March 13, 2010

Bridging the gapTucked away in a small Western Maine town, on the field and in the classroom students are ...Bridging the gap

JENN MENENDEZ

— By

20081014_BridgtonAcademy
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20081014_BridgtonAcademy

Gordon Chibroski

20081014_BridgtonAcademy
click image to enlarge

20081014_BridgtonAcademy

Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

NORTH BRIDGTON — Tucked on a hillside in western Maine, the white buildings of Bridgton Academy rise up steeply, the centerpiece to golden colors of fall radiating in sunlight. Young men engage in horseplay on the sidewalk, others scurry to class with backpacks, wide shoulders and long gaits.

By afternoon the playing fields are alive with chatter and the sounds of practice. Football, soccer, fall baseball.

It could be any school, New England.

But a closer look reveals something much different. Here, 18- and 19-year-old males get their second chance in the classroom and on the playing field before heading off to college.

Bridgton Academy is the only college preparatory school in the country whose student body -- all male -- consists entirely of high school graduates. Though a small percentage of students are not athletes, most are young men with dreams of playing NCAA sports. One hundred ninety-three are enrolled this year, the school's 200th anniversary.

''There's no pep rally. No cheerleaders. No article in the paper,'' said football coach Rick Marcella. ''You play because you love the game and we're going to get you prepared for college athletics and academics.''

Every fall some 200 students arrive. More than half of this year's class is from New England, but in all there are students from 26 states and two foreign countries.

They learn the playbook. And they learn the ropes of studying in the classroom, where the student-to-faculty ratio is 9 to 1.

The school's alumni boast a college graduation rate of 70 percent, with the average completion rate of a bachelor's degree in 41/2 years.

Giovanni Clayborne, a 6-foot, 187-pound linebacker from San Jose, Calif., is relishing his second chance.

Expelled from his California high school as a freshman for fighting with boys about not joining a gang, Clayborne and his mom and sister moved east, where he found he stood out on the football field at Newton North High in Newton, Mass.

His grades were another story.

''You're here for two reasons. Better grades and athletics,'' said Clayborne, squinting in the sunlight, just off the football field. ''The structure is good. You first get here and you're nervous. You know you're around other good athletes and it's a little intimidating.

''But once you're here you see what you can be.''

Clayborne believes he can play Division I football for a major conference university. He knows that means getting his grades up in the classroom, and says the structure of the program helps.

Days are mapped out to the minute, from sunrise to 9 p.m. with class, study halls and practices.

Free time is kept to a minimum. It is designed to mimic the rigors of balancing college academics with athletics.

''The structure is good and being around all boys helps,'' said Clayborne.

''It becomes kind of a brotherhood.''

Bridgton's opponents in football are high level prep schools or junior varsity teams from colleges around the Northeast, including Columbia, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.

In winter, Bridgton fields competitive hockey and basketball teams; and in spring there is lacrosse, baseball and tennis.

Headmaster Grady Vigneau touts the program's ability to choose the right students. A former college football player and coach, he was hired this summer. He says the right student for Bridgton is one who buys into the school's philosophy and agrees to a kind of partnership to do his part to succeed.

''Nineteen-year-old boys are going to make mistakes,'' said Vigneau. ''It's not all a bowl of cherries. This isn't la-la land. We lose kids and that's painful. But we make a commitment to every young man that comes here. The satisfaction comes when that partnership is formed.''

Most of the school's athletes are referred to Bridgton Academy by their high school coaches. Some are encouraged to attend by an interested college program that needs the athlete to become academically eligible.

The price tag is $38,000 for tuition, room and board. Financial aid is available.

If an athlete doesn't want to be at Bridgton, it is unlikely he will be accepted, Vigneau said.

For example, Bridgton Academy was approached to accept Michael Beasley, the Miami Heat rookie who played last winter at Kansas State before declaring for the NBA draft after his freshman year.

