Hwy. 51 Revisited: McComb, Mississippi

By Jesse Brooks

McComb, Mississippi is the kind of town that seems to get by on day-to-day business. It doesn’t beat its chest to declare that it is better than somewhere else or decorate itself as something flashy. However, the best way to describe McComb is welcoming. You can walk into a public place or a locally owned business, and people smile and greet you. They ask you how you’re feeling and talk directly to you like they’ve known you for years.

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Though McComb may sound like a typical sleepy Southern town, history suggests that it wasn’t always that way. Like so many towns that reside on Highway 51, it exists because of the expansion of the Great Northern Railroad, known today as the Illinois Central Railroad. The city was founded in 1872 after Henry Simpson McComb decided to move the railroad’s maintenance shops to the area. Railroad employment caused a city to form and blossom.

Over the turn of the century, McComb at times went through periods of unrest. The Illinois Central Shopman’s Strike of 1911 brought violence to the city over a period that lasted nearly a year, and the strikes were eventually disbanded due to a lack of success. McComb suffered extreme violence against African-Americans throughout the 1960s, including 11 bombings after the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 the following summer and African-Americans in the South finally received protection at the polls.

However, in eras of great struggle often something beautiful is born. The railroad became a facilitator for the exchange of great ideas, and musicians and artists from McComb began to make their mark on the world.

A Mississippi blues trail on Highway 51 begins in McComb, and it starts in a big way with “The Originator” himself, Bo Diddley. Born in McComb in 1928 and named Ellas Bates, Diddley’s songwriting is considered a key element in the popular transition from blues to rock-&-roll. Diddley introduced a five-accent Afro-Cuban rhythm to blues and country music known today as the “Diddley Beat.” The beat is a cornerstone in modern rock, pop and hip-hop music. A blues trail marker in his honor is located at the city railroad station.

McComb is also the birthplace of New Orleans gut bucket bluesman Lil Freddie King. The guitarist, who still performs regularly in the Big Easy at age 77, is mentioned on an official state blues trail marker near the railroad station.

McComb’s railroad station also serves as its official railroad museum. Inside is a full explanation on the town’s founding and development, as well as documentation of railroad life. The museum is open on Monday through Saturday at 12-4 p.m., and admission is free.

For weary travelers looking for a feeling equal to coming to a grandmother’s house on a Sunday afternoon, The Dinner Bell is perhaps McComb’s biggest attraction. Since moving to its present location in 1959, the restaurant has held an esteemed reputation in producing all of the essentials in Southern cuisine. Remarkably, though the business has changed owners over the decades, everything seems virtually unchanged. Dining is set up family dinner style, and several dinner parties share a place at a revolving Lazy Susan table that features mainstays like fried chicken, green and lima beans, yams and banana pudding. The table’s choice of food already seems endless enough, but weekends offer even more options. The Dinner Bell is a lunch only institution that opens on 11 a.m. on Tuesday-Sunday and closes at 2 p.m. It’s best to arrive early and not procrastinate on the opportunity.

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HOME COOKIN’- The Dinner Bell in McComb, MS is more than a restaurant. It’s an institution. Photo by Jesse Brooks.  

 

McComb has other dining options available in downtown such as Topisaw General Store for lunch and The Caboose, a more upscale restaurant and steak house.

New businesses are coming to McComb’s downtown, and the streets can be pretty busy mid-day. Economists say that America is going through an “urban renaissance,” and McComb seems to be set on being a part of the movement as former city buildings like the Palace Theater are being renovated for the purpose of regular multi-use. For the first time, the Palace Theater was used as the venue of the McComb Blues Music and Arts Festival in 2016.

McComb doesn’t demand your attention but it appreciates it. It may not be loud, but it fights and it has fought forward through times of unrest and economic ups and downs. What McComb can teach the rest of small town America is how to hold on to your local identity. In McComb, there are some things that will never change, and that is what makes it strong.

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OFA senior Trevor Robinson signs with Nunez CC baseball

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MOVING ON- Oak Forest Academy senior utility player Trevor Robinson, pictured with Coach Tony Salim and family, signs with Nunez Community College baseball. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

On Wednesday, March 28, Oak Forest Academy senior utility player Trevor Robinson signed an offer to suit up for Nunez Community College in Chalmette next season. Robinson played varsity ball for the Yellow Jackets all four years.

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MAKING A DEAL- Surrounded by family, OFA senior Trevor Robinson signs with Nunez CC. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

“When I visited Nunez, I understood that they were a new program and Coach Glenn Powell is very calm and understanding,” Robinson said after his signing ceremony. “He expects me to come in and be a utility player in the outfield, infield and to pitch. He said that he can find me a spot in the lineup and I can have playing time right away.”

