DeMatha is much more than an ‘athletic powerhouse’

Markelle Fultz's selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft brought a tremendous amount of publicity to DeMatha Catholic HIgh School.

BY CHRIS MCMANES — DeMatha High graduate Markelle Fultz’s selection as the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft brought the Hyattsville school a treasure trove of free publicity. Nearly every major radio and TV network, as well as online and print media, identified Fultz with the school he attended from 2012-16.

So, all that visibility is a good thing, right? Not necessarily.

“We say it’s our cross and our crown,” DeMatha President Father James Day said. “It’s our cross because all people think is that we are an athletic powerhouse, and we are much more than that. It’s our crown because people know the name. We don’t have to explain what DeMatha stands for.”

DeMatha’s 13-sport athletics program is one of the finest in the nation. Sports Illustrated twice recognized (2005, 2007) it as No. 2 nationally. The Stags have won more than 200 league championships since 1957. Students routinely receive athletic scholarships to play in college.

DeMatha has two members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Adrian Dantley and former football and basketball coach Morgan Wootten). It has graduates playing professional football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse and baseball. When Fultz suits up for the Philadelphia 76ers, he will be one of five former Stags playing in the NBA.

St. John DeMatha Catholic High School, founded in 1946, has an enrollment of about 850 boys. Its educational goal is to produce “faith-filled gentlemen and scholars.” It offers each student the opportunity to grow in “faith, community and service,” while challenging them to excel in “academics, arts and athletics.”

“The students are surrounded by those pillars,” Day said, “and we do our best to make sure that they embrace every one of those aspects of high school life.”

Tommy Paolucci, DeMatha director of admissions, is a former Stags player and assistant coach. When he goes on recruiting visits, he spends little time discussing athletics. He talks more about his alma mater producing National Merit Scholar finalists and twice being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence (1983-84, 1990-91).

“If you look beyond our athletic success, you’ll see that there’s so much more,” Paolucci said. “We have countless teachers who have been recognized locally and nationally. We have double-digit alums who are priests or studying to become priests.”

Paolucci also enjoys talking about DeMatha’s award-winning music program. Its performers consistently receive superior ratings at music festivals throughout North America and have won more than 40 gold medals.

“Just over 40 percent of our students participate in the music program,” he said. “We have five full-time music teachers in 14 different [musical] groups.”

Seventy-two percent of DeMatha’s students compete in freshman, JV and varsity sports. Many athletes also participate in music.

Day likes to tell the story of the time the Voices of DeMatha chorus was preparing to perform the national anthem prior to a big football game. A student-athlete, dressed in his full football uniform, marched out with the singers.

“It was a marvelous visual of the fact that guys are in and out of all kinds of subgroups at DeMatha,” Day said.

Paolucci said that at the spring 2017 academic awards night, more than 80 percent of the honorees were athletes.

“They’re really doing well academically,” he said. “You can do both here.”

The football team, which has won the past four Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships, will open the season in Las Vegas on Aug. 25. ESPN will carry the game live. Three members of last year’s team are at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

DeMatha would be doing a disservice to its athletes if all it did was care about their ability to win games. Physical skills are the first to decline. Thinking abilities last much longer. Spiritual development is a lifelong pursuit.

“Athletics helps with our students’ identity. It helps them feel that they’re being successful,” Day said. “But I want to be sure that no one is sequestered into one area.”

Day is proud that one-third of the faculty are DeMatha grads. When he gives a tour of campus, he likes to show people the display, “True to the Mission.” This group of photos honors those who have served the school for at least 20 years.

“Any success that we have has to be connected to the commitment and dedication of our faculty, staff and coaches,” he said. “They are priceless.”

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is a member of the DeMatha Alumni Association and an assistant baseball coach.