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Bill Jackson, Ritter High football player at center of controversy

Cardinal Ritter's Bill Jackson plays against Nazareth Academy on Aug. 31 despite having been declared ineligible.

Mike Mantucca, Special to

Cardinal Ritter is built not to break. In recent days, you’ve read a lot about Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School. You may think you know us. I’m confident there’s more you should know.

What you may know is that we had a nationally ranked football program. No. 1 in the state and in the country, our team was on track to make a return trip to the state championship game. Instead of continuing on that path, we confronted a situation in which a scholar athlete played in our opening game, for which he was ineligible. Several days ago, my leadership team and I made the heart-wrenching but important decision to end our football season and terminate the employment of our football coaches.

Here is what you need to know: The excellence we inspire in our students goes far beyond the field. Our football program is not our only nationally ranked program; our entire school is nationally ranked. We have a 98% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate. Our students stay in college at a higher rate than all of their peers throughout schools in the country. Nationally, only 2% of teachers are black men. At Cardinal Ritter, 25% of teachers are black men. This matters.

This commitment to excellence was born 40 years ago when Cardinal Ritter College Prep opened our doors. In 1979, we were the very first African American, Catholic co-ed college prep high school in the country, and with a 100% college acceptance rate of our first graduating class, we solidified our position as a national model.

The question I get most about our students and our results is, “What is the secret to what you do?” I state, “It’s simply our mission.” Our mission of faith development, academic excellence and leadership has carried us through our history and will continue to drive everything we do.

You see, we were built not to break. Our students and alums come from a people who have endured struggle and surmounted it to survive. I wish you could see what I see every day in our students: brilliance, courage, perseverance, determination, grit, God and love. I wish you could see our school — quiet halls, teachers engaging students, kids who hold their heads high with confidence, but also hold doors for you and respond with respect and manners when asked a question. I know if you walk through our doors, you’d feel the love of a family. We build more than scholars — we build people of character, and we have been preparing our students to overcome moments of adversity since we opened our doors 40 years ago.

When our students graduate, they are enlightened in faith, nurtured with compassion, enriched by excellence, and called to leadership. We are a beacon of hope of what’s possible when kids live up to their fullest potential, and because of this, our alumni represent the best and brightest St. Louis has to offer: physicians, attorneys, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, school administrators, and so much more. More than 80% of our alumni actively choose to return to St. Louis to live, work and lead.

Our strength has been tested. Through this situation, some false rumors have been floating around related to our academic integrity, the conditions in our community, and the future of our school. To those false narratives, I am proud to say that we are stronger than we were yesterday. Academics at Cardinal Ritter are second to none. Our students, staff and community are united in our mission. And we are ready to move forward with faith, hope and Lion Pride to become the best we’ve ever been.

We are built with integrity, we do the right thing, we face adversity head on, and we remain strong and steadfast in our Catholic values. I hope that after reading this, you know more about who we are at Cardinal Ritter College Prep, and I invite you to come and see for yourself.

Tamiko Armstead is the president of Cardinal Ritter College Prep.