Thursday, November 7, 2013

Boys to Men: One High School’s 83-Year Mission

I did a double-take recently when I noticed a Washington Post report that San Francisco 49ers owner John York and the sons of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones – Stephen and Jerry Jr. – announced that they and an anonymous donor had pledged to donate nearly $10 million to an all-boys Arkansas parochial school from which York and the two Jones brothers had all graduated. What caught my eye was that it was my alma mater as well.

Little Rock’s Catholic High School for Boys was founded in 1930 and has since carried on a tradition of not only providing nationally recognized quality academics (every year, more than 97% of its graduates go on to a four-year university), but more importantly, guiding boys toward becoming men. York graduated from there in 1967 and the Joneses in 1983 and 1988, respectively (Jerry Jones’ son-in-law also graduated from Catholic High, in 1981). The NFL owner connection prompted current CHS principal Steve Straessle to say in an interview, “No other high school in the country can say that. We not only infuse boys with a great love of sports, but we also imbue them with the creativity and the drive not only to become athletes but to become team owners.”

Ten million dollars is an enormous endowment for a high school, even from the deep pockets of pro football team owners. It will go toward the modernization of the classrooms, an updated athletic field, and air conditioning (the latter must be a particularly welcome and long-overdue gift, because I remember sitting in sweltering Arkansas heat during the beginning and ending months of the school year).

What prompted such generosity? “This capital campaign will help ensure that the same quality education and experience I received will be passed down to more generations to come,” said the 49ers’ York. “Just being a part of the Catholic High history and tradition is an honor.” Jones said his family’s gift was a way to honor Monsignor George Tribou, who died in 2001 after 50 years at the school as a teacher, principal, and local legend.

Father Tribou’s name was synonymous in Arkansas with rigorous academic and moral standards for the students under his care. “He was a mentor to my sons and also to me, and his commitment to educating and disciplining young men had a wonderful impact on several generations,” said Jones. “His primary goals were always to build a better school while also building outstanding young men, and his legacy will be felt for as long as young men pass through these halls and feel his spirit.”

I can personally vouch for that. I graduated from CHS myself back in – let’s just say sometime between York and the Joneses, and I feel the influence of the school and Fr. Tribou even today. One of the great blessings of my life was getting into CHS; they had and still have a very selective screening process, and I wasn’t Catholic. But I think Fr. Tribou, in my entrance interview with him, saw something in me which he felt made me right for the school – or more honestly, made the school right for me.

Around the time I entered CHS, my parents divorced and I had no fatherly guidance. I was emotionally adrift and mentorless, until over time Fr. Tribou became the father figure I lacked, even after I graduated. He showed me and my fellow students the path to becoming not just men, but men of character: self-discipline, respect, humility, patriotism, responsibility, spirituality. Sure, boys will be boys, and I and others there got into our fair share of stupid mischief; but once we moved on from those halls, we carried Fr. Tribou’s transforming lessons with us into the world.

Ours is a time in which American educational performance is underwhelming on both a national and international level, and teen boys are morally adrift in a culture hostile to traditional notions of morality and masculinity. Parents, not schools, should raise children, but too often school environments undermine the work of good parents. Over the decades, Arkansas’ Catholic High School has anchored its sometimes troubled boys in a moral, spiritual, and academic education that turns out young men, husbands and fathers of exemplary character.

The 49ers’ York and the sons of the Cowboys’ Jones recognized what a valuable gift that was to them personally and is to America at large; hopefully their gift will help CHS set more boys, like I once was, on the right path for a long time to come.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/5/13)