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Rise of a homeschooled Catholic tech star

May 1, 2015
Christina Cappecchi

On Sunday night the email landed in Mike Foss’ inbox: He had been named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” the business magazine’s annual list of rising stars younger than 30.

Mike Foss, the soccer player from Springfield, Virginia, the kid who had been homeschooled through 12th grade. This sent Facebook abuzz: Boldfaced evidence that homeschooling actually works.

Once the announcement was made on the first Monday of January, inquiring minds began lobbing questions at Mike’s mom, Elizabeth. How did she do it? What curriculum had she used? What colleges did she recommend? What was the exact formula of devotions, multivitamins and Mozart?

“Y’all,” she wrote on her blog that Friday, “I have no idea!”

But when pressed, the mother of nine reflected on her news-making firstborn, a 26-year-old Catholic. “Michael learned his most important lessons at the dinner table. All I really did was cook the meal. His daily repartee on Twitter? Totally sounds like banter among my boys. His brothers are as much behind that award as I am,” Elizabeth wrote. “Iron sharpens iron.”

She credited her husband, a sports broadcaster and mentor, and mused about “the effect of having nursed (Mike) in nearly every college sports venue up and down the East Coast,” elaborating: “We hung together. The lot of us. Every day. All the time. That’s being educated by his real life.”

Mike’s first post-college job brought him to USA Today. He was working as a senior social media editor when he began developing a new sports website intended to be an entry point to the paper’s main website. During a coffee-fueled period of eight months he hired 10 people, reserved some 20 web domains and got married.

“It was insane,” Mike told me. “I don’t remember sleeping.”

The vision was to create a site with a delicate mix of original sports features and aggregated articles – journalistic standards plus blogging agility – chronicled in a more earnest voice than the average sports story and aimed at a broader audience.

“For The Win” launched on April 22, 2013, and became one of the fastest growing mobile websites in history.

“We won,” Mike said, “big time.”

He believes his entrepreneurial spirit was fostered by the counter-cultural decision to homeschool – why do things like everyone else? – and the freedom to customize his education.

He’s now a sought-after tech star and, for better or worse, a serious contender in the frenetic pursuit of online popularity. “There’s always a score, in terms of performance,” he said. “I’m competitive.”

That results in long work days perched behind a 30-inch computer monitor with an iPad and iPhone at his side and a flat-screen TV mounted above alternating between CNN and ESPN.

The blinking, linking 24/7 digital world can render the mind a hamster wheel. Mike tries to counteract it by unplugging every evening. He loves comic books and C.S. Lewis, just finished his fifth read of “Mere Christianity.”

The twin pillars of his life, faith and family, keep his ego in check. “I don’t get absorbed in any of it. That plays into family unit. You sit around a table at a Foss family dinner and it doesn’t matter who you are: We roast each other.”

Attending Mass, he said, quiets any pressure to continue on a headline-making career path. “You listen to a homily or look up at the cross and it puts things in perspective. It makes it easier to be present in the faith and to be present in your life.”

And if you ask his mom, who became a grandma one year ago when Mike’s daughter, Lucy, was born, her son’s over-30 work will be even more significant. “He’s only just begun to answer God’s call in his life.”

Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, and the editor of SisterStory.org.

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