The gym is more than a place for games. It is where young people learn to obey a set of rules, work as a team and be a good sport. That has always been the belief of Msgr. Leo McCarthy, former coach and mentor, and now namesake of the Baker Hall gym.
In a small ceremony on Nov. 13, Msgr. McCarthy cut the ribbon for the new Rev. Msgr. Leo F. McCarthy Gymnasium. The newly refurbished gym at Our Lady of Victory's Baker Hall School in Lackawanna has a new floor, bleachers, sound system, backboards and scoreboard. On one wall, above the school's bulldog mascot bares the quote, "I believe a classroom is where a young person learns how to make a living. The gym is where a young person learns how to live."
"In a Catholic school ... the most important room in the school is the chapel. The next is the gym," Msgr. McCarthy told a group of students, teachers and donors. "All the other rooms in the school teach you how to make a living, but I firmly believe that if you use the gym properly it's not just a waste of time, it's not a romper room for little kids, but here they teach you how to live."
He described the psychological, moral and social aspects of playing ball.
"There are goals and objectives every single time you play a game, and they're not dictated strictly by the scoreboard. ... There are rules and regulations you have to follow when you play in a game, and if you don't follow them, you suffer the consequences. You follow the rules, you reach the objective. ... (socially you learn) it's not about me, it's about we. It's not about I, it's about us. That's what's really important in life."
Over his nearly 60 years Msgr. McCarthy has seen firsthand the difference sports can make on a young person. For decades he ran athletic competitions and developmental clinics for the residents and community partners of Baker Victory Services. He spoke about Matt, a 15-year-old kid he knew a few years ago. As the tallest kid in the gym, he was told to play center on the basketball team. For some reason, he did not want to play the position. When the students played a scrimmage against the school staff, Matt did not have the motivation to really participate.
"He stood there in the middle of the floor and would not move at all. I don't know what inspired him, but all of a sudden he jumped and caught the ball. With that he had a different attitude. He played the summer league. He played a position he didn't want to play, center," Msgr. McCarthy said. "You know what? He was the best center in the whole league."
Every time Msgr. McCarthy stopped by the gym he would see Matt shooting baskets.
"He would stop what he was doing come over and shake my hand, and say, 'Thanks Father, thanks."
Msgr. McCarthy had a trophy made for Matt that he calls the ACE award for attitude, cooperation and effort. Sadly, they haven't been able to find him.
The gym has new floors and scoreboard, as well as a cool down room. The former stage has been closed off and turned into a private setting for sensory students to work through their emotions. Exercise bikes, therapy balls and balance beams are used to develop fine motors skills.
Baker Hall School is a private, non-profit institution, which transforms the lives of the regions most challenged and challenging students in a day and residential setting. The school's goal is to educate a community of students in an environment that encourages growth, social responsibility and hope for the future. These commitments are achieved through fostering a trauma sensitive environment, where students are provided structure, support and skills to manage emotions, not just in the classroom, but in all activities.
Our Lady of Victory and Baker Hall wish to thank the Adams Family Foundation, 24 Hour Door, Chadwick House Custom Drapes and Blinds, DeClerck Flooring, Fairway Floor Covering inc., Grodon & Zoerb Electrical Contractors, Hojack Park LLC, L.A. Woolley, LeHigh Construction, N. Choops Painting Inc., Schoolsin Scoreboard Services, Sherwin Williams and Varsity Scoreboards for their contributions. To secure funding for the project, Msgr. McCarthy solicited donations, requested in-kind gifts and services, and even selflessly contributed substantial funds from his personal finances.