Baranek: Mount Assisi closing ‘heart-wrenching’ for former sports stars
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org February 3, 2014 9:32PM
Former Eagles star volleyball player Cheryl Przychodni sits on the front steps at Mount Assisi High School, which will be closing its doors in June. | Supplied photo
Updated: March 5, 2014 6:22AM
Early in December, Cheryl Przychodni talked with groups of students at Mount Assisi Academy as part of a program called Roadmaps.
A 2002 graduate of the Lemont school, Przychodni, a senior account manager at an advertising agency, spoke about communication, verbal and non-verbal, and interviewing skills.
“We had some really good conversations with the kids going off to college about how they were going to present themselves to the outside world,” she said.
It was a joyous, upbeat day.
“The faculty, staff and students seemed very happy, very energized. It felt like family — just like it always did when I went there,” she said. “It seemed like things were going well for the school.”
They were not. Just eight weeks later, it was announced the all-girls private school will be closing its doors in June because of declining enrollment and mounting debt.
“I had no clue,” Przychodni said. “We were having a lot of conversations about enrollment and how the numbers have been down. But personally, I thought that if the school got through the recession a few year ago that things would pick up.
“It’s sad. It’s a little heart-wrenching for people like me who have a long personal connection to the school.”
Przychodni was one of Mount Assisi’s most successful athletes. A 6-foot middle blocker on the volleyball team, she earned all-GCAC honors three straight seasons and was an All-State honoree as a senior. She was inducted into the Mount Assisi Hall of Fame in 2013.
Today, she coaches club volleyball in addition to her job in advertising, and credits the atmosphere at Mount Assisi for making her a success.
“With volleyball, the person I was when I went into the school and the person I was when I left was very different,” she said. “Their environment just allowed me to grow so much as a person and allowed me to develop in a way I needed to.
“The environment was small. It gave you the flexibility to be a part of everything. High school is a very tough age. And being at a place where you can feel like that, it makes that period of life that much easier. It makes me sad that children from that area will have one less place for that opportunity.”
Another Mount Assisi success story is Alex Steel Sallay, a 1997 graduate who played on the varsity volleyball squad all four years and ran track and field for two. She was inducted into the Mount Assisi Hall of Fame in 2009. She played volleyball at Culver-Stockton College, and today is an HR manager at Comcast.
“There were a lot of good friendships up there on the hill,” said Steel, who commuted from Worth. “The school had a family-oriented environment. Obviously, you got a good Catholic education. It was a good foundation for my life.
“When I saw on Facebook (about the closing) I was just like, ‘What is happening?’ When I went to school we graduated with about 125, so there had to be around 500 students then.”
The doors apparently won’t close in silence. Parents and alumni have bonded together to try to raise money to keep the school open. A “Save Mount Assisi Academy” Facebook page was created and within a couple of days $1,357 was collected. Viewers now are being encouraged to send their donations directly to the school.
Also, alums have started an email campaign to get an audience with TV talk show host Ellen Degeneres.
“If there is a silver lining, it’s the outpouring of support,” Przychodni said. “It’s very touching and heartwarming that the alumni are rallying to do whatever is possible to save the school.”
Who’s to say they can’t? Go, Eagles.