 

Currently, Robinson is producing well in his final season at OFA. He is the team’s second leading batter with an average of .446, second team leader in home runs and he leads the team in ERA. Robinson credits his success to his coaching staff, and it all starts with Head Coach Tony Salim. Prior to high school, Salim coached Robinson for three years on the Hammond Yankees travel ball team.

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YOUNGER DAYS- Coach Tony Salim has coached Trevor Robinson for a total of seven years. Photo submitted. 

“He’s really grown into a leader on our ball club,” Salim said. “The rest of the guys look up to him because of how hard he plays. He’s just one of those kids that’s going to do every thing you ask him to do.”

Robinson said the early lessons from Salim helped him get used to playing the sport the “right away” and they were vital in terms of being able to reach the next step.

When it comes to his opportunity, Robinson is humble and grateful. When asked about life beyond two years of community college baseball, his first two responses were about “hard work” and being ready for a new opportunity if “God were to open that door.” If the hard work pays off, Robinson believes he’s capable of playing on the Division I level.

“I definitely have to work on my infield, catching out in front and making good throws,” Robinson said. “I was an outfielder before an infielder, but with playing third base this year it’s all coming back to me. I just need to work on moving my feet more, getting around the ball and making a good strong throw across the infield.”

Robinson is also confident he can finish near the top in most stat categories this season, and believes his team is of championship caliber. Finishing strong this season will already add to a resume where he was First Team All-MAIS AAAA Div. I for the previous two seasons.

Currently, the Jackets are two games inside of district and have their sights set on gearing up for a post-season run.

 

Hammond Art Guild celebrates 56 years with April exhibition

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PRESS RELEASE

HAMMOND, Louisiana– An artists’ group is a special thing to join. Ask any of the members of the Hammond Art Guild as several members have been involved with the group for more than a decade, and some since the guild’s founding in the 1960s.
The guild is currently celebrating a notable milestone this year with its 56th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, the Hammond Art Guild will have its 56th Annual Open Spring Judged Exhibition at the Hammond Regional Arts Center with an opening reception on Friday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m.
This exhibition continues the guild’s tradition of providing the city of Hammond with a display of art by some of the best artists in the area. The show features artist members’ creations, as well as artwork from area high school students and non-members of the guild. Pieces range from paintings, drawings, sculpture, jewelry, and more.

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Many of the art pieces in the Hammond Art Guild’s annual spring exhibition can serve as great gifts for Mother’s Day or just an original piece to hang in your home. The exhibition will be on display in the Hammond Regional Arts Center (HRAC) from April 6 through April 27. Special thanks to this year’s judge, Jeff Mickey, Professor of Sculpture, Southeastern Louisiana University. The award recipients will give a presentation on their award-winning works during an Art Talk and Tour on Wednesday, April 11, 5-6 p.m.

During Friday’s reception, wine and refreshments featuring the best, local strawberries of the season will be served a long with live music.

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Viewers may vote for the “People’s Choice Award,” and participate in an art raffle for $1 per chance. Admission into the Hammond Regional Arts Center is free. HRAC gallery hours include Wednesday-Friday from noon to 6 p.m.

The Hammond Regional Arts Center (HRAC) supports, promotes, and coordinates visual, performing, and literary arts in Tangipahoa Parish and surrounding parishes. Our primary mission is to enrich lives through quality arts education, develop an appreciation of the arts within individuals, and introduce the public to professional exhibitions, performances and literature.

Tigers’ Baker named District 9-2A MVP

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LEADING THE PACK- Senior Independence forward Melvin Baker named District 9-2A MVP. File photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Both Independence and Amite boys basketball squads turned in highly successful seasons in which the programs surpassed the first round of postseason tournament play in Class 2A.

One Tangipahoa Parish’s best prospects, Independence senior forward Melvin Baker, was named the “Most Valuable Player” of District 9-2A. Throughout his high school tenure, Baker’s role for Tigers ascended from contributing role player to featured star his junior and senior seasons.

For a team lacking in size down on the block, the 6’4 forward often played in the post while flashing skills that fit into all five positions on the floor.

“I think it speaks to Melvin’s ability to be voted MVP in a district with so many guys with D1 offers in various sports.,” said Tigers head coach Ace Misita. “Melvin is a leader on and off the court and it’s been a blessing coaching him the past three years. Any college will be lucky to add him to their program. They’ll be getting a great player and an even better person.”

Baker is currently not committed to any college programs, and still hoping for offers to come through.

