(Update of an article that first appeared in the latest issue of IRISH magazine.)
Athletic department and student-athletes benefit from philanthropy, technology, hard work and devotion to mission.
On April 12, 2018, less than eight months after Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy first announced that it would renovate its softball and baseball fields, the school hosted a special dedication when students, athletes, alumni and school administration officials came together to celebrate the new facilities with a “Bless the Bats” ceremony.
The ceremony included a hospitality tent with food and refreshments, introductions of alumni, former coaches and administrators, remarks by school and athletic administrators, and a formal blessing of the new fields by Notre Dame Corporate President Fr. Leon Olszamowski, s.m.
The $1-million gift from an anonymous donor supported the installation of field turf on both diamonds along with an improved drainage system. New backstops were added as were new bullpens and batting cages. In addition, the softball dugouts were replaced and the baseball dugouts were upgraded. A permanent press box also is expected to be added at the baseball field.
“This unbelievably generous gift to Notre Dame and its athletic department ensures that our softball and baseball complex will provide the best possible environment for our student-athlete ballplayers,” Betty Wroubel, Notre Dame’s athletic director, assistant principal and head softball and volleyball coach, said when the renovations were first announced. “Coupled with the recent upgrades to our stadium, we believe we have one of the finest high school athletic facilities in southeast Michigan.“
As spring sports now are wrapping up, the athletic department of Notre Dame was again looking forward to finishing another great school year of sports for the Fighting Irish. The department can look back at a year full of accolades and accomplishments that to date include a team state championship in girls ski and individual state championships for Danielle Staskowski in girls golf and Rhianna Hensler in girls swimming, plus Miss Volleyball honors for Maddy Chinn, who helped her team finish this latest season as the state runner-up.
In January, Wroubel was recognized as the national volleyball coach of the year for 2017-18 by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association, one of only 23 high school coaches nationwide and the only volleyball coach to earn such an honor from NFHS. And in March, Pat Fox, the school’s head football coach, was named to the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. Additionally, cheer coach Beth Campbell was named CCCAM regional coach of the year and ski coach Craig McLeod was named MHSSCA regional and state coach of the year.
Many options for participation
The 2018-19 school sports season at NDPMA likely will rank as one for the ages as its athletic department continues to manage one of the busiest school programs in the state.
“The only official MHSAA sport we don’t offer is gymnastics,” said Aaron Crouse, Notre Dame’s assistant athletic director and head hockey coach. “Plus, we offer equestrian, figure skating and dance as non-MHSAA sports. We’re pretty much maxed out. In fact, I believe we offer more than some of the other independent schools in the area, including many of the larger schools.”
Adding up some facts published recently by the department, for the last full year of athletic activities compiled by NDPMA (2017-18), the school oversaw almost 1,000 contests, 318 at home, 680 away.
“This year, when we finally add it all up it definitely will be more than a thousand,” said Maureen Radulski, the school’s other assistant athletic director and coach of 5th/6th grade girls basketball. “And again we will have hosted between 300 and 400 contests, including MHSAA games.”
The last full year of statistics compiled by the athletic department listed even more eye-popping numbers, including that more than 900 student-athletes and 157 coaches participated on 79 teams during the 2017-18 fall, winter and spring seasons. The department also managed nearly 400 kids during last summer’s athletic camps program.
Keeping everything on track in an athletic program as complex as Notre Dame’s requires nearly 24/7 dedication by its staff, which, in addition to Wroubel, Radulski and Crouse, includes Sue Emerick, the department’s administrative assistant; strength and conditioning coach Jake Siebert; athletic trainer Chris Polsinelli; and game manager Duane Holmes.
In addition to their NDPMA responsibilities, the department is very involved in professional development on both the learning and teaching side. Wroubel, Radulski and Crouse have presented at and presided over the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) conference, and Radulski and Wroubel have taught classes and presented at the MHSAA Women in Sports conference. And all three have served on numerous committees for both the MHSAA and MIAAA.
