It's the Mission that Matters Rory Fitzpatrick '88 leads with his heart

by Joe Ginley '12 for the Fall 2018 issue of Saint Ignatius Magazine

Few high schools have achieved the athletics success enjoyed by Saint Ignatius over the last decade. The Wildcats have won 21 state championships, four national titles, and four Midwest Scholastic Rowing Championships since 2008.

From the outside, the Wildcats look like a powerhouse focused only on winning. The story from the inside is quite different. Behind the curtain, one man works quietly to ensure the success of Saint Ignatius athletics – not just in winning games, but in forming Men for Others.

That humble leader is Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ’88, a man with a heart as large as his to-do list.

The story of Fitzpatrick’s growth into a dynamic leader at Saint Ignatius begins long before he accepted the job in 2008. Fitzpatrick attended Saint Ignatius and played basketball and football. From there, he went to Marquette University, earning a degree in communications. After graduation, he spent time in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps before leading the Arrupe Neighborhood Partnership. He later spent some time working in the private industry.

In 1999, Fitzpatrick received a call to return home. Former president Rev. Robert J. Welsh, S.J. ’54 invited Fitzpatrick back to work in the athletic department.

Longtime athletic director Dale Gabor ’66 brought Fitzpatrick on as the Assistant Athletic Director. Under Gabor’s direction, Fitzpatrick thrived in the role for nine years. In 2008, when Gabor decided to step away after 25 years in the job, the school selected Fitzpatrick to take over.

“I was delighted when Rory got the job after me and I’m probably even more delighted now,” Gabor says. “Things happen so quickly down there. He takes care of 16 sports. It’s a tough job, but he does wonderfully.”

Utilizing his experience as Assistant Director, Fitzpatrick set to work in continuing Gabor’s efforts.

With the advancement of the internet and social media, Fitzpatrick modernized the department, instituting online ticketing, helping to expand the reach of the Saint Ignatius Broadcast Network, and hiring Brad Ganor as Assistant Athletic Director in 2016.

Another area of focus for Fitzpatrick was advancing the school’s relationship with the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA). He holds the organization in high regard and values the connection between Saint Ignatius and the OHSAA.

“Rory is a good person. We need more people like him leading athletic programs in Ohio,” says OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass. “There is never any hidden agenda with Rory. Even when there is a rule he doesn’t agree with, that’s the way you do it. I have great respect for that. That speaks to his ethics – he would never consider violating a rule. He understands the system and approaches things the right way.”

Most importantly, Fitzpatrick places an emphasis on meeting with coaches about mission and culture. He spends time with each new head coach, and also every returning coach, talking about ways to form student-athletes as Men for Others.

“The most important part of the job is placing good people in front of our kids,” says Fitzpatrick. “We do a lot of formation work, which comes from our coaches. Our coaches are teachers. Their classes, in this case, are practices that last two hours a day, and they have a test or two every week in the form of games. The most important part of my job is making sure the people who are in front of our athletes are giving them the right messages.”

One coach who witnesses Fitzpatrick’s hard work is Head Soccer Coach Mike McLaughlin ’85. The longtime coach has great camaraderie with his fellow Irishman, noting Fitzpatrick’s extraordinary listening skills.

“It’s a pleasure to interact with Rory everyday. He’s a man who’s pulled in a million different directions, but when you walk into his office, he stops doing what he’s doing,” McLaughlin says. “He’s an amazing, mission-based leader. People look at our athletic success and think we are a high-powered, win-at-all costs type of school. That’s so far from the truth. If you listen to anything Rory has to say, it’s all about helping to create an environment for young men to discover their gifts in this world through the structure of a team.”

Fitzpatrick and McLaughlin embrace following one of many soccer state championships.

Student-athletes and parents take notice of Fitzpatrick’s mission-based leadership style.

Kevin Cook ’86 attended Saint Ignatius with Fitzpatrick and is the father of three Saint Ignatius student-athletes – Jack ’16, Ryan ’17, and Henry ’21. In ways big and small, Cook has witnessed Fitzpatrick’s dedication to the school and its young men.

“Rory understands the importance and tradition of athletics here,” Cook says. “But at the same time, he gets that it’s just one of the legs of the stool – academics and growing in a relationship with Christ are more important. Rory understands winning is not the end all, be all. He epitomizes the mission of the school – to help young men discern ‘What does God want from me?’”

Senior and Wildcat football player Jett Elad moved to the United States from Canada before coming to Saint Ignatius. From the moment Jett stepped foot on campus, Fitzpatrick checked in with Jett to ensure the young student-athlete was adjusting well to life at Wildcat High.

“Mr. Fitz is one of the best guys I know on campus,” Jett says. “Anything we need, he’s there for us, anytime. I want him to know that we’re thankful for him.”

As for Fitzpatrick, he feels blessed to work at Saint Ignatius.

“I inherited a great group of coaches. We have men and women who are great examples for our kids and teach them the right thing,” Fitzpatrick says. “We’re blessed with our kids, and our parents are incredibly supportive. And the alumni – you look at the campus and see all of the development we have going on right now. The alumni have been invaluable.”

Saint Ignatius is fortunate to have Fitzpatrick as a mission-based leader.

“I have the utmost respect for him,” Gabor says. “As a person, he’s first-class all the way, no question about it.”

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