You know when you have this friend who's doing something that is potentially very embarrassing and you feel the need to nudge him back in the right direction for his own good? Like maybe he bought this Frank Sinatra-looking fedora and wants to wear it in public. You explain to him that it looks good on the skinny guy on "White Collar," but it damn sure doesn't look good on him.
It is in this spirit that I mention that the changing of the name of St. Gregory College Prep to The Gregory School was a really, really awful idea. In fact, The Gregory School is the New Coke of school name changes.
I have a certain fondness and respect for the place. A generation ago, I used to work basketball camps and leagues there. I ran the scoreboard at games when my friend, Brian Peabody, was the boys' basketball coach there.
I have friends who coach there and teach there. Earlier this year, I wrote a column about a St. Gregory kid who won an international math contest. Some of my favorite memories from coaching basketball took place in The Aerie, or whatever they now call the gym. A couple years ago, I only had six kids on my team when we played there. Some of the home fans gave me a gentle ribbing about the size of our roster. (One of the cool things about having only six players is that when you get a 30-point lead and empty your bench, you still have four starters left on the floor, so the other team isn't going to be able to make a run.)
The explanation for the name change was that the families of potential students were under the mistaken impression that the school was a religious institution. This is simply not true, nor has it ever been. The school was named for St. Gregory, the patron saint of education.
Somewhat oddly, the school also dropped "College Prep" from its name. I tried to read through the explanation for their having done so, but it degenerated into neo-hippie crapola about not every kid necessarily fulfilling him/herself by going off to college. Yeah, I want to spend 15 grand a year to send my kid to high school so that when he graduates, he can go off and find himself. For that kind of money, if he wants to find himself, he'd better start his search on an Ivy League campus.
I had the opportunity to speak to a few students from the school when I was coaching at a volleyball tournament. (I mention the coaching part mostly to piss off the whiners who hate sports and hate kids, or maybe hate kids who play sports, or maybe hate the fact that I coach kids who play sports. Of course, there is always the slim possibility that they simply hate the fact that I mention that I coach kids who play sports, but that's probably not it.)
At the volleyball tournament, I talked to several kids on the Hawk team. Of those with whom I spoke, it was unanimous. The Gregory School is a stupid name. One sophomore kid said, "I go to St. Gregory. I entered high school at St. Gregory and three years from now, I'm going to graduate from St. Gregory."
Some of the other kids were even stronger in their dissent. Nevertheless, the school administration has gone all-in on the name change. There's a new sign in front of the school on Craycroft and the school vans have the new name. Somewhat sadly, the volleyball players all have the name "Gregory" across their shoulders on the back of their jerseys. If somebody walked in the gym and didn't know any better, they'd conclude that the kids on the team all come from a Fundamentalist Mormon community.
I'm told that the administration polled some of the families who already had kids in the school, just to see how they would react to the name change. An insider told me that there was a wide range of reactions to the plan. About half of the respondents hated it, while another one-fourth actually despised it. The other one-fourth really didn't care, since they were going to send their kids to another school, preferably one that doesn't start with the word "The."
Oddly enough, that word turns out to be a key to the name change. Someone did some research and allegedly found that exclusive private schools back East that have names that start with "The" make more money than schools that go the less-pretentious route. It's like The Baird School to which Al Pacino was going to take a flamethrower in "Scent of a Woman."
It's going to take a long time for the name change to take hold. The AIA website has made the change and the daily newspaper is using it, but real people—among them just about everybody in the gym that day, including the Hawk players—will continue to use "St. Gregory" or the more common (and more popular) "St. Greg's."
It is said that when zealots form a firing squad, they assemble in a circle. So maybe in 20 years, they'll conclude that "Gregory" is scaring people off and they'll just shorten their name to The. That would say it all.