Catholic League, CYO show support through Oxford Strong campaign

Royal Oak Shrine Academy sixth graders Katie Robinson, Quinn Patterson, Charlotte Davidson, Eva Daris, Olive Croft and Grace Sullivan get ready for “Oxford Strong Day” at their school Feb. 4. (Photo by Avery Wood | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Catholic high school students encouraged to wear t-shirts to show support of Oxford community during Feb. 4 athletic contests

STERLING HEIGHTS — As Oxford High School continues to move back toward normalcy in the wake of its Nov. 30 shooting incident, the Catholic High School League, Catholic Youth Organization and hundreds of other schools are sending a message: We’re here for you. Be strong.

During Catholic Schools Week, there’s a clear indicator of that. Thousands of students, teams and fans will don blue and gold “Oxford Strong” gear during home athletic events at schools not just throughout the league, but across the state.

Since December, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) and Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA)-backed campaign has encouraged schools to purchase the special T-shirts, long-sleeve tees or sweatshirts and wear them to games on “Oxford Strong Day” on Friday, Feb. 4.

Catholic League schools were quick to get on board.

“We’ve asked all of our schools and CYO teams participating this weekend at home to wear the shirts, or jeans or something to show some support,” Catholic League director Vic Michaels said. “Everybody that I’ve talked to is on board with showing some kind of support for the week, even if they don’t have a home game that Friday.”

“We just wanted to outwardly show the compassion so many students — not just ours — that they feel, that parents feel,” Michaels said. “I can’t even imagine what they’re going through in Oxford, not just those that lost students but those who witnessed it. We said we’d like to help in any way we can.”

Carmen Ortiz of E.A. Graphics readies Oxford Strong shirt orders for shipping. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts will be donated to the Oxford Community Memorial and Victims Fund. (Photo by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)
Carmen Ortiz of E.A. Graphics readies Oxford Strong shirt orders for shipping. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts will be donated to the Oxford Community Memorial and Victims Fund. (Photo by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

For example, Royal Oak Shrine has encouraged its high school students to purchase a shirt, and wear them to school and to the Knights’ girls basketball game against Allen Park Cabrini on Friday night.

“It was something that the MHSAA and the MIAAA and the Catholic League were discussing — what can we do to support them — and a lot of athletic directors were talking about it,” Shrine athletic director Ben Kerfoot said. “One of the ideas that they came up with was just having a night for them, and I felt strongly to be there and have that support for them. It was something I wanted to make sure we were doing at the high school level, to make sure we were showing our support that night.”

Even though Shrine’s Academy isn’t hosting any CYO sporting events this weekend, the middle school is holding an Oxford Strong donation contest between sixth, seventh and eighth graders, and the winning class will be treated to donuts.

“It’s just great to have that support through the school districts, being able to provide that help for Oxford Strong and looking out for our other schools in the area,” Kerfoot said. “It’s just extremely important to get as positive as we can for everyone.”

The shirts are printed locally by E.A. Graphics, which will donate all profits directly to the Oxford Community Memorial and Victims Fund.

A supply of t-shirts in the E.A. Graphics plant will soon be delivered to those who support the Oxford Strong cause. The company has received orders from all across Michigan, and even beyond. (Photo by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)
A supply of t-shirts in the E.A. Graphics plant will soon be delivered to those who support the Oxford Strong cause. The company has received orders from all across Michigan, and even beyond. (Photo by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

“What happened was a terrible, terrible tragedy,” said company president Bob Artymovich. “You don’t think about it much until it hits you at home in the backyard — it hits you a little bit different than Columbine or Sandy Hook. It’s a terrible thing, it really is. All you can do is get down on your knees and say a prayer.”

The Sterling Heights-based company has been printing 25,000 shirts per day, according to Artymovich, a Catholic League Hall of Fame inductee who was once the golf coach at Warren Regina.

“We just saw when this all happened and are trying to give something back to the community,” he said. “It always helps when you can get the community behind your efforts.”

That “community” reaches far beyond Oxford. More than 100 high schools — some even in northern Michigan and northwest Ohio — have placed orders for the gear, and that number might grow yet.

“Besides the schools, we’ve got the individual orders,” Artymovich said. “They take more time (to package and ship), the individual public ordering onesies and twosies at a time.”

Each purchase represents a sizable donation. While a T-shirt costs $20, $16.20 of that order would go directly to Oxford.

Royal Oak Shrine Catholic High School freshman Cordell Walton shows off a newly delivered Oxford Strong t-shirt to classmate Maxwell Dorian. Shrine students are encouraged to wear their shirts Feb. 4 when the school hosts a girls basketball game against Allen Park Cabrini. (Photo by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic High School freshman Cordell Walton shows off a newly delivered Oxford Strong t-shirt to classmate Maxwell Dorian. Shrine students are encouraged to wear their shirts Feb. 4 when the school hosts a girls basketball game against Allen Park Cabrini. (Photo by Wright Wilson | Special to Detroit Catholic)

“We are still taking orders, and we’ll carry this throughout February,” Artymovich said. “We plan on presenting a big check next month up in Traverse City (at the annual MIAAA conference).”

Oxford High School is clearly touched by the support, athletic director Tony DeMare said.

“It’s just such a heartwarming gesture and movement. We’re honored by it and deeply humbled,” he said. “Much of it has been put together by colleagues in high school athletics and other individuals who are just stepping up and being selfless. I know it’s been spearheaded on a lot of fronts. It really typifies someone stepping up and supporting a community that’s been going through some challenges.”

While Oxford students didn’t return to in-person classes for nearly two months following the horrific incident, the school’s winter sports teams began play in December — something that was viewed as a necessary part of the road back to normalcy.

“Athletics is a significant component of this whole healing process. We’re doing our very best to heal and recover. No doubt this restart gets us back on the path toward normal,” said DeMare, who previously served as a Catholic League athletic director at Dearborn Divine Child and Madison Heights Bishop Foley.

“There’s such a tight fraternity in school sports. The essence of our communities coming together is helping us through,” he said. “We are encouraged just in preparation and anticipation of this day.”

To purchase Oxford Strong gear or to get more information, visit SupportOxfordStrong.com.



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