October 24, 2014

Teacher, coach and school in archdiocese earn national recognition

Roncalli High School teacher James Ratliff shows a blueprint to students during one of his architecture classes. Ratliff’s students have won a national architectural design contest 10 times in the past 18 years. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Roncalli High School teacher James Ratliff shows a blueprint to students during one of his architecture classes. Ratliff’s students have won a national architectural design contest 10 times in the past 18 years. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: The Criterion once again offers its monthly salute to the success stories of Catholic schools in the archdiocese.)

Compiled by John Shaughnessy

During the past 18 years, James Ratliff has proudly watched his students win an annual national architectural design competition 10 times.

Yet in September, the spotlight shined on Ratliff, who has been teaching for 49 years at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

The National Association of Women in Construction—which sponsors the national contest—honored Ratliff for the “extraordinary achievement of 10 national winners” during their national convention in September in Indianapolis. They also asked him to speak with their group about his program that has led to his students’ stunning success.

In sharing his approach to teaching with the female architects, engineers and contractors, Ratliff also gave a glimpse of his sense of humor when he said, “Why couldn’t this be in Honolulu in January instead of in Indianapolis?”

In the classroom, Ratliff combines a personable, hands-on approach with a professional demeanor that quietly insists that students focus on details. It’s a combination that has earned him the nickname, “The Captain.” His students even sometimes wear T-shirts emblazoned with “The Captain’s Crew.”

“About 20 years ago, one student said, ‘You know, Mr. Ratliff, you run a really tight ship,’ ” he recalls. “And another student said, ‘We should call you The Captain.’ ”

During Spirit Week—when Roncalli students were allowed to dress in a more relaxed style—senior Matthew Payne wore his “Captain’s Crew” T-shirt to class and shared this view of his teacher, “He’s very good at what he does. His approach is very personalized. He comes to each student and teaches us what we need to know.”

While the nickname has lasted, so has Ratliff’s commitment to Roncalli and its students.

“I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed working with teenagers,” says Ratliff, who also works professionally as an architect. “I enjoy seeing them progress. We have so many kids who have become architects, engineers and designers who say they got their start with us. That makes you feel good.”

He also takes pride in the national and state awards that nearly fill one wall of his large classroom—awards that honor designs for banks, churches, offices and handicapped-accessible homes. Still, the awards are a minor part of the experience for him.

“This has truly been a dream job for me, especially having the honor of working with our students and watching them learn, grow and succeed in our program. It also gives me a chance to speak to the kids about our religion, our faith and how we live our lives. This is my love.”

Hurrle wins Power of Influence Award

When Ott Hurrle learned that he had received national recognition as the 2014 Power of Influence Award recipient, the head football coach at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis immediately thought of all the people who have influenced him.

“I attribute it to all those people who had an impact on me starting with my parents, the coaches I’ve had, and also the game of football itself. It has always reinforced all those lessons people were teaching me—to treat people with respect, to have a strong work ethic, to be responsible for others, to do the things you’re responsible for, and a little more.”

In living and sharing those lessons in 41 years of coaching, Hurrle became the first Indiana coach to receive the national honor from the American Football Coaches Association and American Football Coaches Foundation.

The award honors coaches for their impact on the student-athletes who play for them, and for the influence they have on their school and their community. Hurrle’s 37 years of coaching at Scecina have always made those desired impacts.

He has also had success on the field, leading Scecina’s football teams to state championships in 1990 and 1991 while reaching the state championship game in 2011 and 2012.

Hurrle was “very humbled” that he had been nominated for the national award by the Indiana Football Coaches Association.

“With the quality of people coaching football in the state, it was just an honor to be nominated.”

School earns Catholic Education Honor

Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis has been named a 2014 School of Excellence by the Catholic Education Honor Roll.

The Honor Roll, part of The Cardinal Newman Society, “celebrates Catholic education throughout the United States.” It gives its School of Excellence recognition to schools that are “marked by the integration of Catholic identity throughout all aspects of their programs and excellence in academics.”

Bishop Chatard is one of 71 Catholic schools in the country and just three in Indiana to receive the 2014 recognition. St. Theodore Guérin High School in Noblesville and St. Joseph High School in South Bend are the other Indiana schools that were honored.

“The recognition affirms that we are who we say we are, as evidenced by our focus on faith formation, the academic rigor we offer, and our attention to the development of the whole child,” said Deacon Rick Wagner, principal and vice president for mission and ministry at Bishop Chatard, the archdiocesan high school for the Indianapolis North Deanery.

Officials of The Cardinal Newman Society noted that less than 5 percent of the Catholic schools in the country received the honor.

The blessings of Providence

Thanks to the generosity of donors, sports teams at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville are benefitting from recent improvements in athletic facilities.

The football team and the girls’ soccer team have already christened the school’s new synthetic turf field—known as Gene Sartini Field—while the girls’ volleyball team has enjoyed playing in the renovated Larkin Center.

Both facilities also feature the school’s updated athletic logo—“a Pioneer looking toward the future in the school colors, blue and white, with gold as an accent color,” noted Christa Hoyland, a member of the school’s advancement office.

Football coach Larry Denison shared this view of the field and the generosity of the donors who made it possible: “The guys love playing on it. They realize we are truly blessed, and they are truly appreciative of it.”

Volleyball coach Terri Purichia said the newly-painted floor and the new, blue, plastic-molded bleachers make the Larkin Center seem “like a brand new gym.”

“I love the new bleachers and how you can see PHS [Providence High School] spelled out. It just looks fantastic.”

Gifts for orphaned children

As part of their “Faith in Action” project for September, students and staff members at SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood filled 114 boxes with Christmas gifts that will be shipped to orphan children in Eastern Europe.

“Grade school children decorated the boxes and wrote personal greetings,” noted Andrea Barger, the school’s communications coordinator. “Middle school students organized and packed the boxes, which were filled with hats, mittens, coloring books, toys and toiletries.”

(Send short summaries of your school’s success stories to assistant editor John Shaughnessy by e-mail to jshaughnessy@archindy.org or by mail in care of The Criterion, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202. Please include a contact person for your school’s story and a phone number where he or she can be reached.)

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