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September 13, 2022

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Notre Dame coaches play a critical role in shaping the school’s mission among athletes.

Mark McGreevy, middle school religion teacher, is a longtime swim coach at Notre Dame Prep. He says his swimmers pray as a team at the end of each practice. "I give ownership of that to the teams, meaning they do it on their own without coach prompting."

Before every varsity football game, players attend Mass in the school chapel. Prior to taking the court, basketball players recite a favorite prayer. And at the start of cross-country season, athletes attend an overnight faith retreat. In an activity easily dominated by aggressive parents and fans, sports at a Catholic school remain highly competitive. But behind the scenes, those who enjoy it most—the athletes and those that coach them—form a special bond that cuts through the noise of winners and losers. It is a bond rooted in faith and fellowship.

Athletics at Notre Dame has always been more than teaching hand-eye coordination or helping an individual realize his or her star potential on the court or the field. It is about showing students that they are capable individuals, regardless of skill, who have the benefit of participating and being part of a collective team. It is also about showing student-athletes through example how to emotionally respond and behave in a way that leads to virtue formation in the Marist way while preparing them for leadership in the 21st century.

The men and women who coach these young athletes are the secret sauce to the school’s success in that regard.

“When we hire coaches, our primary concern is, ‘are they mission-centric?’” said Betty Wroubel, the school’s longtime athletic director and varsity volleyball coach. “We challenge our coaches to move beyond the X’s and O's of their sport and to infuse our faith in all that they do. It is our goal not to miss the opportunity to help form good Christians, upright citizens, and academic scholars in our practices, contests, and other team events.”

Wroubel said that philosophy “goes against the grain” of a typical school athletics program, where winning at any cost can sometimes be the norm.

Notre Dame athletic director and assistant principal Betty Wroubel has coached NDP volleyball and softball for many years.

“It may be counter-cultural, but it is our belief that we should and do have a highly competitive athletic program in our Catholic, Marist setting and still practice good ethical (fair) play, teamwork, respect, and sportsmanship,” she said.

Aaron Crouse, assistant athletic director, said whether it be at the lower, middle, or upper school, there is an expectation that coaches create an environment that is an extension of the classroom that focuses on the same morals, values and positive character traits that are taught during the school day.

“Coaches are essential in helping to reinforce the Notre Dame mission to athletes and families. Above everything else, people build programs. We are incredibly fortunate to have a coaching staff that is comprised of individuals that are both highly regarded within their own sports for their accomplishments and also committed to living our mission,” he said. “Each season we specifically challenge our coaches to answer the questions of ‘what does the mission statement mean to you as a coach and what does it look like within your program?’”

First grade teacher Kimberly Kriesel has coached the NDP cross-country team for three years alongside Head of School Andy Guest. She said faith and the school’s mission is evident in everything the team does.

“Prayer is very big among our team. We begin each practice with prayer. This year we have student chaplains who begin each practice with prayer. It’s a great way for us to come together, bring God and those we are praying for front and center as we begin practice,” she said. “We also pray before each race. Each team will huddle before the race and say a ‘Runner’s Prayer’ ending with imparting Mary Seat of Wisdom and St. Sebastian, patron saint of athletes, to pray for us. It’s a powerful moment amidst the race anxiety and commotion prior to the start.”

Kriesel said bringing Christ on the field or the court is a game-changer for Notre Dame athletes, and it translates into everything students do—from respecting other competitors to cheering on teammates and striving to maintain high grades while balancing homework, extracurriculars and day-to-day responsibilities.

At the beginning of the season, the cross-country team participates in an overnight retreat at St. Francis Retreat Center in Dewitt, Mich. On Friday night, the entire team assembles in the chapel. Head Coach Andy Guest leads the team in prayer and then provides students with an opportunity to share their feelings, prayers, experiences, and words of encouragement.

Kim Kriesel, who teaches at Notre Dame Lower School, serves as assistant coach of the NDP cross country team. She says faith is intertwined with everything the student-athletes do.

“Being in the chapel with the Holy Spirit very present is so powerful. Whether the students are Catholic or non-Catholic, they share and learn their commonalities and differences which are appreciated. The open and genuine dialogue that comes from this moment creates a trust and incredible team bond. Many student-athletes tell us this is a highlight of their entire season,” she said.

Beyond the faith aspect, Kriesel said coaches try to teach confidence building, time management, and leadership skills that can be translated into life beyond Notre Dame.

