Alumni raise over $340,000 in scholarships to honor gym teacher

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Alumni raise over $340,000 in scholarships to honor gym teacher

Students from St. Catherine-St. Lucy School in Oak Park play in the newly renovated gym on Nov. 28, 2022 during gym class. Alumni from St. Catherine-St. Lucy School who raised funds to renovate the gym in memory of deceased gym teacher Bob Driscoll have raised over $340,000 for scholarships for student athletes also in his memory. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Second-grader Laylah takes a spin on a scooter. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Students play in the gym. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Second-graders Josiah and Jahmir practice their balancing skills. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)
Second-grade student Lynell eyes the basket while practicing in the new gym. (Cyndy Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)

Coach Bob Driscoll was more than a gym teacher during the decade he taught at St. Catherine School, on the border of Oak Park and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.

Driscoll was a tough taskmaster, according to former students, but he cared about them. He cared enough to run intramural sports leagues for boys and girls in the 1960s, before Title IX, and to keep the gym open well beyond regular school hours.

It only made sense to name the gym after Coach Driscoll, and to establish a scholarship in his name at what is now St. Catherine-St. Lucy School, said John Ply, who credits Driscoll’s coaching with developing his athletic skills.

The gym was formally dedicated to Coach Driscoll, who died in 1993 at age 52 from pancreatic cancer, on Oct. 22. He taught and coached at St. Catherine from 1963 to 1973, before going on to coach basketball at St. Francis High School in Wheaton.

Ply went on to play basketball at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, paying most of his tuition by caddying, before he attended college on an Evans Scholarship.

Harry Walsh, Ply’s classmate, came up with the idea after learning about a partnership between Fenwick and St. Catherine’s that included Fenwick raising money to renovate the gym and Maguire Hall, the building that houses the gym, and an ongoing program in which Fenwick students tutor St. Catherine-St. Lucy students after school.

Walsh and Ply worked with St. Catherine-St. Lucy Director of Advancement Jennifer Courier to get the fund off the ground; it had about $340,000 by the end of November.

St. Catherine-St. Lucy Principal Sharon Leamy said the money — and any interest it earns — will help pay the tuition of student athletes at the school who demonstrate character, kindness and respect.

“Coach Driscoll had those qualities, and those qualities were very important to him and he wanted to develop those in the children he worked with,” Leamy said.

Nearly all of the school’s 185 students receive some form of financial aid, Leamy said, and about 85% come from the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago.

That’s where Walsh and Ply grew up as well; Ply is the son of a refugee who supported his family as a meat cutter and who worked a second job in a retail meat market. The family ate well because of his father’s jobs, Ply said, but money was scarce.

Since Fenwick invested in renovating Maguire Hall, including the gym, it has once again become a community hub, used not only by St. Catherine-St. Lucy students but also by Fenwick teams, who practice there several times a week, club basketball teams and community organizations, Leamy said.

Walsh said that Driscoll made the gym into a place where students could spend time, safe and off the streets.

“He had the gym open not only for the varsity teams but for all the kids a lot of hours,” he said. “It seems like you could just go to the gym any time and find something going on. … There’s a lot of good coaches and there’s a lot of guys who make a big difference for a small number of people. He made a big difference for a lot of people.”

Ply said Driscoll would have varsity basketball team members work with younger students in intramurals. Sixth graders would keep the scorebook and run the scoreboard, seventh graders would referee and eighth graders would coach.

Students at the gym on Saturday afternoons would be put to work setting up chairs for Mass, Ply said, and those who returned Sunday afternoon to take them down could use the gym when they were done.

“He kept us out of trouble and taught us to really work hard in everything we do,” said Ply, who credits that philosophy with helping him achieve success later in life. “We always thought of him as a coach, but he truly was a teacher and educator. He taught us how to work hard. He scared us enough that I wasn’t smoking and I wasn’t drinking. He wanted us to be on the right path.”


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