The first home football game dispelled any lingering doubt about Duchesne High School's commitment to its newest students — the transfers from John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, which closed in May.
Kennedy Catholic's old mascot, "The Celt," joined the Pioneer mascot at the game vs. St. Charles High, much to the delight of former JFK students and their new cohorts.
"They have been very welcoming," said junior Olivia Scheberle, whose sister, Gabrielle, was in Kennedy Catholic's last of 46 graduating classes. Olivia spent two years at the school on Highway 141 in Manchester. "You can definitely see they're trying to make us feel like we're part of the community."
Through offseason sports workouts, a senior retreat, orientation specifically for transfers and into the academic year, Duchesne has thrown out the welcome mat for former JFK students.
"We're trying to do the best we can to make it a good transition," Duchesne principal Fritz Long said.
Duchesne landed the most Kennedy Catholic transfers, 31 in all; Bishop DuBourg High School in St. Louis has 18. St. Dominic High in O'Fallon got 12 Kennedy transfers; Ursuline Academy was the only other school in double figures, with 10.
The number of transfers surprised Duchesne officials, but it made sense upon further review. Kennedy Catholic and Duchesne shared similarities "in who we are and what we represent; it wasn't so far a stretch for them coming to our school," said Long, noting the schools' similar schedule rotation, student-teacher ratio and more.
He commended Duchesne students for their welcoming spirit.
"We want Kennedy kids to be here and feel comfortable," he said. "That's the way Kennedy would have treated us or anybody else. They saw that and made the decision to come here."
Senior Tyree Galtney needed only one shadow visit to make up his mind about Duchesne, just as he had only one shadow visit before picking Kennedy Catholic three years earlier.
"I felt the same thing here," said Galtney, who attended St. Louis Catholic Academy for grade school. "I told my family, 'This is it. This is the school I really want to go to.' ... I want to go to a friendly school."
Likewise, Scheberle rates Duchesne highly on the "friendliness" scale. She also chose Duchesne after shadowing, and with a little help from God. She turned to prayer before her shadow day, which followed lackluster visits at other schools. Her prayer was answered with a visit she described, simply, as "great."
"That was the revelation I was waiting for," she said. "I was waiting for a sign."
Another sign, in addition to "The Celt" mascot, came at the football home opener. Duchesne also showed school spirit similar to Kennedy Catholic.
"It was pretty close," said Scheberle, noting that JFK set a high standard in its final year. "When we found out we were closing, we realized, 'This is it. Let's make this the best year ever. Let's go out with a bang.' The spirit was pretty up there."
Transfers such as sophomore Ryan Krohn started making the transition into Duchesne months before the beginning of the academic year. Krohn went straight from Kennedy Catholic into offseason workouts with Duchesne's soccer team, giving him a leg up when school opened last month.
"From the start, I already knew my teammates," said Krohn, who followed "a couple of my friends" to Duchesne.
The Kennedy Catholic transfers have found welcoming communities not only at Duchesne but other Catholic schools as well. About 83 percent, 95 of 115 underclassmen, continued in Catholic education.
"That says a lot for the (JFK) families," Long said. "This could have been an easy out for them to say, 'I don't want to spend the money,' but for those families, they decided, 'You know what? This is a Catholic education. It's worth it. Let's make the sacrifice.' This really speaks highly about what Kennedy was doing to promote Catholic education around the archdiocese."
Among former Kennedy Catholic High School students, the vast majorty — 83 percent, or 95 out of 115 underclassmen — remained in Catholic education. Archdiocesan high schools enrolled 69 percent of the Catholic-school transfers (66 out of 95), with 31 percent (29) attending private Catholic high schools. Kennedy Catholic closed in May.
Duchesne 31; Bishop DuBourg 18; St. Dominic 12; Ursuline Academy 10; Christian Brothers College High School 5; Barat Academy, St. John Vianney 3; Notre Dame, St. Joseph's Academy, St. Pius X 2; Chaminade College Preparatory School, De Smet Jesuit, Incarnate Word, Rosati-Kain, St. Francis Borgia, Trinity Catholic, Visitation Academy 1.
* Note: archdiocesan high schools are in bold