Even though they manage one of the largest non-university sports programs in the state, the three NDPMA athletic administrators were able to slow down enough to reflect on what makes them proud of their school and its sports program, as well as what they might see as any challenges.
“I am proud of the fact that our school mission is always 100-percent uppermost in our minds when we are making decisions — any decisions — that involve our student-athletes and our coaches,” said Radulski, who helps campus ministry and Fr. Ron Nikodem, s.m., in promoting the school’s SportsLeader program, which works with the NDPMA coaching staff to incorporate methods and curriculum based on the program’s four pillars: virtue, mentoring, ceremony and Catholic identity.
She also said she’s proud of the consistent engagement with the coaches on an almost daily basis.
“With 50 to 60 coaches every season, the personal connections that we try to make with them, and how we constantly stress that all we do must revolve around the mission, is critical,” she said. “The professionalism, the connections, the mentoring, the classes and professional development we offer is second to none, I believe. I am just super-proud of our coaches and how they relate to the kids.”
“I’m very happy the school has been able to fund the many coaches development sessions they attend each year,” she said. “All of our varsity head coaches are mandated to take classes in CPR and AED, and they have to take one CAP (Coaches Advancement Program) class put on by the MHSAA. Many have taken even more than what’s mandated. Like Maureen, I also am proud that our coaches go above and beyond to make sure they are doing right by our kids.”
Challenges bring opportunities
The high-flying athletic program at Notre Dame is not without a few challenges, though, and Wroubel, who’s also presided over national conferences of athletic directors, quickly gets to the heart of one of them.
“The benefits of multi-sport participation are well known,” she said. “And we always are encouraging our students to try to play a sport in at least two of the three seasons we host at Notre Dame. But many of our kids decide to specialize in only one sport, which sometimes drives overall athletics participation at the school down. I also know that we hardly are alone in dealing with this issue, as I hear it from many of my colleagues all over the state.”
Crouse agrees, and added that the rise of club and travel sports combined with the constantly changing rules and regulations of the MHSAA also is impacting Notre Dame’s program.
“The kids are being forced to make choices, which means that maybe a student-athlete who could be a two- or three-sport athlete at our school instead has a private trainer or plays for a club in an effort to get a college scholarship,” he said. “If you’re a private trainer or coach, your income is derived from getting these kids into your fold. So we have competing forces with us at school on the one hand talking up educational athletics and the benefits of playing multiple sports and playing with your friends versus those outside for-profit entities that are pushing the kids in a different direction. I think that’s a big part of why we’re seeing overall participation in our teams and in teams from many other schools around the country trending a bit downward.”
“I’m especially proud of what we’ve done with our facilities that I believe will continue to pay dividends for us,” he said. “Since I came here five years ago, we pretty much upgraded everything, including the turf and structural upgrades to our football, baseball and softball facilities. Also, we do a lot of things on a regular basis that other schools simply do not do, period. For sure, it’s a big process to put all these construction projects together, but it’s worth it. I will put up our great facilities against most any school in the area.”
Crouse also touted the school's new unique technology installed recently to broadcast games in NDPMA’s main gymnasium and stadium on the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s (MHSAA) NFHS Network.
“The games are broadcast using a Pixellot camera system mounted in the school’s main gymnasium and at Kozyra Alumni Field,” Crouse said. “We’re able to live-stream games on the NFHS network without any manpower. This system uses computer-vision technology to seamlessly follow the actions and capture and produce games without the need for a video crew. Game footage is automatically streamed to the portal, where it can be watched live or on demand.”
He said the system’s software tracks the action, pans and zooms, and automatically captures audio from the gym or field, and even puts the score on the screen.
“This Pixellot system’s hardware and software were funded through the NDPMA Booster Club, and installation has been generously donated by a school parent,” Crouse said. “It’s expected to be fully operational before we open the upcoming fall sport season. We’re very excited about this, as we are one of only a few schools in the area with this cool, new technology.”
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About Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years (Niche.com). Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org