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Many SI & SHC families cross the color lines of red and blue and green in a mish-mash of rivalry and friendship

Dave and Kathy Lorentz

Michelle Finn and her husband, Franco

Tom Galvin, son of Meredith & Tom Galvin

SH grad and SI coach and counselor Brian Kelly

Sean Lawhon collaborated with his SHC counterpart, George Devine, to launch SI Sports Radio. He and Devine have covered SI vs. SHC games side-by-side from their respective broadcast tables.

By Ken Garcia

There was a time when certain things could be counted on in San Francisco: crooked politics, freezing summers, snobbish behavior and traditional school choices.

That also meant families were penciled in as either blue and red or Irish green.

Families did not cross enemy lines. If your parents or siblings went to SI, Star of the Sea, Sacred Heart or Mercy High, so did the other kids in the family. Times were simpler, even though back in the day, there were more options for Catholic education. The traditions spawned fierce and heated competitions among the schools, accompanied by disparaging nicknames, undisguised hostility and outbreaks of weekend fighting.

Then many schools died out, families moved and the city quietly changed. And it has led to the two remaining heavyweights sharing space in the same ring with fewer punches and lengthy respect.

It brings us to the question people ask these days with increasing frequency: After about more than 150 years of in-your-face dealings between two college preps known as St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral, is this anyway to stage a rivalry?

How bad is it? At the recent Bruce Mahoney basketball game, students at both schools hugged, shook each other’s hands and generally treated each other with kindness. Sure there was in-game taunting – that’s to be expected. But back in the day, the priests and brothers working in the schools had to patrol the arenas like starched-collar cops. The heated exchanges of old have largely become brief bursts of bragging rights.

The once unthinkable crossover between the schools reaches across all boundaries, long-term ties and established loyalties. Families increasingly have sons and daughters attending SI and SHC at the same time. Dozens of educators have taught at both schools. Where once plotting and skullduggery flourished during weeks approaching key contests, grudging respect and sportsmanship have taken hold.

Why has so much of the animosity diffused? A lot of people say it took a woman’s touch – the decision by both schools to go coed back in the 1980s. But others will say it’s just the sea change of time, a period marked by major demographic shifts, political tremors and a nagging recognition that the schools mirror each other in more ways than not.

“I think it’s a lot like the Cal-Stanford rivalry when you have these two great institutions. When you boil it down, they’re a lot more alike than they are different,” said George Devine Jr., a Sacred Heart Cathedral graduate (and the nephew of longtime SI faculty member Pete Devine ‘66) who helped SI to launch its sports radio program (along with Sean Lawhon ’87, who runs SI’s digital and social media efforts) after the Sunset school hired him as a consultant.

“You’re going to find the DNA of these schools everywhere, in the police and fire departments, the universities, the city agencies,” he added. “I mean, seriously, if you went to one of these schools, it would be impossible to go into a witness relocation program. Everybody knows each other.”

Bearing witness to that would be a couple whose reach clearly goes beyond the two aisles. That would be Dave and Kathy Lorentz, religion teachers at SI and SHC respectively, who have seen the competitive rivalry at the two schools change over the years.

If anyone is a poster child for unity between the two schools, it would be the Lorentzs. They raised five sons, SI grads all, dating back to the days when the two schools had male cheerleaders.

“The ’80s were busy years for us,” Dave said.

“There is a great collegial spirit,” Kathy added. “Part of that stems from the fact that the students went to grammar schools together, and then even after making their choices for high school, they still played on club teams together. One of the real reasons for the change is that while the parents used to keep a lot of the animosity, the kids don’t carry that today because they’re more open-minded about it. They’re making the decision more and more about where they want to go to high school.”

Still, it wasn’t always easy sledding for the family. Kathy said her students at SHC always asked her why her boys all went to SI. And the easy answer, that they lived so close to the school, wasn’t always readily accepted.

“The truth of the matter is that once the oldest brother was there, it was pretty much done,” Dave said. “I’m sure that’s true for a lot of families, even though you’re seeing more siblings go to the ‘other’ school these days.”

Yet as a result of the pull between the schools within the family, the Lorentzs had to make game time decisions. And the result was that during the Bruce-Mahoney basketball games, they decided not to take sides and, instead, to sit in the middle of the gym. Not that they could always keep their true colors in check.

