February 3rd, 2011

Elementary Excellence: John Paul II Acad.

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Elementary Excellence: John Paul II Acad.
photo from John Paul II Academy

Five years after merger, school looking for identity

The following feature is a part of a LouisvilleCatholicSports.com series called "Elementary Excellence" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic elementary schools and its athletic programs, teams, traditions and excellence in all aspects of sports. Do you want your school to be featured? Send us your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

When St. Barnabas, St. Bartholomew and St. Pius X Elementary Schools merged together to form John Paul II Aacademy in 2006, general observers assumed that the alliance of this trio might quickly form a prominent athletic force in the Louisville area.

Five years later, however, John Paul Academy (or John-Paul-Two-A as it is affectionately known by its members) continues to work in establishing its identity on several fronts, including that of the sports-oriented community.

Heading up that effort - the person who has been integral in putting a plan into action and leading the JPIIA Titans' charge - is boosters chairman Chad Berger.

"There are going to be growing pains for any school that goes through a merger," said Berger. "But we're still working to get through those and improve in all areas."

Berger, who joined the booster club last April and took the chair position just four months later in July, has seen the club's membership triple since coming onto the scene and is continuing to rally the troops in search of more members. Because for Berger and John-Paul-Two-A, success will come by numbers, as in the number of parents and volunteers who contribute their energy and time.

"We can never have enough help," said Berger. "The young parents and volunteers have been great, but we are always looking for more people and people to become booster club members."

The John Paul II Academy booster club works with athletic directors Don Donoho (boys AD) and John Frank (girls AD) , along with JPIIA Principal Lynn Wilt, to organize practice times and locations, raise money for facilities and programs, and provide manpower to help the Barnabas, Bartholomew and Pius parishes work games and events.

Berger says that raising funds is most important to him and the group because it keeps the athletic participation fee lower for families, allowing more students to be active in sports. The boosters are also advocates of "academics before athletics," as the club works with coaches to keep weeknight practices from going too long.

"We want any student who is interested in sports to have every opportunity to participate," said Berger. "But education does come first and we always want to promote school and academics before sports. The reality is that only a handful of these kids will go on to play competitively after they leave here, so we want them to have fun and do well in school."

One of the most significant facility upgrades on the horizon for John Paul II Academy is the resurfacing of the school's track. JPIIA, which is housed on the former campus of St. Paul X on Goldsmith Lane, plans to fund the project with money that has been set aside for such improvements.

Additional funds for other projects are raised through the Titans' biggest fundraiser of the year - the John Paul II Academy Basketball Christmas Tournament. This past year, Berger says that the event had nearly 60 teams sign up, making it one of the largest ever in the city on the elementary level.

John Paul II is also promoting February's "A Taste of John Paul and Comedy Too!" - a night of food and funny from Louisville's Comedy Caravan. The proceeds from the night will be split evenly between the boosters and the school's Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).

Berger has also made it a priority of the booster club that its efforts go to help the PTO when possible. And that relationship between the two sides should be a smooth one in the near future, as Chad Berger's wife, Lauren, is the JPIIA PTO chair-elect.

As far as the actual participating teams, John Paul II Academy fields a team for all boys and girls, CSAA-sanctioned sports. Berger says that JPIIA has not won a team championship since the merger of the schools in 2006, but they've been close. Last year's 5th & 6th grade "A" team was runner-up in the city championship, and the 7th & 8th grade volleyball team also finished in second place.

One of the best aspects of combining three schools into one, where athletics are concerned, is that the John Paul II Academy teams have the use of the fields and gymnasiums on all three former campuses. The booster club works with those parishes to set-up practices at each of them, allowing players and coaches to spread out and have more options in terms of scheduling.

Berger, whose father-in-law (Steve Erie) was on the St. Pius X boosters for 20 years, currently is an IBW union electrician full-time and has a second grader at John Paul II Academy. He also has two other young children who he anticipates will be Titans one day.

Berger attended St. Stephen Martyr before graduating from Holy Family. He then went on to attend and graduate from DeSales High School. His wife - the aforementioned Lauren Berger - graduated from a trifecta of Catholic schools in Louisville, including St. Pius X Elementary School, Mercy Academy and Bellarmine University.

Looking down the road, Berger has many goals and ambitions for the school and its correlating athletic program, but his main vision centers around health awareness and creating a summer program that keeps kids active.

"These days, kids are likely to sit inside, playing their Xbox and doing things indoors," said Berger. "I'd like to be able to come up with summer athletic program to get them outside, stay active and stay healthy. It doesn't necessarily have to mean playing a specific sport, but really more about health awareness."

Under Berger's leadership, the John Paul II Academy athletic programs certainly seem to be headed in the right direction, which will undoubtedly continue to assist the Titan community in finding its rightful identity and continuing to get past the merger growing pains, thriving for years to come.

For more information on the "Taste of John Paul and Comedy Too!," viewers can contact Julie Wiegel at (502) 495-2038 or Stacy Stivers at stacystivers@att.net. The event will be held at St. Pius X on Saturday, Feb. 26, with doors opening at 5:30pm.


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