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Not Your Oar-dinary Senior

French signs NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame

Senior Courtney French signs NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame after seed of an idea is planted by her Holy Family mentor

Arm muscles burning and staring straight ahead, her oar slices through the water as her gaze is transfixed on the teammate in front of her. Not allowed so much as a glance at the blades in the water, shoulder blades are the ones she must focus on. 

Though not very common in Minnesota, rowing is quite the grueling sport. Unique in that it is both a team and an individual sport, one must have the mental toughness and physical stamina to endure the race while also keeping in sync with their teammates to work together as one. 

French rowing with the Twin Cities Youth Rowing Club

Courtney French, senior at Holy Family Catholic School (HFCHS) and rower for Twin Cities Youth Rowing Club, describes the sport like this to an outsider:

 “It’s not like soccer or hockey where if you have a bad shift, then you can go back out and re-do it,” Courtney explains. “In rowing, you really only have one chance.” 

Though French speaks with such knowledge of the sport, she only started rowing about a year and a half ago. In search of AP classes and more rigorous academics, she transferred to Holy Family her sophomore year. Upon arrival, she was paired with (then) senior Jillian Oncay as part of the student ambassador program to help ease the transition of new students. 

More than a friendly face in the school hallways and weekly check-ins, Oncay’s mentorship changed the trajectory of French’s future college career. Oncay is the one who first introduced French to the sport of rowing, educating her on the ins and outs of the sport and the club in which she rowed: Twin Cities Youth Rowing Club in Eden Prairie. The timing was perfect, as French was looking for a spring sport to add to her existing rotation of swimming and hockey. French cites how effectual it was to have a peer in which to ask questions and provide insight about rowing, especially someone as skilled as Jillian Oncay. At the time, Oncay had just signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) to row at the United States Naval Academy. 

Less than two years later, French signed her own NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame.

French in her Notre Dame rowing gearĀ 

“I really think the Ambassador program is important in helping newer students adjust to Holy Family,” French says. “It’s a totally different experience than I've had in other schools. Having people your age to ask questions can be helpful. I think the program helps new students make friends and really enjoy their time at Holy Family.” 

Along with excelling in a new sport in such a short time span, French transcends expectations academically. She recently earned a spot on the HFCS highest honor roll, the President’s List, which credits students with a 3.80 to a 4.33 GPA. 

This honor is the result of French’s meticulous organization and time management. From before-school student council meetings to all day academics followed by rowing practice, French isn’t done with her day until most people are eating dinner—around 6:30 p.m. She explains how she plans out her assignments and works ahead so that nothing is late. Like rowing, schoolwork takes time and dedication, but it is very much worth the satisfaction with the end result.

And, the results continue to pile up. In February, Courtney competed as an individual in the US Rowing Indoor National Championships in Atlantic City, NJ, and earned a silver medal in the U19 race against 48 competitors with a time of 7:16.6 in the 2000 meter event (2K meters is the standard distance in rowing.) Watch Courtney's full event HERE

This fall as French heads off to the  University of Notre Dame with aspirations of medical school and a career as a pediatric surgeon. She will undoubtedly use skills learned in the classroom and on the water to continue to accomplish extra-"oar"dinary things.

“It’s not heavy metal or what people would normally think of as hype music,” French explains, laughter in her voice. “The slow speed helps me get in the zone and calms me down a bit.”


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Emerging eSports

Since 2018, when the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) first officially recognized eSports, more than 8,600 high schools have started video-gaming teams. The virtual audience has reached 532 million people globally and high school competitors are earning significant college scholarships. 

Last year, two Holy Family students Sam Treat and Enzo AlAhmar, launched Holy Family's eSports with great success, and it is far from “game over!” for one of Holy Family's newest offerings. 

After participating in a Fortnite tournament hosted by another Holy Family student, Enzo and Sam were inspired to bring eSports to Holy Family. The development of a school program from

something so many students already enjoy seemed a natural fit. Sam says, “We’ve always played video games casually with friends; why wouldn’t we do it competitively through school?”

Before the start of their sophomore year, the duo decided to continue hosting more tournaments and as popularity for their tournaments grew, the idea to move forward with a full eSports program further developed. 

Initially, they hosted Fortnite, Rocket League, and Minecraft tournaments and collected data about the most popular games. Since then, with the support of Activities Director Nick Tibesar, Holy Family eSports has continued to take off. So much so that in March, the former publication design classroom is undergoing renovation into an official eSports gaming arena.

Making It Official

With two years of experience behind them and team advisor Mr. Gary Kannel in place, the program is now an official eSports League competitor. The fall of 2022 was their inaugural season of competition against teams outside of Holy Family. Using the gaming data collected from their sophomore year, they created four teams based on the most popular games among the student body: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros, and Overwatch 2. Holy Family’s League now competes against various high schools across the central region of the United States in competitions organized and hosted by PlayVS. 

Sam and Enzo acknowledge that video games have a reputation for being isolating, and the boys want that stereotype broken. The program has created a community for gamers at Holy Family. Enzo adds, “eSports is a TEAM effort; it's not gaming by yourself. I didn’t know until I started playing, but you must work with your team to find strategies. If you are trying to win by yourself, it won’t work. You need to communicate with each other and create a strategy as a team.” 

Their team strategy is working. In their first official season, fall 2022, Holy Family eSports Mario Kart and Rocket League teams qualified for the central region playoffs. Only the top 32 teams out of 114 across the central United States qualify for playoffs. The newcomer Holy Family eSports Mario Kart team finished in a very respectable 11th place.

Sam and Enzo take great pride in the eSports team and look forward to continuing to expand the Holy Family eSports League. With the goal of creating a community for gamers, the boys invite all interested students to join them. Enzo reflects on their journey, “Our club is growing as the sport grows. It's pretty cool to know you've had a hand in starting something for your school that connects students who might otherwise not ever compete on the same team."

Matches are streamed live on the eSports YouTube channel ( Follow @hfchsesports on Twitter and Instagram for updates and competition times.

French in her Notre Dame rowing gearĀ 

Senior Courtney French signs NLI to row at the University of Notre Dame after seed of an idea is planted by her Holy Family mentor

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Eight Student-Athletes Sign NLIs

On November 11, 2022, eight Holy Family student-athletes signed their National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level.