JERSEY CITY, N.J. — For one last time, St. Anthony’s High School opened its doors to Jersey City and offered a final farewell to its friends and family.
The basketball powerhouse in New Jersey that Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley led to 28 state titles and four national crowns held its last official function Wednesday night, a reunion of sorts for alumni, players, coaches, teachers and friends of the little Roman Catholic school that is closing after losing the decades-long fight against declining attendance and rising costs.
The school in the shadow of the magnificent New York City skyline sent more than 150 players to Division I basketball programs, including Hurley’s sons Bobby and Danny who are now Division I coaches.
Even more importantly the school offered low tuition that afforded the children of the poor a chance for an education with a mission to build character in students.
The last group of seniors graduated a couple of weeks ago. The roughly 100-plus remaining students who will be entering their sophomore to senior years in September have had their roughly $6,100 tuition grandfathered by surrounding Roman Catholic high schools operated by the Archdiocese of Newark.
“It’s the end of a lot of things,” Hurley said in the auditorium where a couple of hundred people mingled and reminisced surrounded by tables full of trophies, memorabilia, yearbooks, press clippings and text books covering almost every subject.
If you wanted one, you took it, although the coach was hoping his former players would get the championship trophies. “It’s not an end to the relationship. Those will remain.”
Every time Hurley spoke, someone walked over to say hello, talk about old times, or even to get a photograph or an autograph.
The 69-year-old Hurley plans to run a not-profit basketball clinic in Jersey City, renting the gym where his Friars used to practice and play games.
The redness in Hurley’s eyes was a clear indication how hard he was taking the closing. He seemed to be at a wake, although many times his friends and players brought up something that had him smiling.
Doug Reed, who played on Hurley’s 82 championship team, said this was a school worth saving.
“The one thing I will always say was that St. Anthony’s was always a family, and always will be a family,” said Reed, who works for NJ Transit.
“The school is big enough that we are known all over the country and sometimes all over the world because of basketball. But it is also small enough that we knew each other.”
There is a loyalty, too, for the school that opened in 1952. Gold balloons on the stage marked the opening and closing years.
“It’s difficult,” said Rosemary McFadden, who chaired the development committee that has raised the money that kept the school alive.
“It’s the end of an era, but we had a lot of time to prepare for it. I think people are in a good place. We are celebrating the success.”
There was a little bit of a party atmosphere. There was pizza and wings, cookies, beer, wine and other goodies.
Mary Anne Rochford, class of 1979, drove from Calabash, North Carolina, to attend. Her brothers, Patrick, Danny and John, played basketball for the Friars and she was a cheerleader.
“When I heard our beloved school was closing there was no other option but to drive up,” said Rochford, who took the time to walk into her homeroom from 1975 and remember the teachers and students who were there.
Willie Banks, the No. 3 pick in the 1987 Major League baseball draft, said he had to come back, just to walk to his locker one more time.
It was a feeling shared by many.
“It was a nice small school that interacted with all different ethnic groups, but the constant was there was always discipline, great basketball and a good education,” said Richie Freda, who played on Hurley’s first championship team in 1967. “That will be missed because there are not many schools like this anymore.
Peter Miraldo, a mathematics teacher, is one of the lucky members of St. Anthony’s faculty. There were 18 teachers this year. A few are going to retire. He said about 14-15 had to look for jobs and he believes he is one of four who found one. He will work at a charter school in Newark.
Miraldo said the closing probably affected the ones who will be seniors next year.
Basketball standout Terry Dehere, who later played at Seton Hall and then went to the NBA, said the night was difficult because the school was closing but great because he got to see so many former friends from school.
“This a success story, there is nothing to be ashamed of,” said Dehere, who works in Jersey City providing affordable and senior housing.
“When you do all you can do and things are out of your control, you have to live with it. It’s a part of life. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. If any school in the country could have a run like St. Anthony’s, I think they’d take it.”