In addition to Baker’s top honor, several members of the Tigers’ and Amite Warriors were named to the All-District team. Fellow Tiger De’Angelo Gaines joins Baker in the first team selections as does senior Tyrus Wheat, junior Devonta Lee and juniorTroy Wyre from Amite.

All District Second Team: Amite junior shooting guard Dereon Edwards.

All District Honorable Mention: Independence guards Michael Otkins (senior) and Genord Perry (junior).

Other All-District selections:

Second Team:

Christian Hasenkampf/ Junior/ Pope John Paul II

Nathan Newberry/ Senior/ Northlake Christian

Kaz Warren/ Senior/ Pine

Blain Gros/ Sophomore/ Northlake Christian

Honorable mention:

Trenton Reimoneng/ Freshman/ Northlanke Christian

Jordan Anderson/ Sophomore/ Pine

Marcell Cotton/ Junior/ Pine

Jonathan Bulot/ Senior/ Pope John Paul II

Sean Price/ Senior/ Pope John Paul II

OFA Boys’ season ends with exit from MAIS AAAA Div. I State Tournament

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SENIOR STAND- OFA senior point guard Janero Porter scored 10 points in a 50-46 MAIS AAAA Div. I State Tournament loss to Parklane Academy. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks 

The Oak Forest Academy boys basketball team’s season has come to an end after falling to Parklane Academy 50-46 on Saturday, February 24 in the MAIS AAAA Div. I State Tournament third place qualifying game.

The Yellow Jackets found themselves trailing for most of the first half, but hot shooting got them back into the game. Junior guard La’Vell Scott hit a 3-pointer before the first half ended to cut into the Parklane lead 28-24.

Scott, who led OFA with 16 points, and senior point guard Janero Porter (10 points total) opened up the second half offensively hitting back-to-back shots from beyond-the-arc while still trailing 33-30. While the Jacket defense had their hands full with Parklane, their shooting was still on point. Later in the third quarter, senior forward Chris Back a made consecutive 3-pt. shots to bring OFA within 39-36.

The perimeter shooting continued in the final quarter as Porter opened it with a 3-pointer, and freshman guard Jaden Collura sank one of his own to tie up the game 44-44 with 4:08 left in regulation. Parklane answered with an easy layup off of a defensive breakdown, but Scott scored a fast break layup of his own to tie the game back up at 46-46.

Though the Jackets looked poised to win the game with time and possession in their favor, Parklane forced two steals that eventually led to a 50-46 advantage for victory.

“We made things happen on a few possessions, and then the ball kind of started to stick and we didn’t move as well as we wanted to,” OFA Coach Curtis Matherne said. “I don’t want to make excuses for them, but they’ve played good caliber teams in back-to-backs and maybe tour legs finally got to us. But they played as hard as they possibly could.”

The State Tournament started on a positive note as the underdog Jackets defeated Jackson Prep 65-49 for Matherne’s 100th career coaching win. Four different players scored in double digits in victory: Scott (19 points), Collura (17 points), Backa (15 points) and Porter (13 points). In the second round, OFA was defeated by Madison-Ridgeland Academy in a heartbreaking 65-63 loss in overtime.

Despite losing out on the game that would have qualified OFA for a trip to the MAIS AAAA Overall Tournament, the program as a whole produced a 20-win season. Several players experienced individual growth as well. Scott learned how to fill the role of the team’s top scoring option. Collura made the most of his opportunities and proved himself as a bench sharp shooter. Backa solidified himself as an inside and outside threat. Porter also displayed himself as a high energy point guard in his final season coming back from a year plagued with injuries.

“I worked at Southeastern for four years on the D-I level and I saw unbelievable point guards and guys that went on to make money overseas,” Matherne said. “I can’t believe schools and colleges aren’t beating our door down about Janero Porter. His basketball IQ, handles and decision making are off the charts. He can shoot it too. I would advise colleges in this area to check him out.”

Porter and Scott were both selected to the 2018 MAIS AAAA Div. I All-Tournament Team in an announcement made after the championship game.

 

 

Independence boys advance first round, face Many Tuesday on the road

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CLOSE IT OUT- Independence guard Genord Perry celebrates as the Tigers advance past the LHSAA 2A first round playoffs with a wild 62-60 finish over MLK Charter. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

The Independence boys basketball team advanced past the first round of the LHSAA 2A playoffs on Friday, February 23 after defeating MLK Charter 62-60 in a game that went down to the wire.

Inside of a minute of the fourth quarter, the Tigers were tied with the Jags 60-60 despite once holding a commanding lead in the third quarter. After the Jag’s 11-4 run, the ball was inbounded to junior De’Angelo Gaines who set up the offense and fed senior forward Melvin Baker who won the battle for inside position in the paint. Without hesitation, Baker got off a turnaround one-handed runner to take a 62-60 lead with just under 30 seconds left to play.