Said Kathy: “I root for the Irish unless my son played in one of the games.” And she said that only seems fair, considering how much red and blue exists in the family’s closets.

Still, for the uninitiated, the competition between the schools and the ongoing crossover, seems like a strange rite of passage. For the first few years anyway.

“The whole rivalry thing is actually pretty entertaining to me,” said Grace Curcio, who has taught Latin at SI for the past 15 years. “When I first got here, the only time I heard about [the rivalry] was the week before the Bruce-Mahoney game. Having grown up in Oakland, this whole thing wasn’t on my radar. I had to ask some other people, ‘What is this all about?’”

The idea of asking what city high school you attended, “is foreign to me because that is a very San Francisco thing,” she added.

When her husband left SI to go teach at Sacred Heart Cathedral, however, it began to feel very real. It wasn’t long before “my whole world became SI–SHC,” she said.

“I don’t feel the rivalry the way I would have if I grew up with it,” she said. “But my husband’s heart is very torn about it. He loved the students when he was here, and he’s still very welcomed by everybody at SI.”

Although they do not get to the games often, when they do go, it’s a family divided. She sits on SI’s side, he sits on SHC’s side. And they wear their school colors.

“Whoever loses has to meet on the winner’s side,” she noted. “We don’t even go to the games together.”

But they do go home together, one person slightly happier than the other.

I admit that I was a small but early contributor to the morphing process. My own brother attended SI when it was still on Stanyan Street. As the smarter son, I had to choose Sacred Heart.

The author, an SHC grad, is a former columnist and reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Mercury News and Time Magazine. His son and daughter are both SI grads, Laura ’10 and Nick ’05. 

More primary color connections

In addition to the connections above, many others at SI are bridges between the two schools. Teachers who have come to SI from SHC include Dean of Students Bill Gotch, Religious Studies Chair Carol Devincenzi and math teacher Brian Murphy. In addition, Michelle Finn, SI’s student affairs coordinator, is married to Franco Finn, alumni director for SHC, and Brian Murphy’s wife, Leslie Bell, heads the math department at SHC. Nora Flynn Miller serves as an English teacher at SI while her sister, Theresa Flynn Houghton (’96 SHC), works as SHC’s director of development. Also, Callie Salzman, formerly a counselor at SI, is now at SHC as is Brian Morgan ’86, who both teaches there and coaches baseball. Dance instructor Meredith Cecchin Galvin ’97 is an SI grad, while her husband, Tom (a teacher at Holy Name School), hails from SHC. One year Tom also served as tech theatre director for both schools at the same time. Among SHC’s oldest living graduates is William O’Neill, 94, whose son is Rev. Thomas O’Neill, S.J. ’74, superior of the Jesuit community at SI. Finally, SH grad Brian Kelly serves SI both as a counselor and football coach. Finally, Sandeep Bhuta, who works in SI’s Learning Center, added that while he was a senior at Seattle University, he dated an SHC grad who on more than a couple occasions mentioned “what a relief it was that I was a Gonzaga Prep grad and not an SI grad; otherwise we would never have dated.”

Also, Br. Arnold Stewart, FSC, who served as principal at Sacred Heart between 1965 and 1978, wrote to Genesis after an article appeared in the magazine regarding his counterpart at SI at the time, Rev. Ed McFadden, S.J. ’41.

“I will always consider Ed to be one of my best friends. We worked very closely together to do away with the terrible spirit that existed between our schools. This hostility went back many years, and we both felt it to be unchristian to say the lest. We both felt that the spirit of rivalry was great on the field and on the court, but we were both Catholic schools and signs of a poor spirit had no place off the field or court. After all, we were the same Church, just different pews.”

He also praised Rev. John McEnhill, principal of Riordan at the time, for joining them in “generating the proper type of spirit among all three schools, and I think we succeeded. I remember with much pleasure the joy the three of us had at our get-togethers at SI, at our monthly dinners together and our travels to the Principals’ meetings together in one car where we planned out what the “big three” were going to do with the various items on the agenda.”

Fr. Stewart ended his letter, noting that “Ed and John are now sitting in the big rooting sections in heaven, and I know they’re keeping their eyes on those of us still on the various fields and courts in the area. May both of them rest in peace. Go ’Cats. Go Irish. Go Crusaders.”


Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Friday March, 15, 2013 at 02:08PM

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