A Tradition of Victory
How the educational model at Archbishop Carroll High School incorporates dynamic athletic programs as a part of a winning formula
by Phil Gianficaro

As the president of Archbishop John Carroll High School, a college-preparatory Catholic school in Radnor, Frank Fox has a contagious passion for attracting top students to the school’s vastly improved academic program. He is quick to point out, however, that top academics are not enough.

“The arts and athletic programs are the front porch to our school,” he says. “Without top programs, coaches and mentors, it doesn’t work.”

This is precisely why Archbishop Carroll seeks out only the finest coaches available for each sport.

“In the last two years,” he adds, “we have hired eight new varsity coaches, added six freshman and junior varsity teams and started fencing and rugby programs.”

As an example, Dan Connor will begin his first year as head football coach at Archbishop Carroll this fall. As a former National Football League standout, Connor will bring plenty of football knowledge to Archbishop Carroll.

At Strath Haven High School, Connor was an All-American linebacker and one of the top players in the country. At Penn State, he earned All-American honors as a junior and senior. Even now, eight years after playing his final game for the Nittany Lions, he’s still the program’s career leader in tackles with 419. 

Connor will bring to the school something even more valuable than his gridiron experience: the “Code of the Patriot,” as he calls it.

“I have a lot of academic and character goals I have set for the players,” says Connor, 30, who was hired by Archbishop Carroll in January. “There are about 10 different attributes I want every Carroll football player to have, such as being good in the community, good students, hard workers, be a good teammate, be on time, be accountable. These are things that will help them become better people outside football. It’s more about being a well-rounded person, not just a good football player.”

Connor’s philosophy has proven to be a hand-in-glove fit with the “athletics as a second classroom” ideology that has been a staple of an Archbishop Carroll education since the school’s founding in 1967. Although athletic success is encouraged and celebrated at the 1,100-student school, coaches are expected to shape their players in ways beyond well-conceived game plans designed to light up the scoreboard; they are also expected to mold their players emotionally and establish a strong foundation for them to build upon long after their athletic careers have come to an end.

Fellow Archbishop Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk shares Connor’s vision. Now in his 14th season as the school’s boys varsity basketball coach, Romanczuk has guided the Patriots to three berths in the PIAA Class AAA state championship game, winning the crown in 2009—the first year Catholic League schools became eligible to compete for a PIAA state title.

Winning is important, according to Romanczuk, but it’s only part of the equation. The 1995 Archbishop Carroll graduate believes if the most important thing his players take from the school after graduation is a trophy, medal or some other physical token of their athletic triumphs, he will have failed in his quest to develop them as people.

“I want my players to achieve in the classroom,” he says. “I even set a goal for them, for half of the team to be on the honor roll every semester. That’s the goal we lay out from the beginning.”

Romanczuk admits he is very demanding and tough on his players, holding them accountable and to high standards.

“There’s no other way to be,” he says. “I want them to get the best out of themselves; I have to do all I can to make them better on and off the court.”

A well-developed school athletic program is one in which coaches instill in their players the desire to achieve beyond athletics. At Archbishop Carroll, the only thing Romanczuk’s players need to do is look at their head coach as Exhibit A.

Romanczuk was not only a star basketball player at Archbishop Carroll but also an excellent student. He took both his athletic and academic successes to the University of Pennsylvania, where he scored 1,179 points and graduated from Penn’s prestigious The Wharton School, the nation’s first school of business.

Romanczuk’s story underscores for his players that life’s most important game happens away from the hard court.

“I think what we’re dealing with are high school kids who we as coaches can make a big impact on their lives,” Romanczuk says. “Something beyond athletics. Something as simple as stressing being on time for practice, being 15 minutes early. Hopefully, that’s a lesson they can carry with them when they get a job in life. … These are life lessons, and I take them as the biggest part of my job. To take a ninth-grade basketball player and prepare him in some way to get to college and in life.”

Likewise, Lorraine Beers takes a similar approach to interacting with her players. Now in her 17th year at Archbishop Carroll, Beers has led the girls’ lacrosse team to 15 consecutive Philadelphia Catholic League championships. While that achievement in itself is noteworthy, so, too, is the fact that her players have been named to the National Honor Society, achieved Academic All-American status by U.S. Lacrosse, and attended NCAA Division I colleges and universities, including the U.S. Naval Academy.

“We’re not running a study hall as coaches, but all the things we teach them transfer to academics,” Beers says. “We do things as coaches … that will help the girls go on and follow their dreams after high school.”

Coach Connor tells the story of how he wasn’t always a success. He recalls being a bit of a “wild kid” in high school, and not a very good student. Then a coach pulled him aside and reminded him that if he didn’t improve his grades, he wouldn’t get into a college and wouldn’t be able to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.

“That’s when something inside me clicked,” Connor says. “I knew I had to focus to realize my dream, and I did. Once it clicked for me, that was it. That’s something I can draw upon and teach to my players—that football is great, but life is about more than football. That’s my philosophy.

“As a high school coach, it’s more about teaching a lot of virtues,” he continues. “I will teach them teamwork, how to perform under pressure, how to overcome failure, how to function when things are going well. Those are lessons for life, not just football. That’s what most important to me.”

Archbishop John Carroll High School
211 Matsonford Road
Radnor, PA 19087

Photograph by Jody Robinson