge Championship to Windy City.  The 2018 National State Challenge Champions, all returning Fenwick student athletes, were Paulina Correa, Kassy Rodriguez, Harper Daniels, Xonhane Medina, Alyssa Sayatovic, Payton Nefur, Jorie Silvis, Sam Rodriguez, Cici Jenkins, Tegwyn Hollenbach, Ellie Kaiser and Caroline Doyle.

Dan Lynch ’19

On the boys’ side, Fenwick boys found themselves on opposite teams fighting for the championship.  Windy City Water Polo, which consisted of many Fenwick student-athletes, managed its way to the championship game with victories over LAW 12-11, Cincinnati Marlines 18-6, Vulture 15-10 and Chicago Parks Green 15-6.  The Vulture win in the semi-finals was particularly satisfying as Vulture won that semi-final game last year at the National State Challenge 6-3.  Vulture, a team made up of mainly athletes from Naperville Central also bested the Fenwick team the last two years in the state tournament, including last spring’s IHSA Championship Game.  Both schools will likely be in competition for a state championship in 2019!

The Chicago Park District team also went undefeated heading into the championship game.  In the final game, the Windy City boys had many chances but could not capitalize on the numerous exclusion fouls called on the Chicago Park District.  Going two for 18 on the power play hurt the team’s chances of hoisting the championship trophy.  At the end of one, Windy City trailed 2-1.  This lead grew for the Chicago Park District, which was led by Friars Ivan Soto ’18, Ramses Flores ’19, and Alejandro Perez ’18 to 5-1 at halftime.  Each team scored twice in third period.

Chicago Park District stretched the lead to 9-4.  Two final goals by Windy City ended the game 9-6.  Windy City was led by Fenwick’s Payton Comstock ’19, Dan Lynch ’19, Nate Fisher ’19, Alex Figus ’19, Chris Magyla ’19, Manny Ruiz ’19, Jack Nettleton ’20, Dan Bajda ’20, Diego Sahagun ’20, Brian Moore ’21, Wil Gurksi ’21, Pete Buinauskas ’21, and Caden Giesdorf ’21.  Comstock was named to the All-Tournament Team.

In addition to a 2nd-place finish in the American Water Polo National State Championship, the largely Fenwick-based Windy City Water Polo club went 10-0 in the high school boys’ summer league.