English Family Jump-Starts MMA Baseball and Expresses Gratitude for the Academy
In spring 2019, Missouri Military Academy will welcome baseball back to its roster of varsity sports. For one MMA family, the sport’s revitalization at the Academy represents more than opportunity for their son Billy, currently a junior at MMA, to play ball — it’s also been a chance for them to give back to the school. Rob and Katherine English recently made a financial gift to MMA for the purchase of an on-field roll-away hitting cage, a collapsible indoor hitting cage and three dozen pitching machine balls.
According to Rob, it’s important to their family for Billy to graduate from a school with a lasting and improving legacy. “By supporting the school, we help (support that legacy),” he says about their recent gift.
In eighth grade, Billy was in a private school in St. Louis, but it wasn’t working out, according to Rob. “He was unfocused. He needed regimen,” Rob says. The summer after eighth grade, the family decided to enroll Billy in MMA.
“Gary Stewart had us at ‘hello,’” says Rob about their first impressions of attending an open house at MMA and meeting Stewart, an alumnus and admissions representative. “We felt like (the Academy) would be a terrific fit for our son.”
“It’s not just a military school — it’s college prep with international flavor,” Rob says, affirming their choice of MMA for Billy has been a positive experience. “The boys are exposed to different languages, different cultures and learn how to handle different things.”
On sending a child to boarding school
“It’s sort of like your kid is leaving for college,” Rob says about saying goodbye to a child going to boarding school.
Although Billy was excited about attending MMA, he was nervous, too, about leaving home. When he sat in the barber chair for his first MMA haircut, his dad says the experience became very real for all of them.
During the maroon phase, the period in which new cadets learn the traditions and protocols at MMA with limited contact to the outside world, cadets are challenged to step up mentally and physically within their new environment. Like many new cadets, Billy felt the weight of the challenge, but his parents reassured him that everything would be OK.
“We felt that, after a short period of time, he would be so engaged that he wouldn’t have anxiety (about the new experience). He got over it faster than I did,” Rob says about the transition.
“I felt like I didn't belong there when I arrived,” Billy says, but the tight-knit community at MMA helped him become part of the family. Today, he says that the people are what he appreciates the most about MMA. “I appreciate the boys and staff that make the experience so much better for the cadets more than anything."
Rob remembers seeing his son’s photo on the MMA website just prior to the Crucible, during Billy’s first year at MMA. “He was smiling, and I felt this complete and utter sigh of relief,” Rob says, recalling the moment and knowing his son was in a good place.
The structure of MMA life has been a significant benefit for Billy, according to Rob. “Regimen is something that a lot of young boys aren’t getting these days,” he says. “We felt the leadership experience would do him a tremendous amount of good.”
Rob says MMA has taught Billy how to focus. “He’s learned how to work and get things done, which will serve him throughout his life,” he says. “Billy’s really excelled here.”
“The most challenging part is learning how to spend your time,” Billy says. “Time windows are tight, and learning time management is ironically time consuming.”
MMA Director of Music Education Freddie Lomas speaks highly of the growth that Billy has achieved at MMA. “I can trust Billy to undertake any task that he is set,” says Lomas. “Funny, honest and reliable – he is an excellent cadet.”
Active in the marching and jazz bands, as well as orchestra, Billy also serves as a drummer in the Honor Guard. In 2016, he participated in an MMA Fighting Colonels Band performance in Oahu, Hawaii, as part of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Rob recalls the pride he felt when Billy traveled with the band to Hawaii: “I travel for a living. Travel and exposure to different cultures is important to me for my son.”
Another moment of pride for the English family came when a request was made to MMA for the honor guard to serve at the funeral of Gerald Kopp ’57 this past summer in St. Louis. Billy volunteered. Kopp's family was touched and gave a gift to MMA in response, bringing generosity and support for MMA full circle.
“When the family came to greet me, they expressed their thanks, and I felt like I was doing something larger than myself,” Billy says about representing the Academy at the funeral. “I was honored to carry the flag from the hearse to the gravesite. The family was thankful I was there for them, and they said that the Academy meant so much to him. He spent eight years here, and I could see how the values of the Academy had been taught to the sons and grandchildren.”
That perspective on values is something Rob, as a parent, appreciates about his son. “Aside from the academics, he is learning how to handle people, how to lead,” Rob says. “This is going to be very important in his life going forward. He gets it. At MMA, Billy’s made tremendous strides toward becoming an adult.”
At MMA commencement in May 2018, the Englishes were recognized for their dedication to MMA. They received the Robert H. Weaver Award, presented each year to an individual or group who best exemplifies an unconditional, unceasing drive and commitment to making life better for MMA and the corps of cadets.
“MMA needs support to do the things they do,” says Rob with appreciation for the experiences that Billy has had at MMA.
The Englishes like to look outside traditional ways of giving. Regularly attending and supporting on-campus events, the family has given time, talent and treasure to better MMA. They donated a used truck to the maintenance department last year, for example. “The boys take pride in a good-looking campus,” he says about the choice to support the maintenance crew.
Rob credits MMA development staff for making it easy to support the Academy. “Sometimes giving can be a pain — seemingly more trouble than it’s worth — but they make it so easy and painless,” he says. “Every little bit helps, even supporting the 1889 Scholarship. You compound that with all the alumni and parents who contribute to it. It can have a major effect.”
Director of Development Kevin Quinn (left) and MMA President Charles McGeorge (right) present Rob English (center) with an award on behalf of the Academy for his family's generous donation towards the Colonels baseball program.
The Englishes are excited that Billy, who has played baseball since kindergarten, and other cadets will have the opportunity to play baseball for MMA this spring.
“I have always loved to play baseball,” says Billy, who plays first base and pitches. “I am very excited for the season, and I am looking forward to playing with my MMA brothers.”
MMA baseball coach Blayne Murphy looks forward to working with a strong group of boys for the new season, and he is grateful for the gift from the English family. “On behalf of the coaches, players, faculty and staff, alumni and the entire MMA family, thank you to the English family for jump-starting our season, and in turn, continuing our tradition of excellence,” Murphy says.
In a recent meeting with cadets interested in playing baseball, he used the English family as an example of leadership. "I told the boys that we will face adversity this year — tough calls by the umpires, bad weather, poor field conditions, etc. — and I told them we were going to see how they respond to some of this adversity with off-season, early morning workouts, when there is still snow on the ground, before our games even start,” Murphy says. “The boys agreed that it is how we respond to these challenges that will ultimately define our season. The English family led by example with this chain of thinking when they saw that we were facing a little adversity almost a full year before season broke, and they quickly responded by going above and beyond, providing for our boys the means to improve.”
Murphy credits the Englishes for demonstrating the level of commitment required not only from the boys, but also from the Academy as a whole, family and friends to achieve the team's goals and make MMA baseball one of the state's most prominent programs.
MMA cadets normally assemble 500 packs a week to help keep local school children in need fed over the weekend. This week, cadets stepped up their effort to address food shortages for families during the COVID-19 pandemic – packing 3500 Buddy Packs in two days.