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Senior Melvin Baker’s game winning shot. Photo by Matthew Roy

 

The Tigers were able to get the ball back through a steal and possibly seal the game when freshman Jaden Howard was sent to the line, but two missed free throws would give MLK Charter one final chance. The Tigers opted to defend the length of the floor which resulted in an altered shot by a Jaguar that rolled off the rim as time expired.

“I thought we had pretty good defense for them to have to take a fall away runner considering we missed two free throws to give them the opportunity to take that shot,” Misita said. “Defense was great in the first quarter and then we kind of figured them out. Then they figured us out. So it turned more into a shootout in the second half.”

The game started as a low scoring affair, ending with an 11-9 lead for the Tigers after the first quarter. That changed halfway through the second quarter when Howard nailed back-to-back 3-pt. shots that helped launch a 15-3 run for the Tigers. With 1:22 remaining in the first half, the Tigers held a 28-23 lead. Right before the half ended, Howard grabbed a steal and missed a shot, but Baker was there for the clean up. Tigers would lead 30-23 at half time.

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Freshman guard Jaden Howard. Photo by Matthew Roy. 

The Tigers turned in their best quarter in the third as they commanded a majority of offensive possessions. On consecutive defensive possessions, Baker, who led the Tigers with 18 points, grabbed defensive rebounds and led fast breaks the other way to assist streaking scorers. The Tiger went into the fourth quarter leading 51-43.

Gaines also connected on a 3-pointer, and Perry got a eurostep layup to fall in to go up 56-49 with 4:33 left in regulation, but MLK Charter was not done. Three straight three pointers would be what tied the game up for the Jaguars.

“In the last two minutes, our backs were against the wall and we found a way to win the game,” Misita said. “I was really proud of that.”

Misita also praised his squad for stepping up when the defense was focused on slowing Baker down. Gaines was the Tigers’ second leading scorer with 15 points. Michael Otkins contributed 11 points, and Howard totaled 10 points.

On Tuesday, February 27, Independence will take on No. 3 Many on the road in the second round at 6:30 p.m. Many has an overall record of 20-8.

OFA shortstop Caleb Cleveland signs with Bossier Parish CC

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MOVING UP- Oak Forest Academy senior shortstop Caleb Cleveland signs his letter of intent to play for Bossier Parish Community College with his family and Coach Tony Salim present. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

Bossier Parish Community College now officially has a second Oak Forest Academy Yellow Jacket joining up with the program as senior shortstop Caleb Cleveland signed his letter of intent on Friday, February 23.

“I know the division Bossier is in is pretty competitive so I’m looking forward to it,” Cleveland said. “It’s near Shreveport which isn’t too far from home so I think that’s pretty good.”

Cleveland has attended OFA for four years and is a native of Amite.

“I played varsity ball all four years and we won district every year,” Cleveland said. “I never used to be a strong hitter when I was younger. I always liked the glove so I kind of showed that off. Hopefully I carry that over to college.”

Cleveland credits OFA Coach Tony Salim and his staff for improving his swing, and building a group of young batters every year capable of significant offensive outputs. He says personal improvement each year at OFA has been the key to earning honors like All-District and All-State in in sophomore and junior seasons.

“Caleb is an extremely hard work and can play anywhere on the field. Catcher, shortstop, you name it,” Salim said. “It was him very valuable to this program. I was just thinking…He’s played every position on the field for us at some point in these past four years and he’s really good at all of them.”

Salim also said that he sees Cleveland being able to carry his career past the two-year JUCO level through a combination of hard work and talent.

“The goal, of course is D-I,” Cleveland said. “I was to improve and improve the best I can.”

Cleveland also says as a team he thinks the current Jacket squad can reach State and win, and is looking forward to hard work, but also having fun with his teammates.

 

 

OFA baseball ends Sonic Classic in dramatic fashion

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EYE ON THE BALL- OFA Senior Mario Campo gets ready to take a swing. The Jackets scored over 40 runs in the Oak Forest Academy Sonic Classic on February 16-17. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Oak Forest Academy baseball opened up their season on February 16-17 by hosting the Sonic Classic, and the Yellow Jackets closed out the weekend with a dramatic win.

On Saturday, February 17, Centreville put together a rally to take a 12-11 lead in the top of seventh inning, erasing a previous 11-8 lead for OFA. In the bottom of the inning, Centreville walked two runners on base. Trevor Robinson hit a long ball that allowed Caleb Cleveland to come home and tie the game up at 12-12, leaving a runner on third.

