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For St. Anthony’s, an end of an era

April 20, 2017 Columns No Comments

In the end, it all came down to money. It was the almighty dollar winning, as it often does, over tradition and greater purpose.

St. Anthony’s High School could not raise enough money to trim a deficit nor could they guarantee enrollment numbers asked of by the Archdiocese of Newark. The other side saw developers salivate over St. Anthony’s location – sandwiched between the Hamilton Park and Newport areas. It is close to transportation to Manhattan as well. Yes, money won out in this “contest”. St. Anthony’s will close in late June.

The cruelest of ironies regarding the decision involves legendary coach Bob Hurley. He devoted half a century of service to the school on eighth street in Jersey City. In the process he turned down dozens of jobs affording higher salaries than his coaching stipend, ones more lucrative than his work as a probation officer. His devotion to the school transcended a paycheck.

St. Anthony’s remarkably had no home gym, but played games at a nearby charter school. (Ray Floriani photo)

The record is intact. Over 1,000 victories, 28 state titles and 13 New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles. Not to mention four national titles. A walk through the halls of St. Anthony’s is akin to visiting a display in Springfield as pictures, awards and trophies adorn the walls and share the decor with holy statues. The high school has no gym. For years the Friars utilized different locations in Jersey City before calling a nearby charter school gym as home about a decade ago. Regardless of obstacles that would have adversely affected many programs, St. Anthony’s not only made do; they prospered at an unparalleled level.

Hurley is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. His legacy, reputation and record have been praised by coaching colleagues on all levels of the game. But for the 69-year-old lifelong resident of Jersey City, it goes deeper than wins and losses. Over 100 of his players have earned college scholarships and played at the next level.

To Hurley, that was significant, but a major part of St. Anthony’s centered on helping all the students. Many come from single-parent homes. Some were raised by a guardian or older family member. Those students would often take a bus or two and work part time to defray the cost of tuition. To these making the daily trek to St. Anthony’s, the school’s outstanding 100 percent college acceptance rate was enticing. More important was the opportunity to learn in a small and safe environment and not get caught up in the city’s larger, often unsafe, public schools. On entering St. Anthony’s a statue “greets” all with a proclamation: “The street stops here”.

Hurley spent the last few years as president of the school. He often enjoyed casual chats with students – not just basketball players, but all students. He enjoyed talking with them about their classes, hopes, future plans, neighborhoods – almost anything. He was genuinely interested in them. Maybe “was” is an inaccurate tense. Hurley is very concerned about their futures. What schools will they have to transfer to and how are they to fare if faced with the transition to public school?

Hurley’s entire family was a main part of St. Anthony’s. It is well known sons Bobby and Danny starred for the Friars. For years, though, his wife Chris was a scorekeeper and helped in other capacities, while daughter Melissa was also involved. The Hurleys were a Friar family.

There were a few occasions in the past when it appeared the school would be closing its doors due to financial difficulties. Each time, they pulled through. Sometimes it was from fund raising, other times a generous donation. Still other times, it was a combination figuratively aided by the grace of God. This time there was nothing to save their existence.

There was a lot of speculation after the early April announcement. One rumor was a merger with Marist of bordering Bayonne, who is having its own difficulties. A number of people, not just coaches but those in all walks of life, even high ranking politicians, called for the Archdiocese to give St. Anthony’s more time to raise the necessary funds. It was all to no avail.

Hurley in his own right will be coaching next season. The plan is to engage in a Jersey City-wide series of instructional clinics for younger players. The long time mentor will be back in his environment-teaching the game he loves in the city he loves. He is not coaching games per se, but there will be winners. Namely, those kids in Jersey City entrusted in his 94-by-50 classroom.

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