But the mix of athletic competition and school precepts emphasizing humility, empathy, social responsibility and peaceful conflict resolution can produce unforeseen outcomes.
Ryan, raised in a Roman Catholic family, traveled 27 miles from his home in Exton, Pa., to attend Penn Charter.
“We did not know this beforehand, but the environment at Penn Charter helped shaped Matt in permanent ways,” said his father, Mike Ryan. “You don’t have to be a Quaker for the Quaker practices and beliefs to make sense. It’s a good way to live.”
McGlinchey, 6 feet 7 inches and 310 pounds, was obviously a noticeable presence in a graduating class of about 100 students.
“But that’s the thing. You’re one person in a small community and that brings you down to earth,” McGlinchey said. “You’re never bigger than the whole.”
The tuition currently ranges from $21,800 for prekindergarten to $35,150 for the Upper School, or high school. Nearly 42 percent of students receive need-based financial aid, which totaled $10.3 million this year. In keeping with Quaker tenets of equality, Penn Charter strives for socioeconomic diversity — 34.4 percent of its students are minorities, with African-Americans making up about 15 percent of the student body.
And for centuries, segregated by age but never by background, all students congregate in the large meeting room for their 40 minutes of quiet reflection every week. While the meetings always begin in silence, they can eventually be punctuated by the thoughts of anyone in the room who has something to share.
School officials concede that the meeting is sometimes viewed as an imposition by younger students, but say this tends not to be a lasting attitude.
“Invariably, when alums come back here, the thing they say they miss the most is our weekly meeting,” said Travis Larrabee, the high school director. “In what other part of society do you sit in silence with 500 other people?”
For several years, Tony McDevitt lined up at running back behind Matt Ryan at Penn Charter. McDevitt went to Duke, where he became an All-American lacrosse player.
“When I was a freshman at Penn Charter, I remember going to the meetings and saying to myself: ‘This is crazy, get me out of here,’” McDevitt said. “But I learned to appreciate what was going on. I liked the time to reflect. And by my senior year, I was standing up and offering my thoughts.”
McDevitt has remained close with Ryan, traveling to Falcons games and reuniting with his former classmate in the football off-season.
“From time to time, we’ve talked about those Quaker meetings,” McDevitt said. “It’s amazing. You miss it and value it. It stays with you.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the last name of a Penn Charter student. He is Harold Anderson, not Harold Washington.