September 28, 2012

From St. John's to South Africa

More news about: St. John-s
Bobby Fischer has been a fixture on the St. John's defense, but it's his off-field contributions that have changed lives in South Africa.
St. John's athletics photo

Over the past 60 years, no collegiate football program has enjoyed the same degree of success as Saint John’s University. John Gagliardi, the program’s legendary coach, frequently attributes the Johnnies success to ordinary people doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.

While this maxim stresses the importance of team over individual, it underplays the fact that many truly extraordinary young men have donned helmets and pads for SJU. Senior cornerback Bobby Fischer is a shining example of the accomplished men who have worn the Johnnie uniform.

Fischer has been a fixture on the gridiron for three-plus seasons. In his first season, he contributed on special teams. He saw playing time in eight games as a sophomore. Last year, Fischer took over as a starter in the defensive backfield, and promptly snagged the most interceptions by a Saint John's defender in a decade, the seventh-most in school history. He was named All-MIAC First Team, as he led the conference in interceptions (seven), interception return yards (243) and passes defended (17). Fischer also garnered All-West Region Second Team honors from D3football.com and was named First Team All-America by Beyond Sports College Sports Network.

His three picks against Hamline last November tied for the second-most by an SJU player in a game. Last September, Fischer returned an interception 85 yards against Concordia, the fourth longest return in Saint John's history.

The Johnnies started slow last year, but came together as the season progressed. They finished 6-4 overall and 5-3 in MIAC play, taking fourth place.

This season, SJU stands 2-2 overall heading into Saturday’s Homecoming game with St. Olaf. Fischer has three interceptions thus far to lead the MIAC. He is on pace to finish his career in the top five among SJU’s al-time leaders.

While his accomplishments on the football field are impressive, his off-field activities are even more remarkable. Last year, Fischer spent the spring semester studying in South Africa as part of a program offered by Saint John’s and its sister school, the College of Saint Benedict. “We were in Port Elizabeth for four months,” Fischer said. “It was a great experience.”

As part of the program, the SJU/CSB students took classes at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. In his blog about his experiences in South Africa, Fischer noted the similarity yet diverse contrast between SJU’s “pine curtain” and NMMU’s scenic campus. "[It's] a beautiful place full of palm trees, cacti, and many other floras that are very different from that of Minnesota," Fischer wrote. "The campus was built in the 70s and is mostly cement similar to much of Saint John’s which is cool. I must say one thing very different than Saint John's is seeing monkeys on campus. Yes, monkeys on campus. They are pretty small, and the South campus where we spend most our time is on a nature reserve.”

Fischer taught third grade two days a week at Pendula School. “I taught the basics - reading, writing and arithmetic,” he said. “Many of the kids there speak the native tribal language with English as a second language, but they are pretty proficient with English.”

He also worked with the school’s IT support team.”We worked with archaic computers - I mean really old ones,” he said with a laugh. “Using bits and parts from eight old computers, we were able to reconstruct three working PCs. Once we got them working, we were able to show the kids the basics of computer use.”

Fischer also volunteered with Mpendulo Savings Member while in South Africa. “That’s a non-profit organization that uses innovative methods for growth for members to build savings,” he explained. “It provides credit loans in the poor communities of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.”

True to his athletic nature, Fischer was also active in sports with the kids from Pendula. “We played soccer, rugby, cricket and field hockey with them,” he said. “Those are the four major sports in South Africa.”

His volunteering has not been limited to the South African trip. While at SJU, Fischer been active in Message Program, where he has helped package supplies for needy areas. He has also been a weight room supervisor and an IT lab assistant and volunteered as an assistant coach for the Osseo VFW baseball program.

Giving back to the community around him has been part of Fischer’s life before college as well. While in high school, he was active as a Summer Stretch leader at his home parish, St. Joseph the Worker. “We organized and led various summer activities for kids in the parish and neighborhood, working mainly with kids in fifth through eighth grade,” said Fischer.

He was also involved in Families Moving Forward, which worked to help homeless people improve their situation. “This was through my parish,” Fischer said. “A lot of what I did was connecting with the kids while adults helped the parents with things like job searching and such.”

Fischer grew up in Osseo, and attended Osseo High, where he was an honors student as well as a starter on the varsity football, basketball and baseball teams. Fischer broke into the starting lineups in all three sports his senior season and earned All-Conference honors in football and basketball. He was the point guard for the Orioles, leading them to a second place finish in the state tourney. He was a defensive back and wide receiver on the gridiron, and helped Osseo to a winning record (6-4).

“I wasn’t really thinking of playing varsity sports in college,” he stated. “Since most of my high school success didn’t come until my senior year, I wasn’t heavily recruited, but most of the MIAC schools talked to me about playing football there and several expressed interest in me for basketball.”

One school Fischer was familiar with was Saint John’s, his father’s alma mater. “When I first looked at SJU, I was thinking of being just a student,” he said. He also considered the University of Minnesota, without any athletics, as well as a couple other MIAC schools, but ultimately decided on SJU. As his senior year progressed, Fischer decided to try football at Saint John’s.

His brother, Mike, has followed Fischer to SJU and is part of the Johnnie baseball program. Steven, the youngest is a sophomore at Osseo. “He plays baseball, basketball and football, like Mike and I did,” Fischer said. “Steven might be the best athlete in the family.”

When he arrived at Saint John’s, Fischer had some discussions with the basketball staff about playing. “I talked with the coaches briefly about the possibility, but I did not want to play anymore,” he recalled. “I play intramural basketball. The team has a few other football players, and last year we won the championship. It is fun to get out there and play.”

This past summer, he interned with Anderson & Roers CPAs, an accounting and consulting firm in the northwest suburbs. “I mainly helped in their audit area,” he said.

Fischer is an Accounting and Finance major with minors in Economics and Management. He will graduate this spring. He is exploring his post-graduate career options, looking at opportunities in accounting, economics and business. One possibility is returning to Anderson, “but for now I’m still exploring options,” he said.

Looking back, Fischer is glad he chose Saint John’s. “It has definitely been right for me,” he said. “Saint John’s has been great because of the opportunities it has given me. Football and the chance to study in South Africa are the two biggest ones. The time here has allowed me to grow greatly as a person. I have made some great friends and I hope I am a much more well-rounded person.”

By Rich Mies, special to the MIAC

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