''We said no. He wasn't right for our mission,'' said Vigneau. ''We do not feel pressured.''

The school is not just a stereotypical jock haven, staff members say.

Some athletes have Ivy League credentials and simply want a year to prepare for the rigors of their college studies, or to improve their ability on the field.

Many arrive with strong transcripts but want to play for a higher-level college program, and need a year to get stronger or faster or better without affecting eligibility.

''We're not the last resort before McDonald's,'' said Athletic Director Brad Smith. ''Some of these guys have four or five college acceptance letters in hand.''

During an hour-long world history class, former Brown University offensive lineman Drew Inzer, dressed neatly in a shirt and tie, is nearly bursting with enthusiasm as he explains Germany's attack of France in May 1940 during World War II.

A self-proclaimed world history nut, Inzer also plays the bassoon and coaches the offensive line at Bridgton.

He speaks to his class of about 16 directly and loudly, not unlike a football coach might explain a new play in the locker room. Many kids participate in the discussion -- unsolicited.

''They see me on the football field and then in here,'' said Inzer, who was a member of the New England Patriots' practice squad during the 2001 season. ''They learn you don't have to be a jock all the time. You can learn and discover in the classroom.''

Some even discover an appreciation for academics they never really had in high school, when Friday night games held more importance than Monday morning pop quizzes.

''For many it's the first time they recognize they have the aptitude and the ability to be successful in the classroom,'' said Sven Cole, the school's marketing director. ''They really seem to get it when they come here. The first day of training camp 80 kids walk in here thinking they're going to the NFL. All of a sudden they realize maybe I do need to figure out what I really want to do.''

Often, said Cole, a player will really break the mold. He goes on to tell the story of a defensive lineman who played a piano recital for his teammates one day.

''Here was this real stud on defensive line who played the piano and blew everyone away,'' said Cole. ''You think of these rough-and-tumble football players, and sometimes they really break the stereotypical mold about what they're excited about.''

University of Maine linebacker Jordan Stevens, a former standout at Mt. Blue High, attended Bridgton Academy. He said it prepared him for UMaine, both on the field and in the classroom.

''When I got out of high school I didn't know what I wanted to do,'' said Stevens. ''You're accountable for everything (at Bridgton). You're up at like 5 a.m. and busy all day long. Some guys hated it the whole time. But it paid off for me. It was a really meaningful year.''

Pat Daley is the third of three brothers to attend Bridgton Academy.

An outside linebacker while at Lake Region High, he chose Bridgton because it worked for his brothers. Oldest brother Michael went to Union. Older brother Tom is a team captain and defensive back at Colby College. His father Joe is the defensive line coach at Bridgton.

''Nobody gave us looks at Lake Region,'' he said. ''I want to play Division II or III. And here your coach is willing to send tape out. It's a unique thing.''

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

jmenendez@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

20081014_BridgtonAcademy
click image to enlarge

20081014_BridgtonAcademy

Gordon Chibroski

20081014_BridgtonAcademy
click image to enlarge

20081014_BridgtonAcademy

Gordon Chibroski

20081014_BridgtonAcademy
click image to enlarge

20081014_BridgtonAcademy

Gordon Chibroski

click image to enlarge

Bridgton Academy Coach Rick Marcella has football players who understand they play for the love of the game.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Drew Inzer, the offensive line coach and history buff, was a member of the New England Patriots’ practice squad in 2001.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer;Thursday.,October 16, 2008. Bridgton Academy Headmaster Grady Vigneau for a preview of football coaches and team members at Bridgton Academy during practice today.

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John Patriquin/Staff Photographer;Thursday.,October 16, 2008. Linebacker Giovanni Clayborne (right) keeps a eye on team mate Pat Daley for a preview of football coaches and team members at Bridgton Academy during a light workout today.

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Pat Daley, who played at Lake Region High, is the third of three brothers who went on to play for Bridgton Academy.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

 


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