Philadelphia High School Sports
A Celebration of Cindy Antoni's Teaching Career . . . And More
Erv Antoni and Cindy Conaway combined to teach at the high
school level for 77 years. And . . .
Daughter outdid Daddy, 45-32!
After working for 4 1/2 decades at her alma mater, Gwynedd Mercy Academy, in Gwynedd Valley, an unincorporated community about halfway between Ambler and Lansdale in Montgomery County, Cindy has stepped away from all boards -- chalk, white and bulletin.
Dad was the forever basketball coach at Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and worked in other sports as well. He starred at Girard College and the University of Pennsylvania in multiple sports and was named an alternate at center halfback for the 1948 Olympic soccer team. In 1965, he coached the first U.S. soccer team to compete in the Deaf Olympics.
Cindy's husband, Don "Fris" Conaway, played varsity basketball for Cardinal Dougherty High in the late 1960s and served as Ted Silary's high school sports sidekick -- stats, doing interviews at games -- from the late '70 into the '80s.
Cindy's brothers, Erv and Ron "Rocky", played quarterback for Bishop McDevitt. Son No. 1, Doug, remains the only McDevitt player to hit a playoff home run. No.2, Don Jr., was inducted into Neumann University's baseball HOF in 2018. No. 3, Tim, was part of McDevitt's first Catholic Blue football champs in '99 and won the Ironman Award.
Below, Cindy tells her story . . .and what a wonderful story it is!
Thank you, Cindy, and enjoy retirement to the fullest!
First, Cindy details her relationship with her father . . .
Dad always pushed me to do more, try as best I could, then try harder. He always tried to give us opportunities, like golf lessons, archery, tennis. He played golf with me more when he was 86 than when I was younger.
I was once asked who my hero was. It took me 3 seconds to say my Dad. He always stood for right over wrong. He always had a clear and encompassing vision of the whole picture, he could read consequences through circumstances and people. He tried his best to make people safe and happy. He taught me to know the facts, believe in yourself, and follow through to your goals.
"Follow through" is very important in sports.
He was fully invested in our efforts and activities. And I think he was very proud of my MVP of the softball league and the Scholar Athlete award. He was jealous I went to the Army -Navy game (smile).
And when I was Captain of the Chestnut Hill College field hockey team and we beat Penn, I think he was amazed we did it!
for Cindy's amazing, wonderful journey . . .
Attending Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School was the highlight of my teen years and I am ever so grateful to my parents for their sacrifices that allowed me to go. Being a Mercy girl meant so many things and has meant even more to me over the years. Academic challenges, playing sports, and ministry activities were key points in the GMA life just as they are today. In the 70’s we called ourselves “Big Red” and although Mount games were really big, so many of us had friends there by the time we were seniors, the bigger rivals were Merion, Villa, and St. Basil’s. Today, all four of these teams spark spirit and competition.
GMAHS afforded me a terrific education with other young women who were curious, intelligent, focused, and goal-oriented. We shared talents and inspired each other to do more, try harder, meet boys, and gain greater achievements than we thought possible. We helped each other with personal doubts, troubles, and tragedies. We made friends, we lost friends, we grew and matured and learned that life can be a very different experience for each one of us.
Gwynedd did not have softball teams when I attended but Springfield Township Recreation Department had a league for 10-17 year olds. I played the sport for all those years and loved every strategy, collaboration and competitive edge our team could conceive. From third base to short stop to my favorite spot, catching (I guess that made my dad, Erv Antoni, proud!) the game made an impact that lasted through my life. Receiving the MVP of the league award still amazes me.