“As a coach, I try to teach students confidence and self-belief not only as a runner but as a person. It’s common to doubt yourself as a runner, especially a new runner, but reminding them that they are strong and capable and helping them to recognize their improvements whether it’s accomplishing a 5-minute mile or 11-minute mile. Every gain is a victory, on and off the course and worth celebrating,” she said.

“Fr. Ron Nikodem, s.m., also a sports enthusiast, has deeply rooted Philippians 4:13 into our school community: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I think of this often, personally but also with the student-athletes I coach. God has plans for each of us, and gives us this strength and ability to overcome hurdles and achieve great things.”

God, family and Notre Dame 

P. Jason Whalen, one of Notre Dame Prep’s social, emotional, and academic counselors, has been coaching high school athletics in some fashion for over two decades, nine of those for Notre Dame. A varsity football assistant coach, assistant freshmen basketball coach, and head middle school basketball coach, Whalen has seen firsthand the impact of the school’s mission-based coaching on its athletes.

“On multiple occasions over the last eight seasons, we have invited our opponent to join us in prayer after a game, both after wins and losses and both parochial and non-parochial schools,” he said. “After a hard-fought battle in competition, we set aside those differences and come together to give thanks for our blessings and opportunities. We pray for the health of our teammates and our families, and we pray for strength and courage throughout our seasons. It is one of the most inspiring events I have been a part of as a coach. Our faith helps us to keep things in perspective.”

Jason Whalen is a counselor at Notre Dame Prep and serves as an assistant coach for the football and basketball programs.

It is a culture, he said, that permeates through the Marist teachings: to think, judge, feel and act as Mary in all things.

“The term ‘culture’ is a hot topic in the coaching world. It’s standard belief that team culture is directly connected to success. Coaching at a Catholic school gives us an opportunity to center the way our teams think, feel, act, and perform around our identity as Christian people, upright citizens, and academic scholars. It gives us a standard to hold student-athletes accountable towards, a benchmark to be disciplined towards,” he said.

As a coach and a father of two upper school students, Whalen said it is personally important to emulate what he teaches at home and on the field.

“First and foremost, I believe that we as coaches must model the school mission. We must put our faith at the center of our work with student-athletes. They might be teenagers, but they can be very perceptive. They know hypocrisy when they see it,” he said.

“I try to put my faith and my identity as a Christian person at the heart of my work with all students; I try to make it prevalent in how I treat others. Additionally, I want our student-athletes to understand that anything worth having in life is worth working for. That goes for success academically and athletically. It also goes for success in our relationships with others, and it is especially the case in our growth as Christian people. It takes hard work, resilience, and discipline to accomplish meaningful goals.”

Like Kriesel, Whalen said a key characteristic of the athletics program at Notre Dame is the lifelong bonds created through positive role models and faith-based coaching.

“In my opinion, athletics at NDP are truly co-curricular activities. Meaning, they are truly tied into the curriculum. While no grades are issued, or credit awarded, the desire to fulfill our mission as a school is absolutely woven into the way we teach and coach,” he said.

Some of the traditions he is most proud of are the pre-game Mass with players and the Caveman Cookout.

“Every game day the team gathers in the chapel for service immediately after school. It’s the perfect way to set aside the stressors of the school day and to re-center us on the good stuff – God, family, and Notre Dame. We also have a unique tradition we call the ‘Caveman Cookout.’ Prior to our first scrimmage, the boys and their dads get together to grill some meats. Our dads get the opportunity to talk about their sons and present them with their game jersey. It’s a tremendous bonding experience for our football community.”

Teachable moments 

Mark McGreevy ND'76, middle school religion teacher, has a long history of coaching for the school, dating back to 1978 as assistant swim coach for Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods. Since that time, he has served as a soccer coach for the middle school, developed an intramural basketball program at the lower school, and is in his sixth and fifth years respectively as boys’ varsity swim coach and girls’ varsity swim at NDP. He said whether it’s in the pool or in the classroom, the school’s mission is not just something that “happens.”

“I was once told by a former principal that I bleed green. Being an alumnus of Notre Dame High School, I guess I picked up the mission and how can I not pass it along!” he said.

As a coach and a teacher, McGreevy takes a unique approach to those under his care.

“I see the kids anywhere between four and six hours a week approximately. I see my athletes Monday through Saturday two hours a day and meets can sometimes be six hours or more. My goal is simple. Athletics is a tool,” he said.

