Campus ministry director Marty Matulia marveled at the hot August night throng packing the St. Thomas cafeteria and beamed with a one-word reaction to describe the bustling scene.
The inaugural Dads’ Club Father-Son BBQ produced a years-in-the-making overnight sensation, a union of Eagles with fathers and friends sharing in fun, food and fellowship.
“When we first talked about staging something like this, we thought if we had 50-60 in attendance we would call it a success,” Matulia said. “Then the RSVPs started rolling in and we have close to 300 in here tonight. Just incredible.”
Eagles lined tables throughout swapping catch-up summer stories.
Former booster club president Steve Winter was seated in the center next with T.J. Burns ’79 … exchanging expectations for the senior call involving their sons Max ’17 and Davis ’17 … with Burns bracing for an immediate encore with Nick ’18.
One-time alumni director Willie Madden ’82 manned the main serving line anticipating his own upcoming double-duty with Marshall ’18 and Josh ’19.
Pat McLaughlin may have seen his son Conor ’16 graduate the previous May yet returned to serve as the evening’s reigning pit maestro, calling forth just the right combination of smoke and fire to deliver more than 100 pounds of deep-pink brisket that boasted a girdle of fat that had taste buds cheering.
The setting proved a perfect welcome to the St. Thomas culture for fathers like Jamey Rootes, whose son Christopher ’20 was not even a first full week into his freshman introduction.
“This is obviously a great opportunity for him to meet new classmates and for me to engage with fathers and bounce ideas,” said Rootes, the president of the Houston Texans. “This gives us a network of dads who are going through many of the same challenges and also enjoying the same journey … what a great benefit for all us in the school.”
Dads’ Club president Tim Ruch believes the genesis for this revitalized Dads’ Club occurred soon after the freshmen father-son retreat during the 2013-14 academic year.
“That event was so great, a chance to bond with our sons and fathers with each other,” Ruch said. “Willie and I agreed that we needed to work hard to keep this moving forward because with just a little bit of momentum we could have something really powerful. Marty and I talked, then (president / principal) Fr. (Kevin) Storey and I talked, and we all agreed that if there were enough dads interested, we could get this rolling. And look at this crowd.”
Ruch added that at “The Regis School we had a tight knit group of parents, tight knit group of dads, and if you had issues with your son, or if I had issues with mine, we could talk to each other and help figure out a solution. Fathers want to meet other fathers. Otherwise, you can feel as though you are on an island.”
Ruch and his son Mason ’18 are teaming on a idea for this academic year borrowed from tradition-thick Notre Dame after the two were struck during a spring visit to the South Bend campus.
For nearly 30 years, Fighting Irish backers have proudly donned “The Shirt” as a kind of uniform for home football games and athletic events to present single solitary support.
Mason consulted with STH Vice President for Advancement Mark deTranaltes ’83 and ignited a similar student organized initiative to bring together the Eagle student body, alumni and parents with proceeds of “The Shirt” designate for student clubs and the Rectors Fund, which provides financial assistance for students facing unexpected difficulties.
The St. Thomas version of “The Shirt” features the signature school crest on the front, the project logo on the sleeve and this year’s theme of 100 state Eagle championships … and counting.
The Ruchs hope the effort will paint particular sections of Granger Stadium, Reckling Gymnasium and Fr. Wilson Field with a consistent red hue while capturing the spirit of the Eagle community.
“My father and I both saw an opening to unify the student body,” Mason said. “When we go to the games, so many of us just wear whatever, including me. I think the students will really see the buy-in and this will become a yearly project we all rally around.”
Matulia surveyed the Saturday night special with a confidence the Dads’ Club event would create a continued enthusiasm to spawn future father-son enrichment throughout the ensuing academic year.
“When we have Round-Up or the Auction and Gala, you see the response, you see the St. Thomas pride,” Matulia said. “Dads’ Club can be a catalyst for the same kind of involvement. When we started those retreats more a decade ago the big picture intent was never about just the retreat but the chance to continue to build our Christian community. There’s a hunger for involvement like this, a belonging. That’s what St. Thomas is about and has always been about.”