I learned to play hockey when I was a freshman under Maria Lutz McHugh, and played varsity hockey sophomore through senior year as a fullback when I was awarded “Defensive Player of the Year.” Developing friendships in classes and through activities or sports was such an enjoyable and special growing experience. Taking food and gifts on Christmas Eve to a poor family and seeing their expressions of gratefulness taught me to be thankful for what I had with my family. I belonged to Student Council, Magnet, Glee Club, French Club, CSC and Ministry, National Honor Society, World Affairs, and the Field Hockey team, and all these brought many different personalities together and I learned much about how different people act and think, and still work together, enjoy similar goals and efforts, and appreciate the value of each other as a person. Playing field hockey and being part of Student Council and studying diligently for my classes gave me tremendous feelings of school pride and Mercy Spirit. I was truly honored to be the Scholar Athlete that year. Every day one participates in classes, assemblies, in saying hello to peers and teachers in the hallway, bonds everyone together in the life-long strength of the solid foundation that GMA can provide academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.
When I first considered teaching, I thought to follow in my mother’s footsteps and teach French, a language I thoroughly enjoyed. But my senior year Honors Biology teacher amazed me and challenged me to the possibilities of that science and I changed my college major to Biology. While deciding on going into research or teaching, I met my husband-to-be, and decided that teaching would offer me the opportunity to have a family and a career with time to spend with the children. Throughout my college years and a few after, I worked and coordinated a Springfield Township Recreation Department Camp on summer mornings. I was involved with children aged 3-12 in sports, arts and crafts, and music activities. Margie Koons and I coordinated a Springfield Township softball league for Wyndmoor residents. We learned a lot about managing teams and coaches! And of, course in both areas, I learned that I loved working with and teaching children. It was during one college semester I even had the chance to help out my Dad, Erwin Antoni, at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, coaching the cheerleaders! That was much more a learning experience for me than it was for the girls. They had such fun teaching me how to sign and how not to sign!
I played field hockey at Chestnut Hill College under “Shelley” Schellenberger and was chosen captain in senior year. One of our finest triumphs had to be over the University of Pennsylvania (both my parents’ alma mater). In a very competitive match, I caught a hockey ball to the chin, but stayed in the game because there were no substitutes “in those days.” We won 3-2. My Dad played the exacta at the track and gave me the winnings! I graduated in 1975 with a B.S. in Biology, cum laude. I was married to my husband, Don, in June of 1975, and started teaching at GMA in September 1975. Yes, a big year! I was a bit overwhelmed realizing that I was only three to four years older than my senior students! Interestingly enough, from their perspective I was a whopping 30! I am laughing harder at that now than I did then!
When I received the opportunity to teach at Gwynedd, I was amazed and excited imagining myself teaching in the biology lab. I knew I would feel “at home” because of my wonderful high school experience. I also felt I could share how my Mercy Spirit was still part of me and how it is special for all who claim it for themselves. I was eager to share my love of biology with students and show them how fascinating the study of living things can be and what one could actually do with this information and the scientific process during their lifetime whether they made it a career or not. Throughout the years I am heartened by young women also mesmerized by the subject and its inherent opportunities to care for and help others. So many Mercy girls have become doctors, nurses, researchers, veterinarians, and other health care related professionals because of the foundation given at GMAHS and the level of curiosity piqued by teachers in the science department.
I taught sophomore biology, physical science to juniors, and Honors Biology (college level) to seniors. Administration and teachers were wonderfully supportive as we had our children and I continued my career as well as enjoyed the growing family. I started teaching Honors Physics as well around 1985 and in the next couple years we wanted to develop another science elective, which turned out to be Zoology. This course came to be a unique and terrifically fun course to teach. From one-celled and worm parasites to students hosting a Zoology Luncheon each spring -- where we ate the animals we studied; don’t worry, we saved the seafood animals for that -- it inspired many students for many reasons. Seeing the needs of the students and the changing demands of scientific literacy these last two decades I developed a course called Applied Scientific Research. As a seminar course, research based, and following current events and students’ interests, students had major control over the topics covered, with certain teacher direction, and learned to present information and write critically about their new knowledge. I adapted lab activities and experiments for these topics or the students brought their ideas for experiments and we ordered supplies and performed them. Then curricula changed again and I worked on Anatomy and Physiology courses for college preparatory and honors levels.
