While health restrictions made it a bit more challenging for clubs and activities to meet, many were still able to provide outstanding experiences for our students. Here are just a few examples:
Strategy and Video Gaming Club
In March 2020, the first COVID-19 related shutdown came two days before the club’s annual 24-hour gaming marathon to benefit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Though that was postponed at the moment, the club pivoted to a virtual marathon on Twitch, even including their counterparts from Merion Mercy Academy. The club continued to meet throughout the year, hosting online MarioKart competitions as well as maintaining the club’s years-long Dungeons and Dragons game.
“When the pandemic halted our in-person 24 Hour Gaming Marathon to raise money for CHOP days before, the gentlemen worked tirelessly to come up with a means for the club to continue to foster our community for and with others and to ensure that our annual charity marathon was held,” says Club Moderator Chris DeSimone. “Their bonds and efforts culminated in an all day Saturday virtual session in which current members, faculty, and alumni came together in an epic five hour Dungeons and Dragons session celebrating a story the club has been telling for over five years. I am inspired and honored every day to be able to moderate a group whose friendship is so strong that not even a pandemic will stop them from supporting so many.”
Cape and Sword Drama Society
At a time when most professional theatre was shelved and many schools chose Zoom shows, the Prep’s Director of Dramatics Tony Braithwaite ’89 wanted to give the students as close to a real stage experience as possible. Somehow, the group managed to produce two shows, “Make ’Em Laugh,” a history of comedy from Vaudeville to today, and “A Very Cape and Sword Virtual Musical Bonanza,” a series of scenes from various beloved Broadway productions. Using strict guidelines, Cape and Sword performed the shows on the Prep stage in front of cameras, which then were beamed to homes
“We quickly realized we couldn’t bring an audience in, and that left only virtual options,” says Braithwaite, in his 27th year as Director of Cape and Sword. “I desperately did not want to do a Zoom performance (having realized in various meetings that Zoom tends to be where comedy goes to die). That left us with only filming and streaming options; but there were rights and legal issues with filming any published script so we created our own show!”
The fall show was an original script written by Braithwaite about the history of comedy, and for the spring he curated a “best of” highlight show of fun and iconic musical numbers.
“There were even advantages: the students now have professionally filmed, edited and polished films of their performances (that they can use for college applications, etc),” says Braithwaite. “Plus alumni, friends and family from all over the country were able to watch the show from the comfort of their own homes. In fact, tickets are still on sale!”
An activity that usually features students in courtrooms, playing the part of lawyers and witnesses, was moved online. Despite the unusual circumstances, the Prep again had an outstanding year. Under the direction of Tom Johnson P ’01, the Prep reached the City Championship and finished in the top eight of the 233 teams that competed in the state tournament. The Prep lost in a split decision in the state quarterfinals to Abington Heights of Lackawanna County, who was the ultimate state champion and defeated the Prep by a split decision in the state quarterfinals.
All matches and all practices were on Zoom. “Every night some members of the team were logged into the mock trial zoom site working on their parts from their homes,” says Johnson, who announced that next season will be his last after 21 years at the Prep. “I was so proud of them.”
Speech and Debate
Another activity known for gathering together for large tournaments is Speech and Debate. In a normal year, the students would travel to tournaments around the country, many held at colleges such as Yale, Georgetown, Princeton, and Penn. Instead, many tournaments were shelved or moved online, including the prestigious state championship. Still, several Prep students had successful seasons, including James Bole ’22 winning the state championship for Student Congress House and Anthony Hays ’22 placing second overall in the state for Commentary. They were two of the six Prep students who qualified for the Pennsylvania High School Speech League State Tournament.
“This season of forensics was crazy, we needed to adapt to a completely new place to compete,” says Bole. “In the end, it was amazing to finish the season successfully!”
In a short time, the TMF Hawks, which is affiliated with the Travis Manion Foundation, has become one of the most popular clubs in the school. With its regular leadership academy plus dozens of speakers and other service opportunities, the TMF Hawks have a major impact on the life of our students.
In the Spring of 2020, when all instruction was virtual, the TMF Hawks leadership created a leadership seminar for all interested Prep students. This year, more than 20 speakers came in to provide reflections in issues such as integrity, moral courage, failure and resilience.
“I’m most proud of our TMF Hawks, who are eager, humble and on fire with a spirit to make each other and this school and our world a better place,” says Moderator Susie Cook. “As a teacher, I’m consistently inspired by my students, and this week absolutely embodied this fact that our young men are, as a united front, prepared, inspired, and open to growth in faith and love. This is the magis at work.”
WSJP Student Broadcasting Club
At first, WSJP seemed like a difficult activity to continue. After all, much of their broadcasting involved Prep sporting events. Last spring, with no sports to broadcast, the group shifted to new opportunities: a series of throwback broadcasts, several new radio shows, and meetings involving trivia and other sports conversations.
“I was unsure how it would go but the student leaders made sure that we continued on,” says Bill Avington ’90, moderator of WSJP. “In fact, they asked us to add a second weekly meeting because they wanted to be together.”
This past school year, WSJP was often the only conduit for parents and fans to follow Prep teams as fans were not allowed to many events. They also continued to evolve new programming and look forward to adding podcasting to their agenda.
Under the direction of Mrs. Courtney Pinto, the Cooking Club continued on during quarantine and remote learning. Students who were home were able to use their own kitchens while being led by Mrs. Pinto and student leaders in how to make family recipes. Also, local chefs were happy to join in and show the students how to make more difficult dishes.