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St. Anthony’s: A Final night of celebration

June 21, 2017 Columns No Comments

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – They came out in force. From newly minted grads to those eligible for Social Security. They came out one last time for a “final’ gathering.

St.Anthony’s is set to close the end of June. The last class has graduated and final grades are in the books. On this Wednesday evening in June, the school in lower Jersey City was a site for alumni, faculty and former faculty as well as friends to come together one last time. It was not a somber setting, but rather, a celebratory one.

The entire school was open for the event. Groups walked around remembering classrooms and subjects. Some gathered in those rooms a final time. Leanne Crawford ‘06, now a CNA, paused outside a corner classroom on the second floor. “I got in a lot of trouble in Spanish class in that room,” she said with a smile. A middle-aged group was in a first floor classroom, and I told a young alum they used to hold detention in this room. She replied by asking, “Oh did you get a lot of detention?” That brought a laugh. I did not attend St.Anthony’s nor get in trouble in high school.

Bob Hurley was devoted to St. Anthony’s over five decades, and at a gathering for the school’s closing, was joined by Jerry Walker for a light moment. (Ray Floriani photo)

The auditorium was a center of activity. Coach Bob Hurley stood among the scores of trophies and plaques won by his teams and the girls program over the years. Hurley spoke about where some of those awards would find a new home. For the most part this was a night to reflect.

Coach Hurley told the story about the Johnstown Classic, a highly regarded tournament in Pennsylvania. “ The MVPs were players like Wilt Chamberlain and Maurice Stokes, Hurley said. “Jerry Walker was determined to get his name on that list.”

Walker, standing nearby added, “I said my name was going on that MVP award,” he said. “My teammates laughed. I was determined.” St.Anthony’s won the title. Walker did get the MVP. More remarkable, the year was 1985 and he was just a freshman.

Cathy Meyers O’Callahan coaches varsity girls at nearby Dickinson High School. She was a standout at St. Anthony’s in the Seventies and later played on a Final Four team at Montclair State with Carol Blazejowski. O’Callahan eventually coached the girls at St. Anthony, helping add trophies to the collection displayed in the auditorium.

She remembered her first association with St. Anthony’s. “Coach Hurley stopped and talked to a group of us playing at St. Paul’s (Jersey City), she recalled. “He talked to us about St. Anthony’s and to consider going there.” The rest for O’Callahan, as they say, is history. She felt a sadness upon reflecting, which quickly transformed to joy as she greeted and hugged some of her former players who attended the event.

Hearing the trophies were about to be moved to different locales, Donald Copeland said, “I don’t want 2002 (trophy) to go anywhere. That was my year.” It was one of many the Friars captured the New Jersey Tournament of Champions. Regardless, it was special to Copeland. An outstanding player at St. Anthony’s and later at Seton Hall, Copeland is now an assistant on Bashir Mason’s staff at Wagner. The question begged to be asked: Was the former Friar guard ever thrown out of practice by Hurley. A smile came and he said, “oh, definitely. A few times. I don’t remember why, but I am sure I deserved it.” Back in the day, no one was immune from being shown the door.

In the cafeteria a group of alums from the late sixties and early seventies enjoyed a few cold ones while remembering the past. Bob Hatler, class of ‘67, was a starting guard for the Friars his senior year. These were pre-Hurley days. St. Anthony’s was a respected and competitive program. Hatler spoke of the bygone ‘Horseshoe Conference’ with St. Anthony’s, St. Michaels’ and St. Mary’ s. It was a hey day for catholic schools in Hudson County. St. Mary’s had coaching legend Bill Kuchar while St. Michael’s had hard nosed kids and was always a tough out. The schools were in walking distance of each other and as Hatler pointed out, big matchups were moved to the Jersey City Armory.

St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s are closed. St.Anthony’s is realizing a similar fate. On this night, when decades of alumni and friends came out one last time there was a necessary stop to see coach Hurley. The well wishers had varied messages but to a person there was the “thank you for everything coach.” The thank yous were not just directed to wins and numerous championships achieved on the court all these years. This was an outpouring of gratitude. A thank you from the heart for Hurley’s devotion to the school. A devotion spanning five decades.

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