When I first realized that I was teaching the daughter of a classmate or an alumna that I taught, my first reaction is to be amazed that time had passed to allow that to happen. Then I enjoyed recognizing the daughter’s qualities, characteristics, even mannerisms or facial expressions her mother showed as a student. It is great fun to hear the daughter’s comments or the mother’s comments of what each feels or remembers about GMA or my classes. I love to recall the faces, and even the moments in class that remind me what an impact and responsibility I have for these young women and what an impact they have made on my life.
As department chair for a number of years I found working with members of the science department a valuable collaborative effort, with each teacher’s thoughts and educational experience and perspectives a valuable asset to the goals of the science department. I have worked with many wonderful, energetic, innovative teachers who always put the students first. I was part of the science department that renovated the science labs in the '80s and again in the last four years. Updated furniture, laboratory equipment, and technologies have kept GMAHS recognized as one of the most competitive educational institutions in the area.
One of the GMA Belief Statements is: “Learning is a life-long process.” The science department’s mission is to develop the innate curiosity of the young into mature critical thinking skills that will engage the learner her whole life, reinforcing the joy, excitement and success each new learning experience provides. Science is a process. More important than facts is the process of unveiling facts, of learning. It is the philosophy of the science department that learning processes are the key to our students’ successes. Learning critical thinking skills, discriminating fact from fiction, valid from not valid, assumption versus inference versus evidence, drawing conclusions based on careful observation and experimental data, analyzing information gained and applying it to other situations or experiments or experiences are valuable tools that will enable the young women who graduate with a Mercy diploma to be effective and innovative. These young women enter the science or health-related fields with skills that will set them apart and ahead of others in those areas. And these skills provide women with self-confidence, assertiveness, and reasoning abilities that will serve them well no matter what career they choose.
When our boys were looking at high schools, I sent a resume to La Salle to see if they had an opening, going for the free tuition possibility. Father Rene spoke to Sr. Mary Alice and I was never offered a position. Talked to the admissions director there about that. He has all daughters. Same problem -- no help on tuition breaks at other schools.
When I first started teaching at GMA, I coached 7th-8th grade field hockey (the elementary school was part of the present building) and varsity softball for three years. I really enjoyed working with the girls outside the classroom, and learning of their talents, enthusiasm, determination, and goals beyond academics. Solid relationships develop between teacher and student based on trust, effort, motivation, competition, and love of sport. Teaching team strategies and watching the girls work those strategies with excitement and determination and instinctively developing their own plays was quite rewarding. My last softball game I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with our first son, Douglas. After Doug was born in 1978, I changed my extracurricular activities. I coached cheerleaders for a few years – yes, GMA had great cheerleaders, uniforms and dance routines included! (There are some alum moms who can attest to this.) I moderated Spirit Club when cheerleaders disbanded. I had two more sons, Donald Jr. in 1980 and Timothy in 1982, and I took a year’s maternity leave (1982-83). Upon returning to Gwynedd I again adjusted my schedule to be home for them. Throughout the years I moderated Environmental Club, and helped out with CSC projects and ministry activities. Somewhere along the way, I came to be in charge of the lockers for the school, and maintained that job. I was a Eucharistic Minister for liturgies and communion services. I was a Kairos leader and one of four coordinators for the program. I accepted the duties of graduation preparation and practice. I have also helped the Admissions department spread the good news of Mercy Education to 8th graders throughout the area. I have had the honor of reading applications for the Alumnae Scholarship.
