The Gospel Truth

A High School Chronicle | May 24, 2011

In St. Louis the first thing people usually ask you is where did you go to high school?

It has become a parochial parody that privately mocks the people who take it seriously.

If St. Louis has one indefensible criticism it is their abject provincialism.  To them high school is the most important social connection that one can have.

If you did not go to one of the elite schools, like Country Day, John Burroughs or St. Louis U. high, your chances of being connected are seriously limited.

And if you happen to have migrated from another city, especially New York City, you were beyond help and would forever be considered an outsider, doom to  looking in forever.

I realized the sting this can have when a legendary St. Louis sports writer had taken umbrage at something I had written in an attempt to be clever.

At a banquet in front of 170 people, the sharpest rebuke he could think of was that I was a smart ass from New York City.

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Wise guys have trouble fitting in

Wow did that hurt!

Being from that forsaken hamlet in the east, where one went to high school was never that important to me.

Until recently.

I attended Xavier High School from 1957 through 1961.

Xavier is located in Manhattan at 30 West 16th Street in the garment district.

When I was there it was a military high school…run by the Jesuits, which had been founded by a military person–Saint Ignatius Loyola.  This to me makes it a redundancy.

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The two greatest Jesuits

For those who are math scholars that was 50 years ago when I received my diploma.

I had been looking forward to my 50th reunion for sometime.  I love reunions.  I had long shed my inferiority complex that made those years more painful than the sportswriter’s best shot.

I found out that there are two responses to seeing people you have not seen in 50 years.

Some look just as if you remembered them–older of course but their core is still written on their faces.

Then there are the ones whom you need to look at the horrific yearbook photos, dangling from their necks on reunion night.

Horrific photos

I often quip that I have just two identifiable talents–a very good memory and a very big mouth.

The first fellow I saw prompted my memory.  I rushed up to him and asked to see if he still had any yellow on his teeth.

Down Bill was probably his first reaction.

When we were sophomores, he sat in front of me and I was talking to my neighbor, grade school chum, Eddie Smith, during Latin class.

Mr. Lavery was a sweet, likable man with a few peculiarities.  He was a good teacher and spent the last 35 years of his life teaching the Classics at Holy Cross.

He was obviously miffed at me more than Smith.  I was startled in mid-sentence, not by anything he said but by a cloud of yellow chalk dust that summoned my attention.

I looked at Frank in front of me and was aghast that he was wiping yellow chalk dust from his teeth, his mouth, and his glasses.

Mr. Lavery had chucked an eraser at me but was a little bit off in his aim.

I can still see the bright crimson look on his face.   He was like one of those commercials where you want to climb in a hole because of the embarrassing thing you just said or did.

The strange thing was that Frank had not remembered anything about that.

How could he NOT remember?

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Frank could not remember

He was collateral damage. And he didn’t remember!

I also went up to another fellow and told him how I had saved his married life.

He looked at me as to say–go away Bill.

Jim was the starting center on our football team.

My high school career consisted of football camp and three games of sitting on the Xavier bench before I unceremoniously quit…as they say to devote more time to my studies…which for me was absolutely true.

Minutes before the kick-off with the ruffians from the Cardinal Hayes, Jim came up to me…and told me that he had forgotten his cup and I don’t mean his coffee cup.

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Not what Jim wanted

How can an athlete forget his cup? Mets’ pitcher, Tom Seaver always wore two of them.

It is probably a man’s most important piece of equip…maybe I should rephrase that.

This future leader of men went to West Point.  He served with heroic distinction in Vietnam–they don’t give medals to people who forget their helmets.

(Jim was awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s second highest decoration.)

So  for the good of the team, I reluctantly gave in to his desperate needs and for 32 minutes of game time, I sat as far away from the coach as I could with my legs crossed…praying that the Scar would not call my number—13.  How prophetic!

I couldn’t wait to introduce myself to Jim’s wife and tell her the story.  I think she immediately called a cab.

Awhile later I finally realized how important Xavier was to my life.

It shaped my life to the extent that it set the direction I took that established my entire post-grad existence.

I didn’t realize this until the open mic at our class dinner, which was held at the Union League Club building on 37th Street in Manhattan.

I had to chuckle when the mic became available of the 60 people there—35 of whom were members of the class of 1961–no one stirred or even looked at the mic when our class secretary, Chip Connell proclaimed its availability.

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No one even stirred

No one moved and these were distinguished leaders in business, law, medicine and the military.

A heavyset, middle-aged balding man wears the black robes of a judge. He looks towards the camera, almost smiling.

Was in the Class of 1953

An open mic is likened to a restroom when you are on a trip.  You should never pass one up because the chance may never come again.

I counted to 10 and when no one moved, I went up to the podium.

I started with my familiar opening line—I have never met a mic I didn’t like…unless you count my former son-in-law.  As usual I got a good response.

I proceeded to tell the throng that I bet I had gotten something from Xavier that none of them had ever received.

And what was my singular property?  A rejection letter!

In March of 1957 when everyone was getting letters of both kinds—I was no dummy— I had scored 162nd out of 5000 applicants for our hated rival school Brooklyn Prep, another Jebbie school.

But from Xavier I got a thin letter that nearly broke my heart.

It hurt worse when I found others that a number of fellows who had inferior grades to my steady 95.6 average in elementary school had gotten the two-page letter.

I moped around for a full week until one afternoon during our lunch break, Eddie Smith–he of the exploding eraser incident– came running up to me and told me to call home quickly.

Like ET I did and even used a quarter instead of a dime, so great was my anticipation.

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I spent a quarter for a 10 cent call

My dad had called Smith because he always went home for lunch.  The news was that Xavier had reconsidered and I was now an accepted member of the Class of 1961.

How did that happen?  Was it affirmative action?

I can only think that it was the intercession of the Holy Spirit telling me that within Xavier’s hallowed walls resided my destiny.

Of course the Third person of the Trinity usually works through other people.

I think I later found out that my saintly maiden aunt, who had a very good friend–Father Connors– who was connected with the Church of Saint Francis, though not officially the high school, went to the official Xavier powers and convinced them that I would be a worthy addition to the school.

I never met this instrument of my destiny.  I should have looked him up and told him how he was probably one of the greatest influences in my life.

But I didn’t.

Those are the saddest words of pen and tongue.

Because of Xavier I went to Holy Cross, where I met a Father John Sullivan, who was a recruiter for the Catholic Lay Extension.

They sent me to Charleston, Missouri, where I met my wife of nearly 45 years.

From there is was more education and back to Missouri where I have been doing my thing—teaching, writing, coaching, advocating and of course–talking.

My story from left field must have inspired the others because about a dozen ‘mates followed me and started regaling us with their hilarious stories and deep-felt emotions of how important Xavier was to them.

Isn’t that what reunions are all about–stories, and the celebration of our mutual experiences under the same roof and in the same uniforms?

I just sat there with a little glow on my face and thanked God for putting me into the mix with these great people.

It was a moment of epiphany for then I fully  realized just what my fellow St. Louisans mean when they stress the importance of where you went to high school.

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2 Comments »

  1. Great blog Bill!

    Comment by Patti — May 24, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

  2. A wonderful reunion you shared Bill. The Jebies did not have anyhing over on the Christian Brothers, at least they could hit a target every time, even with a ring of keys.
    Our best to your Girl from Charleston, MO. Now, you know how I got here; a Girl from Maple Wood Mo.

    Comment by Jim — May 25, 2011 @ 5:16 pm


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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at bbprof@sbcglobal.net

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