End of an era


Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic schools took an­oth­er leth­al hit last week as the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia an­nounced its de­cision to close five high schools and 45 ele­ment­ary schools in the sys­tem’s five-county re­gion.

The news shocked North­east Phil­adelphia, which will lose one of its old­est in­sti­tu­tions in St. Hubert High School.

The Cath­ol­ic girls high school — which cel­eb­rated its 70th birth­day last year — will close its doors forever in June.

ldquo;I’m dev­ast­ated. My play­ers are dev­ast­ated. Every­one is,” said St. Hubert soc­cer coach Mickey Mc­Groarty, who has led the Bam­bies for 37 years. “We were really ex­pect­ing a large jump in en­roll­ment for next year, and to hear this … we thought for sure that we’d be OK.”

Dur­ing the Jan. 6 an­nounce­ment, arch­dioces­an of­fi­cials cited sig­ni­fic­ant en­roll­ment de­clines in the school sys­tem and budget­ary chal­lenges as reas­ons for the clos­ures. In ad­di­tion to St. Hubert, the end is near for Con­well Egan, Monsignor Bon­ner and Arch­bish­op Pren­der­gast, and West Cath­ol­ic high schools.

Of­fi­cials said the arch­dioces­an school sys­tem has 68,000 stu­dents, the same en­roll­ment num­ber as 1911 and far be­low its peak of 250,000 stu­dents in the early 1960s. 

As for St. Hubert, at 7320 Tor­res­dale Ave., en­roll­ment has dropped to 650; at its peak in 1965, the school had more than 3,800 stu­dents.

“It’s pretty shock­ing. There’s a big rally out­side the school. A lot of kids, present and past, are here,” said St. Hubert teach­er and coach Dave Schafer via tele­phone mo­ments after the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment on Fri­day. “What makes it so spe­cial here is the ded­ic­a­tion of the kids and their com­mit­ment to the school, and the par­ent­al sup­port that we have.”

Schafer, who has taught psy­cho­logy at St. Hubert since 1993, also spent the past sev­en years as the Bam­bies’ soft­ball coach. He guided St. Hubert to three con­sec­ut­ive Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ships, from 2008 to ’10, and a pair of PI­AA Dis­trict 12 Class AAAA cham­pi­on­ships in 2009 and ’10. He’ll ment­or his fi­nal sea­son in brown-and-gold this spring.

The somber real­ity of Hubert’s clos­ing is the be­gin­ning of the end for a flour­ish­ing ath­let­ic pro­gram that has grown to be­come the largest girls ath­let­ic pro­gram in Phil­adelphia.

St. Hubert High School opened in 1941. At the time, four sports were offered — bowl­ing, vol­ley­ball, roller-skat­ing and horse­back rid­ing.

Now, more than 70 years later, the ath­let­ic pro­gram has evolved to en­com­pass 14 varsity teams and six in­tra­mur­al sports. Last year, 240 stu­dents played for the Bam­bies, with 90 earn­ing All-Cath­ol­ic hon­ors in their re­spect­ive sports.

St. Hubert also has a long list of di­vi­sion crowns and Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship titles.

The soc­cer squad has claimed 11 di­vi­sion titles and eight PCL cham­pi­on­ships (1979, ’80, ’82, ’88, ’93, ’94, ’00, ’02). The lacrosse pro­gram won Cath­ol­ic League crowns in 1997, ’98 and 2000.

More re­cently, the Bam­bies’ out­door track-and-field squad claimed con­sec­ut­ive North­ern Di­vi­sion cham­pi­on­ships in 2010 and ’11. The in­door squad won the pro­gram’s first-ever cham­pi­on­ship title in 2011.

“It’s a sad, sad thing. The spir­it and emo­tion that the girls have for their team­mates and their school is so strong. There’s a great his­tory here,” said coach Phil Re­illy, who took over the track-and-field pro­gram from long­time boss Jim Craw­ford in 2008. “The only way that this will af­fect our sea­son is that the girls will be that much more fo­cused to suc­ceed and make memor­ies that they can hold on to forever.”

St. Hubert’s cheer­lead­ing squad claimed three con­sec­ut­ive titles from 2009 to ’11 and re­cently earned its first-ever bid to the 2012 na­tion­als in Or­lando, Fla.

The Bam­bies’ bowl­ing team — one of the school’s ori­gin­al sports — has St. Hubert’s largest col­lec­tion of cham­pi­on­ship titles. The squad won in 1951, 1965 through 1970, and ’72, ’73, ’79, ’86, ’88, ’89, ’93 and 2001.

“There is a lot of tra­di­tion,” said Kristin Gaseski, a 2002 St. Hubert gradu­ate who has been an as­sist­ant coach for the Bam­bies’ swim team for the past five years. “For ex­ample, every year when I was swim­ming, we al­ways had the first meet of the sea­son, then we went to our coach’s house for our Christ­mas party. We had a Pol­ly­anna and just had so much fun to­geth­er.

“There are just so many tra­di­tions,” she ad­ded. “A lot of alums would come back and vis­it. People al­ways kept in touch and al­ways cared about the school. I know it sounds clich&ea­cute;, but we are a big fam­ily.”

The Bam­bies’ rich tra­di­tion would not be pos­sible without some key play­ers who helped shape his­tory on Tor­res­dale Av­en­ue. Pat Berry, St. Hubert’s long­time ath­let­ic be­fore re­tir­ing two years ago, helped broaden the ath­let­ic pro­gram by adding such sports pro­grams as the Bam­bies’ ten­nis team in 1990. The school earned Cath­ol­ic League crowns on the ten­nis court con­sec­ut­ively from ’96 through ’99 and in ’04 and ’07.

In 1998, the St. Hubert golf team was the first girls squad in the Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League.

In 1975, Mickey Mc­Groarty cre­ated the Bam­bies’ first soc­cer pro­gram and also brought girls soc­cer in­to the Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League.

“I mean, I’m the only coach they’ve ever had. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in­to this,” said Mc­Groarty, who has tal­lied close to 400 wins dur­ing his ten­ure with the Bam­bies. “The whole thing is so unique. The pro­gram, the teams, it’s so spe­cial.” ••


You can reach at myerkov@bsmphilly.com.

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