It is Saturday morning and I am hanging out in the cafeteria of Saint Mark’s High School in Pike Creek, Delaware. Today is the Annual Science Fair that brings parochial school children together from all over the Diocese of Wilmington to compete in activities that prove their academic and intellectual prowess in science. Once again, my daughter Katie is participating in the Science Fair. For months now we have studied the Delaware ecosystem, manipulated Tinker-Toys, interpreted nebulous instructions in the pursuit of scientific achievement. Thankfully, the event is finally here.

School was quite different at Saint Gabriel when I attended school there. Most of the time, we engaged the usual parochial academic activities, interspersed with Catholic devotional practices and most important, the daily lunch break. It was always great to look at the clock, mid-morning and know that around 11:15 you would be released from the confines of academic purgatory and could go home to catch a quick lunch, catch up with a bit of television and then return for round two of the pugnacious challenges of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I don’t really remember us having inter-parochial science fairs in those days. I suppose it was difficult to coordinate all of the Catholic schools from each neighborhood into a cohesive activity on the grand scale of a science fair that encompasses Catholic students from all regions. We just had to be content with the usual science projects that came with our textbooks at Saint Gabes.

Today however, the approach towards science is much different from the 1960’s. The students have events, like egg drops. During the egg drops, the students are required to calculate the proper amount of insulation that will protect the egg from a second story drop from fractional harm. It was so much easier in Gray’s Ferry days just to figure out the velocity an egg needed when throwing them around the neighborhood on Mischief Night , the precursor to Halloween. Honestly, I never had the chance to throw eggs on Mischief Night; I was usually too busy with my nose in a book or doing some hematological experiment with my junior mad scientist microscope. However, I am told that my late brother, Stephen had egg-cellent proficiency with the airborne hen fruit, and I am sure my sister Karen was known to throw a few eggs around Anthony Wayne schoolyard among other places.

Science fairs remind me of all of the science classes at Saint Gabes where we tried to understand the complexities of photosynthesis, the inner workings of the human body and the foundational principles of space exploration and propulsion. Well, I thought that is what was happening in science class in Gray’s Ferry. The real science fair in our neighborhood went on daily as everyone played stick ball, baseball, football and all of the other great activities of urban childhood. Sports associated with baseball, football and basketball collectively studied the physiology of movement. Pitching pennies gave everyone a lesson in statistical probabilities and just growing up in the urban jungle of Gray’s Ferry was an application of Darwin’s theories of selectivity.

Here in Delaware they don’t study science in the field as we did. It is an antiseptically clean and isolated environment, well controlled and supervised. While I am very glad my daughter has a great interest in science, I would like to see the Catholic students of the Wilmington Diocese experience science in its most primal form…like using their scientific knowledge to spray water from a fire hydrant.

See, for years all of the activities in which we engaged while outside of school in Gray’s Ferry were really applications in practice of what we were learning at Saint Gabriel School every day.

There is no better way to experience science than to live science. We figured out the concept of velocity by throwing things, sometimes baseballs, sometimes itchy balls and sometimes bottles and stones. Whatever we did for fun…we can now say today that we were really doing homework….in the field.

I am sure my daughter will enjoy the Science Fair, but I would like her to know about the science of urban survival as well as the principles of scientific discovery.

I challenge any of the students at today’s Science Fair to throw a pimple ball, an itchy ball or a bottle as well as anyone from the neighborhood of Gray’s Ferry.

Do kids at Saint John the Beloved even know what an itchy ball is?

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at & . Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic upbringing and educational experiences at . He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Catholic Exchange,, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal, & Comments are always welcome at

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