By Tony George
In 1958, Father Maurice Gillespie, along with a group of Friars, left Chicago and headed to Anaheim, California, to establish an all-male Catholic high school. It was there; just four miles north of Disneyland, the Order Friar Servants of Mary—or the Servites—started Servite High School.
From its humble beginnings, borrowing classrooms at St. Philip Benizi Elementary School and using windowless storage rooms for administrative offices, Servite has grown into one of southern California’s major Catholic schools—with a powerhouse athletics program.
Servite High School is participating in this year’s Wild West Shootout for the first time. Along with Head Coach John Morris, two other coaches at the Shootout have ties to Servite: Bishop Manogue Head Coach Brent McConaghy and Incline High School’s Head Coach Tim Kelly.
Coach McConaghy attended Servite as a high school student, playing both basketball and football. He was supposed to attend Los Alamitos, a public school, McConaghy said, but was put into Servite a week before school started.
McConaghy said he experienced significant change while attending the school.
“At Servite the need to be independent with regards to the amount of work and the complete schedules when athletics are brought into the fold is exceptional,” McConaghy said. “On most days, students are at school at 7:00 a.m. and are heading home at roughly 7:00 p.m. on most nights.”
Current Servite Head Coach John Morris, also a Servite alumnus, believes the school’s approach to education is holistic. It focuses on the whole person; the academic, the social, the physical and the spiritual.
“Servite shaped me into who I am today,” Morris said. And, in return, Morris wants to give back to his community, helping kids to be better off when they get out than when they came in.
Athletics, Morris said, help high school kids prepare for life after school. It puts them in adverse situations but maintains a safe environment for them to learn how to negotiate difficulty.
Morris has much respect for his predecessor, Tim Kelly, calling him “a great man. A faith-based man,” whom Morris “learned a lot of lessons from.”
Kelly served as Servite’s head basketball coach for four seasons. However he resigned after his fourth season to become the school’s campus minister. Eventually he returned to his hometown, Incline Village, Nevada, to serve as a youth minister at St. Francis, the parish where he was raised.
When he got the position of Head Coach for Incline Village High School’s basketball team, it was just the “cherry on top,” Kelly said.
Kelly believes that the key to Servite’s success is about more than talent. It is about faith. That faith, Kelly said, is about players believing in each other and their coach. It also means the coach having faith in his players.
And it is this version of faith that Kelly believes is the most important thing that he brings to Incline. This makes high school athletics about more than physical fitness or scoring the winning point.
“Sports teach adolescents the ideal of something more important than themselves,” Kelly said.
“The new business and educational culture of the United States is creating a system where collaboration and teamwork is essential for gaining employment in the future,” McConaghy said. “Playing high school sports, especially team sports, begins to teach people how to effectively cooperate and work with people.”
From its humble beginnings, Servite has grown from a small collection of Friars to a large campus dedicated to cultivating young men with academic, physical, social and spiritual virtue. Those early supporters of the school had faith in the power of a school to help shape adolescents growing to maturity. It has also produced coaches who have gone on to train youth, both in the private and public educational sectors.
Like Jesus’ famous illustration of the mustard seed at Luke 13:19, Servite, as a small seed, was planted in the fertile soil of southern California, and, over the decades, has grown into a great tree. Just as birds perched on that figurative tree, so many young men go to Servite, growing into adults ready to contribute to a better world.