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Billionaire Koch Boosts 2-Year-Old Prep School's Athletic Program

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Copyright 2013 The Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Palm Beach Post (Florida)
October 16, 2013 Wednesday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
929 words
ON THE FAST track;
Billionaire founder William Koch has spared little when it comes to the athletic facilities at the 2-year-old academy.
By Anthony Chiang Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
W EST PALM BEACH

Oxbridge Academy wanted a top-notch football coach, and the Thunderwolves got one. Oxbridge Academy wanted a state-of-the-art football stadium, and it has been built. Oxbridge Academy wanted a bigger, sport-specific weight room, and plans are underway.

Things have come fairly easily for the small private school that opened its doors just two years ago.

On the football field, it has been no different. After playing a junior varsity schedule last year, the Thunderwolves are 5-2 this season despite playing their first varsity schedule as an independent member of the Gulf Atlantic Football Conference.

A big reason behind this success is the school's founder, William Koch, who is also the founder and CEO of Oxbow Carbon. According to the most recent Forbes estimate, Koch's net worth is $3.8 billion.

Oxbridge Academy, which charges an annual tuition of $16,000, already has 21 varsity sports and 10 junior varsity sports.

"We're fortunate," Oxbridge football coach Doug Socha said of Koch's support. "We wanted a stadium and we probably got more of a stadium than I thought we would get. We want to make sure these kids have an unbelievable experience and he's behind it. We aren't going to spend foolishly, but it makes it easier when you have a guy that has a vision and could do that."

The school at 3151 N. Military Trail has spent $1.7 million to build a 1,500-seat, on-campus stadium that features the same synthetic turf used by the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Not far away, Oxbridge is building a 4,000-square-foot, sport-specific weight room to replace the 1,500-square-foot fitness center the football team uses.

"We definitely have college-style facilities," said junior Tre Gabriel, who lines up all over the field for the Thunderwolves. "I train over at FAU and I see their weight room compared to our weight room, and I kind of prefer ours. No team in the county has a field like ours. We're definitely blessed. Why wouldn't you want to come and be a part of this?"

Preparing for future

The Thunderwolves -- who earned a forfeit victory when Palmetto Bay-Palmer Trinity decided to not make the trip north for Friday's scheduled game -- might have the youngest team in the county, too. The roster has five seniors, seven juniors, 17 sophomores and 26 freshmen.

Youth is one of the reasons the Thunderwolves -- who next play Oct. 24 when they host North Miami Beach-Hillel -- plan to play in the 10-team GAFC through 2014. Athletic Director Craig Sponsky hopes Oxbridge can become a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2015.

"We just wanted to have a group of kids that were a little bit older and more mature to compete at that level," Sponsky said. "I believe we will be ready, but time will tell."

There are 441 students enrolled at Oxbridge, and that number is expected to grow to as many as 600 in the next few years. Based on these numbers, the Thunderwolves are expected to join Class 3A when they become a member of the FHSAA, potentially putting them up against teams such as Pahokee and American Heritage.

The Thunderwolves aren't made up only of players from Palm Beach County. The roster includes students who transferred from schools in Broward County. One of the enticements is the student-teacher ratio of 15:1, which means smaller classes.

"I was just looking for a better school," said tight end Austin Griffin, who transferred from Davie-Western. "I just didn't feel like the academics were that great in a public school, and I mean it's just great here. At Western, you're just a number. Here, you're actually a student and people care about you and they want to help you excel."

Unfair advantage?

Some opposing coaches are concerned that the private school's financial resources will give it an unfair advantage.

"Athletically, I think there are a lot of coaches that are going to be frustrated with the way they do things," said Cardinal Newman coach Steve Walsh, who believes Oxbridge has the potential to become a perennial power similar to American Heritage. "They have unlimited resources and when students are given 100 percent of their financial need, they are going to be able to get some pretty good athletes. That's going to create an unbalanced environment."

Socha understands the advantages. Before being hired in 2012 to lead Oxbridge's football program, Socha led American Heritage to a Class 3A state title during a controversial two-year stint as the Stallions' head coach.

During that time, opposing coaches publicly accused American Heritage of recruiting players. But the FHSAA never cited the program for doing so. Like Heritage, Oxbridge is a private school that will likely be at the center of similar allegations in the future.

Socha has already heard some complaints.

"I can only control what I can control," Socha said. "I'm worried about Oxbridge. People are going to talk. We work really, really hard. That's all I'm going to say.

"Do I hear it? I hear it. It's unfortunate and I think some coaches put too much focus on what other people are doing, and they're not worried about their place. That's what I've seen."

Sponsky expects his school to attract talented student-athletes without illicit recruiting.

"We're a school of choice," Sponsky said. "The last time I checked, this country was founded on giving people the opportunity to choose what's best for them.

"We want the kids here to want to be here and we aren't going to seek kids to come here. I don't think we need to do that. We're going to do things the right way. But that's part of the game."

achiang@pbpost.com Twitter: @Anthony_Chiang

October 16, 2013

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