THE RIVALRY between La Salle High and St. Joseph's Prep is intense.

So, when a group of 35 La Salle sophomores, including 17 athletes, volunteered this week to participate in a community service program called Urban Immersion, they were surprised to discover they would be showering at the Prep.

La Salle's home base during the program is the St. Peter Claver Center for Evangelization at 12th and Lombard, which has no shower facilities. The Prep, at 17th and Girard, graciously offered to help.

At first, the idea of even entering the Prep caused some playful uneasiness, according to La Salle's Mike Piscopo, who plays football and baseball.

"That was an interesting experience," Piscopo said yesterday when asked how it felt to accept help from the Prep. "I think I'll pass on that question. Actually, it was nice of them to open their doors to us. But I'm not going to take it easy on them on the football field."

Program moderator Lew Clark, La Salle's campus minister, wasn't surprised that students volunteered to spend a week of summer vacation helping the homeless and doing other service-related work.

"At La Salle, service is not mandatory," Clark said. "This is one of seven projects we'll be doing this summer. But this is the first year we're doing something in Philly. We just decided it was time to do something in our own backyard."

Piscopo called it an eye-opening experience.

"I have a completely different view of the homeless than what I expected, he said. "I found that we are all the same. They just don't have homes."

- Tom Mahon