LONG BEACH, Ind. — By age 16, John G. Roberts Jr., a young Catholic and son of a steel company executive, was emerging as a gifted writer with firmly rooted traditional values.
An editorial the Supreme Court nominee penned for his high school paper in 1972 refers to the Latin texts of Cicero and offers a fervent argument against admitting girls to La Lumiere School — then an all-boys school — in northern Indiana.
“I tend to think that the presence of the opposite sex in the classroom will be confining rather than catholicizing,” he wrote. “I would prefer to discuss Shakespeare’s double entendre and the latus rectum of conic sections without a [b]londe giggling and blushing behind me.”
“Game times should be interesting too,” Judge Roberts, then a junior at the Catholic lay-teacher school, wrote in the Torch, the school’s newspaper. “Imagine the five cheerleaders on the sidelines, with block “L’s” on their chests, screaming, “Give me a ‘L’!” Give me a break!”
From all accounts, Judge Roberts made his own breaks, beginning at an early age.
Several retired teachers and former classmates of Judge Roberts recall an insightful student who excelled in the classroom and on the playing fields, constantly raising the bar for his peers.
“He was the finest student in terms of academic ability and raw talent,” said David Kirkby, who taught Judge Roberts in math and morals classes and coached him on the football and wrestling teams. “He was just the most powerful student intellectually that the school ever had.”
James L. Coppens, who taught Latin, said Judge Roberts plowed through four years’ worth of the subject in a three-year stretch, requiring the teacher to create a special one-on-one Latin curriculum for the eager student.
“In his senior year, we were reading Virgil’s ‘Aeneid,’ and by the end of the year, he was just about able to translate it as well as I could if not better,” Mr. Coppens said. He was “head and shoulders above” everyone, the “best I ever had.”
The extra study likely helped Judge Roberts become La Lumiere’s first student accepted to Harvard.
John Glover Roberts Jr. was born in 1955 in Buffalo, N.Y., to Rosemary and John “Jack” Roberts Sr., who was hired that year by the powerful Bethlehem Steel Corp.
The family moved to Indiana in 1960, where Jack Roberts, winning high regard for his Japanese-style management techniques, was tabbed as an assistant general manager to run the electrical engineering section of a new plant in Burns Harbor, about 40 miles south of Chicago.
“He was a really nice man, but a technocrat,” said John Langley, who worked under Jack Roberts at the plant and had a son about the same age as John G. Roberts Jr. “There was nothing political about Jack Roberts.”
The family,including Judge Roberts’ three sisters, built a house nearby in the small, resortlike town of Long Beach, just blocks from the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
They settled into the area’s large Catholic community, becoming regulars at the Notre Dame Church. The children went to the church’s elementary school, and later, young John enrolled in La Lumiere in nearby La Porte, Ind.