CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
If you ask Jamie DeMatthew about his experience at St. Catherine High School in Racine, he’ll tell you it all began with pride in the uniform.
As a little kid, he used to don his older brother’s basketball jersey and pretend he was playing on the varsity team for legendary St. Cat’s coach Bob Letsch.
And though DeMatthew would go on to attend St. Cat’s and even play basketball for Letsch, pride is just one of the values he learned at the school, he says. Leadership, accountability and independence are a few of the others.
The emotionally safe and nurturing environment created by St. Cat’s faculty and staff was the key to being able to develop these attributes, he added.
“I think from the second I walked in the doors there on the first day, it was an encouraging environment that allowed people to think for themselves and sort of develop on their own — which, when you think about moving past high school into the ‘real world,’ a work environment and adult life, it’s sort of a crucial thing,” said DeMatthew.
Catholic education like the kind provided at St. Catherine includes lessons that extend beyond the classroom. A recent research study conducted on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee shows that Catholic high school graduates believe their time in Catholic education taught them enduring life values that led to greater life satisfaction and higher career achievement.
Funded by the Stollenwerk Foundation, the survey was conducted by Branded Breakthroughs, LLC and included a four-phase research process to acquire data. Compared to their public school peers, Catholic high school graduates were more likely to say they had learned leadership, respect, teamwork and integrity during their high school years.
St. Cat’s was a “no-brainer” of a high school choice for the Racine native when he graduated from Holy Name Catholic School.
“My dad went there, my older brother went there, and I think just growing up in Racine and being around the school my whole life, it was something that you looked forward to,” he said. “I still remember being an obnoxious middle schooler, going to the basketball games and cheering them on — it was something where you really looked forward to, the day you could wear the St. Cat’s uniform and play in that gym.”
DeMatthew played basketball all four of his years at St. Cat’s and was part of two state championship teams his junior and senior years, 2005 and 2006. He said Letsch’s leadership on the court resonated in other areas of his life.
“Everything with him was always sort of beyond basketball and teaching life lessons,” he said. “Our junior year, one of our best players forgot his jersey, and other people offered to give their jersey to him to play, but coach made him sit out and watch. It was our only loss that year, but it was a life lesson about personal accountability.”
Coach Letzsch taught his players that there were “four things” they needed to juggle in life — faith, family, basketball and friends. “You had to realize what order you wanted to put it all in, in order to have success,” said DeMatthew. “He always said obviously faith is number one, and family is number two, and you need to figure out whether you’re going to spend more time with your friends or on basketball.”
DeMatthew went on to attend Lawrence University in Appleton and later achieved a graduate degree in sports management at Cardinal Stritch University. Today, he is a senior group account executive with the Milwaukee Bucks. What that means, he says, is “basically, I get to do all the fun stuff.” Much of his duties have to do with bringing groups to the Fiserv Forum to experience Milwaukee Bucks games; primarily, he works with youth basketball leagues and teams.
It’s work that isn’t too different from some of his favorite off-court experiences from high school, which involved mentoring younger kids as part of a religion class assignment.
“I think leadership is something that’s a huge part of my life, and it started being developed during those classes — and I probably didn’t even realize it at that time,” he said. “But when you’re being thrown into a classroom full of middle schoolers and elementary schoolers and teachers are giving you the responsibility to read to them, educate them, to just talk to these kids, I think you’re developing these leadership skills that carry you through high school, college and into the real world.”
Today, DeMatthew still keeps in touch with the St. Cat’s community — he is active in two golf fundraisers each summer, and he’s always careful to follow the basketball program and even makes it back a few times a year to catch the games.
“It’s still cool to see the tradition,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride and tradition.”