Jackson Ross stepped into the unknown nearly four years ago when he began attending Novi Detroit Catholic Central High School.
He loved the school, but he was aware being a Jewish student at an all-boys Catholic school could present a myriad of challenges.
As he approaches the end of his senior year, Ross looks back and says, “going to Catholic Central was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
This is more than a reflection of his success on the football field and wrestling mat for the Shamrocks.
He has a 3.9 grade point average and is considering being a student-athlete at an Ivy League university. He’s a student body leader and mentor at Catholic Central. He’s also a finalist for a Michigan High School Athletic Association Class A Scholar-Athlete Award.
What could have been an uncomfortable time in his life has instead turned into a time of personal growth and inclusion.
“The people at Catholic Central have allowed Jackson to be who he is and helped him grow into the person he is today,” said Sanford Ross, Jackson’s father.
Athletic Director Aaron Babicz said he respects Jackson because of his personality and values.
“Jackson has never been shy about his faith,” Babicz said.
Ross played football with a Star of David drawn with a black Sharpie on tape on his left wrist.
“There are crosses everywhere on our uniform, so I decided to add a Star of David to my uniform,” he said.
There are other interesting stories of the melding of religions during Ross’ time at Catholic Central.
The Brighton resident won an award from the school’s theology department for his academic achievements in his freshman year.
Then he had a talk with a priest.
“[He] told me if you substitute God for Jesus on many of the things we both believe in, there isn’t much difference between us,” Ross said.
Another priest baked kugel made from his own recipe for Ross to try during Chanukah.
Ross missed an important wrestling tournament last month at Catholic Central so he could attend his brother’s bar mitzvah at Temple Israel. Ross also had a bar mitzvah at the West Bloomfield synagogue.
A 6-foot-3, 240-pounder, Ross was a three-year starter at tight end and defensive end on the perennial powerhouse Catholic Central football team who earned All-State honorable mention accolades as a senior.
After the Shamrocks lost to Detroit Cass Tech last fall in the Division 1 state championship game at Ford Field in Detroit, Ross, a team captain, led his teammates through the handshake line.
“The pain of that moment felt crushing. The disappointment palpable,” he wrote in his essay for the MHSAA’s Scholar-Athlete Award. He also wrote about the importance of being gracious in defeat.
“The heart of high school athletics is competition, but its soul is sportsmanship,” he wrote.
Ross finished in sixth place at 215 pounds last year at the Division 1 individual wrestling state tournament, making him an All-State wrestler. He hopes to return to the state tournament this season.
So how did he end up at Catholic Central? One of his youth football coaches suggested he give the school a look, and he shadowed a Catholic Central student for a day. Next came a school tour with his family.
Though he wanted to go to the school because he thought it was “a special place,” the decision to enroll wasn’t made until the last minute.
“At first, my parents thought I was joking when I said I was very interested in Catholic Central,” he said.
“We wondered what Jackson would encounter there. Would they try to convert him? We had concerns,” Sanford said. “But everyone has learned from each other and we’d have no hesitation to make the same decision.”
Babicz said about 20 percent of Catholic Central’s 1,050 students aren’t Catholic.
“There is a misconception we might try to convert kids who aren’t Catholic. That’s certainly not the case, but we are a faith-based school,” he said.
Jackson said he’s not aware of another Jewish student at Catholic Central, but there is a Jewish teacher.
There are three children in the Ross family. Danielle, 21, is a Brighton High School and Michigan State University graduate. Andrew, 13, is a seventh-grader at Scranton Middle School in Brighton.
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