“I tell my athletes every year at the outset of the season, in five years you will return to NDP and visit the team and swimmers will say, ‘I heard of you! You were really good!’ In 10 years when you return, they will say, ‘You swam at NDP? Cool!’ In 15 years they will say, ‘You swam in high school?’ In 20 years they will say, ‘You were an athlete?’ No matter what you achieve in athletics, it will not be the thing you are remembered for. You will be remembered for who and what you become.”

Swim coach McGreevy says he tries to demonstrate to his student-athletes the understanding that God gives us all gifts.

His advice to students: “Learn to help your teammates, learn to be responsible for yourself, learn to compete in a healthy manner. Learn to succeed, learn to fail, learn to know what is truly important. Learn to be humble. Know your place and your purpose. Being an athlete is a small part of a whole life, but it is a great tool to learn valuable lessons. We achieve this by creating opportunities for leadership, making upperclassmen responsible for underclassmen.”

When asked how the school’s mission impacts his coaching style, McGreevy said, “Christianity is not something I can turn on because I coach, it is interwoven into the fabric of my being. Being aware of what I do on the deck is key.”

For students, McGreevy said he tries to show them understanding that God gives us all gifts.

“For the high schooler this mean their job is to take that gift and do it as best as they can. For a coach who had that gift, it is to hand it off and by example, teach the high schooler that they too should one day hand off their gifts to someone else whatever those gifts are. And when you look at what is handed off by a coach, it is not just a sport but rather many more tangible skills. I can’t turn my religion off and on, it is permanently on display.”

Living the school mission is also important. In the past, he said, the swim teams participated in one service project together a year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it was working with Forgotten Harvest or the Wounded Warriors Project. It is something he wants to get back to doing.

“We try to find something that puts others first,” McGreevy said. “We have had team and family dinners which we will be returning to. I especially enjoy the family dinners as it puts a perspective on our priorities. It also creates a strong bond among the swimmers.”

Students also pick a Saturday and spend a few hours on a physical interactive activity rather than collecting money for a cause.

“I believe that young people really benefit from talking, listening and working with others. They see the satisfaction others gain from their work and they realize a sense of joy in helping them,” McGreevy said. “The early Christians were known for their charitable work. It was their greatest means of conversion and conversion was not the intention. That says something very important. We can’t ‘try’ to be Catholic; we simply are Catholic. We also pray as a team at the end of each practice. I give ownership of that to the teams meaning they do it on their own without coach prompting. The team asks for intentions and pray for others and many times for their schoolmates and teammates who are struggling.”

Entering her 14th season of coaching girls’ basketball at the junior varsity and varsity level, Kathleen Offer, director of enrollment management, said athletics is an important part of a student’s day at school. Students learn some important life lessons that can positively influence the rest of their lives, including how to work with others toward shared goals, how to be responsible and accountable, and how to keep trying when things get tough.

As a graduate of Yale University on an athletic scholarship, Offer leans heavily both on her Catholic upbringing and athletic prowess.

Kathleen Offer, Notre Dame's director of enrollment management, is entering her 14th year of coaching basketball. 

“I count my blessings every day that I was able to attend Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. As a coach, I’ve been blessed to work in a program that emphasizes faith and expects us to impart it. Outwardly being able to pray, to talk about our faith and to lean on God in times of trouble is something I hope I’ll never take for granted,” she said.

Offer agrees with McGreevy that coaches don’t necessarily teach athletes what it means to be Catholic on the court. Rather, the teachings of the church and the Marists come through the individual coach’s compassion and how coaches try to live their own lives as positive role models.

“At the start of every week I have a player pick a virtue she’d like our team to focus on, like resilience, bravery, trust, or perseverance. We’ll start practice by defining the virtue, reflecting on it with a prayer, and thinking about how we can embody it like Jesus or Mary did. Throughout the week I’ll reference the virtue on an ongoing basis and compliment the girls when they exhibit it,” she said.

On the court, Offer said her goal is to teach kids how to play the game the right way, including fundamentals and “nuances” of the sport.

“I’m very diligent about making practice plans that start with foundational skills, work up to competitive drills, and ultimately scrimmaging. As much as I want my players to learn, have fun and win, the most important thing to me is that they truly give their best and strive to improve,” she said.

Offer said while teaching basketball skills and preparing for competition is important, focusing on faith formation and virtues adds a valuable dimension to the experience.

“Incorporating those things into our daily lives helps the girls understand that the school mission doesn’t stop when they get to the gym,” Offer said.

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

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Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at