I was on the Planning Committee for Middle States Accreditation in 1989 and co-Coordinator of the Accreditation for Growth Middle States process with Sister Kathleen Boyce in 1999-2000 and remained in that position until 2006. I worked on the Capital Campaign Steering Committee in the late '90s. That committee gathered information from parents, administration, teachers, students, and community, and produced the impetus to renovate the school and begin building the new Art, Music, Learning Commons areas and the new Performing Arts Center. Most recently I worked on the Mission Statement Revision Committee bringing our Mercy Heritage and message of Catherine McAuley’s vision for the education of all young women into the future.
Some of the awards I have received include:
The Society of Plastics Engineers: certificate and contest award for enlightening students and contributing to the awareness of plastics engineering.
Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science Outstanding Educator Award (1996)
MONTCO Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Educator Award (2003)
Margaret Beirn Barger ‘35 Distinguished Alumna Award (2012) for my contributions to GMAHS
Delaware Valley Engineers Week “Outstanding High School Science Teacher Award” (2017)
Throughout my teaching career, Don always supported my work and efforts at being the best I could be at my career. The boys were always -- OK, sometimes -- really having fun with lab experiments that we could do at home, and even help them out with science fairs. Don is thrilled there will be no more liver stored in the freezer. (All you need to do is add a little hydrogen peroxide and bubbles everywhere. Tell me if you figure out the chemical reaction.) I always enjoyed workshops and courses that enhanced my science background and kept me abreast of scientific breakthroughs, new teaching methods and innovations. In 1999 I started taking graduate credits and in 2004 graduated with an M.S. in Education, the same year our son Tim, graduated from college.
In May 2006 and more recently in 2018, I have had heart surgeries. In each case I was really happy to return to teaching at Gwynedd, and became re-energized by the students whose pensive questions, innovative ideas, and sustained determination reminded me why I teach – to bring young minds to new awareness, to facilitate them as they make sense of the world and find their place in this world. The future is theirs. Gwynedd graduates need to have the tools and know that they have the power to make wise decisions and choices that will lead to the good of humanity. From the first day of teaching where I could hardly stop shaking from nervous anticipation (and that first day feeling lasted at least three years ) to the last day when I actually felt so calm and perfectly right in making my decision to retire, I enjoyed and appreciated the “aha!” the “I get it now” of watching a student come to understanding something. Teaching is not always easy and perhaps not always interesting to some students. My Mom gave me great advice one time which I have shared a zillion times. When students become unruly or disruptive, become more quiet. Just wait and maybe speak very quietly to the students right around you. Rather soon, the room quiets down trying to find out what is going on, what are they missing. And I guess I have a pretty good “stern” or disapproving face. Fris will tell you that too.
With all the virtual teaching this past spring, Don, my husband, had the opportunity to listen to my classes and our various interactions. He heard how students performed at home labs, how they solved physics problems, how they came to understand the immune system and how it attacked the coronavirus. In fact, he said he learned more in those three months than he did in all his years at High School (name the school only if you need to ). In his defense, he added, I had his attention more than his teachers did.
My husband, Don, managed a trucking operation for 35 years. Our oldest son, Doug, who worked with my husband for years, works in transportation logistics. Doug’s high school highlight was hitting a home run in a McDevitt High School baseball playoff game at La Salle University. That is the only one on record! Doug married a GMA alum, Molly McGann ’96 in 2005. Molly taught in the Philadelphia public school system for seven years and now works with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit as a reading specialist. They have two daughters. Donald, Jr. earned a Masters’ Degree, is a 7th - 9th grade teacher at Eisenhower Middle School in Norristown and was married (2005) to Lacey, who is a labor and delivery nurse at University of Pennsylvania Hospital. They have a daughter and a son. Tim has a Masters’ Degree in Special Education and teaches in the 8th grade, and holds an administrative position, in Stetson Middle School, a charter school in Philadelphia. He married his high school sweetheart, Marisa, in 2010. She taught elementary school in Philadelphia. Now they have 4 children, two of whom have middle names Josephine and Erwin, my parents’ names. My family is the greatest joy of my life. It is amazing to see them so wonderfully grown and making their own successes in life.