Over 7,000 AOPS student athletes. 16 teams in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association semifinals, representing 7 AOPS schools. And a staggering total of 10 state championships.
The numbers don’t lie: the 2016-2017 season marked many major wins by AOPS high school student athletes. We feel incredibly blessed to have so many talented students, dedicated coaches, and supportive administrations that made each success possible.
But for me, the season’s biggest highlights weren’t the physical achievements. The real successes had little to do with competitions at all.
Instead, they often took place in the quiet, away from the cameras and crowds. They happened in classrooms, homeless shelters, and schools for at-risk youth, where students were able to build up their peers, their communities, and themselves.
At AOPS, our vision is not just to develop strong students and strong athletes. We aim to develop outstanding people. Our hope is that our athletic programs will not only equip our students physically, but also academically and spiritually.
That’s why, in December, the boys’ basketball program of West Catholic High School gathered early on a cold Saturday morning at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission. They cleaned the sleeping areas of the facility and served hot breakfast to those in need.
It’s why, in January, the Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast baseball team participated in a mentoring and advising program at the Liguori Academy. The student athletes met with at-risk youth to share stories and encouragements.
And it’s why, in April, the Father Judge High School basketball team participated in a wheelchair basketball game against Widener Memorial School’s varsity team. It was the fourth consecutive year the teams played — and for the record, Widener Memorial posted a 55-52 victory.
In addition to serving their communities, AOPS high school student athletes found new ways to serve one another. The AOPS Student-Athlete Advisory Council was created at the beginning of the school year specifically to serve the needs of students participating in athletics. The 38 representatives held meaningful discussions concerning hazing, bullying, sportsmanship, and time management.
That last topic is particularly important at AOPS, where we believe that as wonderful as athletic scholarships and collegiate athletics can be, they should never take precedence over education.
Instead, athletics should be a means to enhance all aspects of our students by promoting lifelong wellness, personally and communally.
That’s why I am most impressed by our student athletes’ achievements in their communities and in their classrooms. I am truly proud that more than 1,900 of our student athletes who participated in fall or winter sports this past season also earned academic honors.
The fact is, the vast majority of AOPS student athletes will not continue playing sports in college. But they will have learned valuable lessons in leadership, self-confidence, and teamwork. And they will have gained lifelong connections to their schools, forging friendships that will continue long after graduation.
These accomplishments may not get displayed on flashy headlines or gymnasium banners. However, they are truly worthy of our full gratitude and celebration.
Stephen Haug is the Executive Director of Athletics at AOPS.