Sensing a win, sophomore Carson Hoover came out swinging early in the count and hit a single that sent a runner home for the 13-12 win.

“We swung the bats well the whole weekend,” OFA Coach Tony Salim said. “We scored a lot of points. I think we scored close to 40 runs in four games.”

Against Centreville, the game was one of rallies. OFA faced an early 3-0 deficit in the top of the first, but it was as soon as the bottom of the inning they would take their first lead. Robinson got the Jackets on the board by hitting a long ball that would bring two runners home while he stayed on third. With the bases loaded, Robinson scored when the next batter was walked to take OFA’s first lead of the game with a score of 4-3. The Jackets increased their lead as much as 6-3 in the bottom of the first after freshman Cole Adams stole home.

The two teams were all even again going into the bottom of the fifth inning with an 8-8 score. Layne McLin went to base with runners on base and got a hit in the middle of the lineup to send Cleveland home for another scored run. McLine was next sent home by Robinson who again pulled off a big hit. Hoover’s hit would send Robinson home as OFA took an 11-8 lead mid-game.
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OFA senior pitcher Caleb Manduni. Photo by Matthew Roy.

“Offense was obviously one of our strong suits over the weekend,” Salim said.
“We have a couple of guys that are out right but but once our pitching staff is at full strength I think we’re going to be really good and we have some high expectations this year.”

OFA went 2-2 over the weekend, beating Silliman Institute on Friday, February 16 with a final score of 13-9 and dropping a game against Central Private and another to Silliman.

OFA will enter the St. Stanislaus Tournament on Saturday, February 24 in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and will host Copiah Academy on March 2.

OFA baseball senior Layne McLin signs with Bossier Parish CC

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MOVING ON- Oak Forest Academy senior Layne McLin signs his letter of intent to play for Bossier Parish Community College on Saturday, February 17 with his family and Coach Tony Salim and staff present. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

After two strong seasons with Oak Forest Academy baseball, senior Layne Mclin, who plays the infield positions and at pitcher, will play for Bossier Parish Community next season after officially signing a letter of intent on Saturday, February 17.

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“I had one more solid strong offer, but the reason why I chose Bossier was so I could go with one of my best friends, short-stop Caleb Cleveland,” McLin said.

Cleveland is also a senior at OFA, and is expected to play a big role for the Yellow Jackets this season.

“It was just an offer that I could not pass up,” McLin said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with new baseball players and rooming with my friend. As far as the future, I just want to keep moving up in baseball and go until I can’t go anymore.”

OFA Head Coach Tony Salim praised his ability as a hitter, saying that the power McLin provides in the middle of the line up is “something you really can’t coach.”

“One night we scored eight runs and tonight we scored 13,” Salim said. “We scored a lot of runs this weekend and a large part of that was having him in the middle of that order.”

McLin has been an exceptional player throughout his career. Last season he was an All-District selection in MAIS AAAA Div. I, and he received All-District 9-2A honors and All-State Honorable Mention at his previous school, Doyle High in Livingston.

McLin will join a Bossier Parish squad that went 21-29 last season under Head Coach Bobby Gilliam. The program was home to 30 players that went on to play for professional organizations. Bossier Parish is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

“I fee like if I hadn’t played ball at Oak Forest I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in today,” McLin said. “Coach Tony prepares us well if we’re able to take the next step. Anything you need help with, you name it, and he’ll take the time to help you figure it out.”

Salim said that several of his layers are currently being recruited while three of them have already made verbal commitments to college programs. He also said he expects the OFA senior class to have six or seven players to sign letters by the end of the season.

List of local boys basketball playoff games

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MAIS AAAA Div. 1 State Tournament Round 1

2/20 – Oak Forest Academy vs. Jackson Prep at Presbyterian Christian (Hattiesburg, MS)

LHSAA 1A

2/23 – No. 18 Kentwood @ No. 15 South Cameron: time TBA

2A

2/23 – No. 21 Franklin @ No. 13 Amite: time TBA

2/23 – No. 19 MLK Charter @ No. 14 Independence: 6 p.m.

2/23 – No. 20 St. Helena @ No. 13 East Feliciana: time TBA

2/23 – No. 18 Delhi Charter @ No. 15 Doyle: 6 p.m.

5A

2/23 – No. 32 Ponchatoula @ No. 1 Natchitoches Central: time TBA

2/23 – No. 17 Covington @ No. 16 Denham Springs: time TBA

2/23 – No. 29 Sulphur @ No. 4 Walker: time TBA

Div. I

2/20-27 St. Paul’s on two round BYE

Div. III

2/27 – No. 10 The Church Academy @ No. 7 St. Thomas Aquinas: time TBA