“I got a bloody nose!” laughed current parent Edith Napoleon with bemused delight. “I was playing defense and the ball hit me right in the face! This was my first time playing a game. I didn’t play sports growing up – I didn’t realize how fun it was!”
The morning dawned sunny and clear, but at a shocking-for-Houston temperature of just above freezing. “Our athletics are a testament to the dedication of our parents,” said co-organizer Rachel Marino (with Larissa LaMatta and Carmen Baizan) to the assembly of current and alumni families gathered in the school gym. “It’s 20 degrees! I’m told it’s the coldest day in four years! Thanks so much for coming!”
155 people attended St. Catherine’s Alumni Soccer match last Saturday – a huge testament to that dedication. The hardiest soccer players stripped down to leggings and jerseys while the less limber (but no less enthused!) players donned team colors over winter coats. Swaddled and muffled in wool and fleece, fingers wrapped around steaming cups of coffee and hot chocolate, spectators formed a cheer section under the “St. Catherine’s Montessori Athletics” canopy tent. Whoops and yells, laughter and cheers floated out as the green team battled the yellow team up and down the soccer field.
Alumni parent Eric Rodriguez went toe to toe with current varsity soccer player Jake Crath, while alumni students Noah Penny, Justin Rodriguez and Luke Lozano showed off their best moves. Younger students played a concurrent game but often wandered in between the parent/alumni players who also included several first-time or inexperienced mothers and fathers.
The scrum was hard to make out to a late-coming observer. “It became one-sided,” laughed Coach Ashcroft, “let’s jut say the green team won.” But which was which? What was the score? Who played on what team? No one knew or cared – none of that was the point.
“Sports began at St. Catherine’s in 2005,” said Rachel Marino. “We had 24 families play primary soccer. The way I know most of the people in this room is through primary soccer. I made most of my friends on the field! We picked soccer because it’s something easily organized, taught, and can accommodate big or small groups.
It was very Montessori – they can wander around, observe, eventually they get into it.”
Rachel and Greg Marino formed the SCM Booster Club to fund SCM athletics the year before the school moved to the current Timberside campus. “We needed to be sustainable,” explained Rachel Marino, “We did steps4 students, sold granola, did whatever we could to raise money.”
“I bought Rachel’s granola packets to feed the faculty at meetings!” laughed former Head of School Judy McCullough, also in attendance. “But acquiring these acres [at the Timberside location] is what really allowed a whole sports team. There wasn’t enough space at the Castle [the school’s former Westridge location in an old armory museum].”
Around noon, the games wound down and a hungry horde trooped inside the gym to be greeting by the savory aroma of brisket and sausage from Pappas Bar-B-Q, not to mention slaws and sides and a whole table of Marino’s spectacular homemade cookies, Rice Krispy Treats (10 batches baked in an hour!), bundt cakes, and gorgeous strawberry shortcakes.
“Rachel and Larissa did a great job,” said current parent Victoria Mata. “Sports are part of this community and the sports program helps bring us as a community together. The way older kids mentor the younger kids here…it’s a wonderful environment for them, competitive but not cutthroat competitive. It’s build-you-up competitive! You can play in clubs but it’s not the same thing as playing for your school, representing your school.”
Alumni Justin Rodriguez concurred. “I was part of the those,” he said, pointing to the championship banners hanging in gym, “School soccer is more fun.” Justin attended SCM from 1st to 8th grade, and went on to play soccer at Emery and Texas A&M. “I know everyone here,” he continued gesturing towards Noah and Leo Penny and Luke Lozano, all right beside him, “I was just hanging out with all these guys last night. No one was keeping score [outside].”
“What?! I made some brilliant defensive stops!” laughed alumni Noah Penny.
“I spent a lot of time with Nico Chavez (also at UT). Our class has stuck together well. We all played on our high school teams.”
“Yeah, it was like a reunion,” said Luke Lozano, currently a senior at Strake Jesuit. “Nice to see every one again, especially since some of us are off at college now. Good to see coaches get involved [in the game] outside too.”
At least 14 alumni families attended, some with both alumni and current students. Falling into the latter category were the Deavers, a family with five children at St. Catherine’s from the 90s to the present.
“We observed!” said 90s alumnus Frances Deavers. “It looked like everyone was having fun and it was a pretty day for it. I’ve been talking to parents, old staff members, teachers who are still here. Met some of the new teachers. It’s nice to catch up and see how everyone’s doing.“
“The athletic program here has really developed,” observed dad Mike Deavers. “There are lots of big changes. But it’s always had a good impact on the kids. I remember when they introduced track, and track events. One of our boys learned to throw discus here, then went on to throwing events at St. Thomas and now does the hammer throw at Texas A&M.”
Off to one side of the gym, impromptu volleyball games had sprung up as the varsity championship girl’s team volleyed and spiked a few balls around. Pickup basketball games were also in action and dozens of children scampered around. Somehow amidst the ruckus, as balls of various sizes whizzed by, no one was hurt, not even a toddler cried.
Current parent David Spencer was heading for the basketball court. “I came here to mix it up with old friends. I’ve known most for ten years and we’ve grown up together. It’s a warm group of people, like extended family.”
Alumni parent Melody Rodriguez echoed the sentiment: “It’s so nice to visit with friends and see how their kids are doing – the young ones and those who have graduated. This is a special place. Magical. We feel very blessed.”