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J.D. Long GarcíaMarch 16, 2023
Sofia Bell, who will play basketball for the University of Oregon next year, is a senior at Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore (photo: Juliana Kromminga)

Growing up, Sofia Bell played basketball with boys at the local community center. She said that experience made the transition to club basketball a lot easier.

“We had a hoop outside of our house, and I played every day,” Ms. Bell, a senior at Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore., told America. Her father, Greg Bell, helped a lot too. He played basketball for the University of Oregon, where Ms. Bell will start her college career next year.

“I was able to get training from him,” she said, explaining how much support she’s felt from her family. “We do a lot of things together. They come to all my games.”

Sofia Bell was recently selected to play in the 2023 McDonald’s All-American Games and had offers from schools like Gonzaga, Notre Dame and Stanford.

Ms. Bell was recently selected to play in the 2023 McDonald’s All-American Games and had offers from schools like Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Stanford and the University of Southern California. She chose Oregon because she has been a fan all her life, she loves the coaches, and she already knows some of the women she will be playing with next season. She also signed a name, image and likeness deal with Portland Gear, a local lifestyle apparel brand. In 2021, the N.C.A.A. began allowing college players to benefit from such deals.

Her Jesuit education has prepared her for the next level, according to Ms. Bell. She chose to attend Jesuit High School for a number of reasons, including the strong culture, academics and athletic programs.

“Also, having known some Jesuit graduates, their own experience at the school was very positive,” she said. “In our faith classes, we’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what it means to be open to growth. And just being a better person overall. That’s something I’ll take with me.”

It is something that Jason Lowery also took with him when he graduated from Jesuit in 1993. He is now a counselor and the head women’s basketball coach at the school. With two young children, he stepped away from coaching men’s college basketball in 2010.

“It just kind of called me,” Mr. Lowery said of his current position at the school. “A lot of people were curious [about the move from college to high school]. But I’ve always told everyone that, other than marrying my wife, it’s the absolute best decision I’ve ever made.”

“She leads by example. She leads because she demands excellence from herself.”

What stands out to Mr. Lowery, after coaching in other places, is that the students here are used to meeting high standards. Those include not only the academic rigor and the demanding athletic program, but also the development of character.

“Being women for others—that’s what being on the team is all about,” he said. “It’s about being there for others and that’s what makes coaching here so special. It’s about so much more than basketball. And our girls live that every day.”

Ms. Bell exemplifies that message, Mr. Lowery said. “She leads by example,” he said. “She leads because she demands excellence from herself. Oregon is really lucky to be getting her and it’s going to be a great place for her.”

During the season, Ms. Bell practices every day that she does not have a game. Afterward, she works on strength and conditioning and also runs drills with a trainer. In the off-season, she plays with a club team based in California, which requires a lot of travel.

“Balancing that with school is obviously a challenge, but I’ve gotten used to it,” said Ms. Bell, who also plays tennis for her school in the spring. “Part of it is just having good study habits. I always prioritize my academics and make sure everything is done on time.”

Mike Hughes, the athletics director at Jesuit, said Ms. Bell is not only talented, but also a team player. “She’s very humble and other-centered,” he said. “She’s not showy. That wouldn’t really fit with our coach or with our school’s culture.”

Mr. Hughes, who studied at Boston College, applies principles he learned from Thomas Groome, a theology professor at the university. “We talk about the informational level, the formational and the transformational,” he said of the approach to coaching at Jesuit. Information, Mr. Hughes said, includes techniques and tactics. Formation includes learning dedication, determination and work ethic. But transformation goes beyond that.

“We use the opportunity of sports to talk about things like humility, service, justice and caring for your fellow men and women,” he said. “If we’re truly a Jesuit school, we believe in finding God in all things. Certainly God can be found in the Eucharist or in the sacraments or in prayer. But we believe that God can also be found in academics, in the pursuit of wisdom and in something like sports.

“We use the opportunity of sports to talk about things like humility, service, justice and caring for your fellow men and women.”

Other teams at Jesuit also expect athletes to offer service. The head varsity baseball coach, Colin Griffin, and his players team up with Children’s Miracle Network to run a baseball tournament for young people with disabilities. A cross country and track coach, Tom Rothenberger, has his athletes clean up trash after track meets. Brian Valley, who also coaches track, had students write thank you letters to their parents during practice.

“So making them think about and write a caring letter, will that help us win games? I don’t really care if it does. It’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Hughes said. “Does picking up trash make you a better athlete? Indirectly, I think it does. In the sense that little things matter.... But even if it doesn’t help us win games, we’re going to talk about showing respect to the other team or the facility and cleaning up after yourself.”

Details like clean uniforms and a tidy locker room reflect the focus on character, he said. Winning is a goal, but not the purpose of the athletics program. Their purpose is to form people of conscience, competence and compassion, he said.

Of the approximately 800 students who play sports each year at Jesuit, 30 to 35 get college scholarships. In that respect, Jesuit is one of the top schools in the state. But the success of the high school athletics program should not be measured by the number of athletes who play in college, according to Mr. Hughes. Instead, he said, success should be measured 10 years later.

“Are they wonderful husbands and wives who are spending time with their kids?” he said. “Are they serving as lectors and eucharistic ministers? Are they outstanding citizens in their community? It’s about whether we shape them to be better children for the kingdom.”

In college, Ms. Bell plans to continue serving the community as she did during high school. She has volunteered at sports youth camps in the past and intends to do so again this summer. Ms. Bell believes sports can be a unifying force.

“I’ve met people from all over the country, and from other countries, just by playing basketball,” she said, noting how some W.N.B.A. players will join leagues overseas in the offseason. “Obviously there are differences, but just having that commonality in sports really brings people together.”

Ms. Bell plans to be a business major and is considering a focus on sports marketing. She wants to stay around sports and after college hopes to both keep playing basketball and serve her community.

“Sports are a way to break barriers,” she said, “whether they’re financial or even language barriers. Everyone can participate in sports in all sorts of ways. Having that to bring people together is pretty cool.”

Jesuit School Spotlight is an occasional feature focusing on Jesuit middle and secondary schools.

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