A new spirit has injected itself into the veins of St. Joan Antida High School, an all-girls school on the East Side of Milwaukee.
On cold, wintry weeknights, the stands are full in the school’s gym, and parents, students, faculty and supporters of the school’s basketball team are wildly and enthusiastically celebrating every little success the players have on the floor.
“It’s fun to have that,” St. Joan Antida President Marikris Coryell said.
In her fourth year at the school, she is overseeing a renaissance of the Jaguars’ athletic program, which has lain mostly dormant for the past decade.
She credits most of the work of revamping the athletic offerings in the school to new Athletic Director Jeff Mrochinski, who came to the school after a successful run as a tennis coach at Catholic Memorial. Under his leadership, the school is offering six (maybe seven) athletic teams this school year.
“With Jeff coming here, he’s the one who’s making this happen,” Coryell said. “He’s super dedicated to the team — he’ll drive them home after games. He’s putting his heart and soul into it.”
As with all Catholic schools, and especially a smaller one like St. Joan Antida, money is also an issue. That’s where Mrochinski’s background and connections, along with a touch of Catholic generosity, are helping to make things possible.
“As things always happen at St. Joan’s, it falls from heaven, when people will step in and offer to buy basketballs, for example,” Coryell said. “Jeff is also bringing his connections with him. We do things very frugally.”
Mrochinski said the school has been the beneficiary of donors who have contributed tennis rackets, volleyballs and uniforms, and basketball shoes. He had a former student of his at Catholic Memorial that needed to do a fundraiser as a capstone on his marketing degree. The former student raised approximately $3,000 in 48 hours, money that went to help cover the basketball team’s uniforms.
“It has been a nice outpouring of support that way for sure,” Mrochinski said. “People just want an opportunity to help.”
When they were discussing bringing Mrochinski in as a teacher at the school, the revival of the athletic department was actually one of the last items that was discussed.
“It was an intriguing challenge, and I thought, ‘Let’s do it,’” Mrochinski said.
Leading the charge for the Jaguars’ basketball program is veteran coach Ted Catalano, who has coached varsity girls basketball teams at South Division High School and Cristo Rey. He has also coached junior varsity boys at a handful of MPS schools.
With most of his 12 players completely new to the game, Catalano said he is taking things one day at a time and just focusing on fundamentals, such as passing, dribbling and shooting.
“There are so many things I want to do,” Catalano said. “There are so many things I want them to know. I’ve got to be patient as they’ve got to be patient. As long as they’re willing to work, they’re ready to listen and learn how to be better player(s).”
For now, the numbers on the scoreboard don’t tell the true story of what is happening within the program.
Freshman Valeria De Luna, one of a plethora of young players on a team that is mostly freshmen and sophomores and doesn’t boast a single senior, said she wanted to play basketball because her mother did.
“We’re having fun, but at the same time we’re trying our best to show others that we’re improving,” De Luna said.
For now, Catalano is sticking to his plan and taking his time in putting things together, but he does have a vision for the future.
“We’re going to get there one day, and this is the foundation of us getting to be where (the suburban powerhouse teams) are,” Catalano said. “I want girls coming here knowing that we have a basketball team. I want girls coming to St. Joan Antida not only to get a great Catholic education, which they are, but with the intention of playing basketball.”