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 cliché, 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.” ••EndFragment