Northeast Times

Devastating déjà vu

Guy Moore must en­dure the same dread­ful fate twice. After North Cath­ol­ic closed, the former Fal­con bas­ket­ball coach re­lo­cated to the West Cath­ol­ic hard­wood, where he now must face an­oth­er school clos­ing.

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For Guy Moore, it was the cruelest of d&ea­cute;jà vu scen­ari­os.

Two years ago, Moore, in his first sea­son as head bas­ket­ball coach at North Cath­ol­ic High School, had his world turned up­side-down when the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia an­nounced that it would be clos­ing the school after 84 years of tra­di­tion, pride and his­tory.

The stated reas­on was de­clin­ing en­roll­ment num­bers, which had be­come a sig­ni­fic­ant prob­lem that most people didn’t want to face. Just like Car­din­al Dougherty High School, which also was closed, hun­dreds of stu­dents had to find a new school, and fac­ulty mem­bers and ad­min­is­trat­ors had to face the stun­ning real­ity that they no longer would have a job.

Stu­dents and staff af­fected by the two clos­ings had a com­mon ques­tion for the arch­dioces­an de­cision-makers: Why?

Once June came, like every­one else, Moore ac­cep­ted his fate and at­temp­ted to move on. He was lucky enough to take the same coach­ing po­s­i­tion at West Cath­ol­ic High School, post­ing a 7-17 over­all re­cord in his first sea­son, a time of grow­ing pains for every­one in­volved. Moore knew the cur­rent sea­son would be dif­fer­ent; it would be his second full sea­son at his new school. Im­prove­ment on the court surely was on the way.

Then the ru­mors star­ted to swirl. Ru­mors that said many Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic schools, high school and ele­ment­ary, were on the chop­ping block be­cause of de­clin­ing en­roll­ment. Some schools knew they could be in ser­i­ous trouble, but still they held out hope.

But hope couldn’t save five high schools and 45 grade schools across the city on Jan. 6. That’s when the arch­diocese, act­ing on the find­ings of a com­mis­sion that stud­ied the be­lea­guered school sys­tem, an­nounced the broad num­ber of planned clos­ures in June.

The high schools are St. Hubert, Con­well-Egan, Monsignor Bon­ner, Arch­bish­op Pren­der­gast and West Cath­ol­ic.

For Guy Moore, hear­ing that West Cath­ol­ic was on the list nailed him like an up­per­cut. But the coach had a prob­lem more press­ing than wor­ry­ing about where he’d be work­ing bey­ond June. His team had its league-open­ing game at Fath­er Judge in just a few hours, and Moore knew it would be his job to con­sole play­ers dev­ast­ated by word of West Cath­ol­ic’s im­pend­ing de­mise.

“The ru­mors were already rampant by the time school star­ted,” Moore said. “People were kind of walk­ing around that day in a daze, ask­ing, ‘What’s go­ing to hap­pen? Are we in trouble?’ When the time came, there was ob­vi­ously shock for all of us, but es­pe­cially for the kids that didn’t un­der­stand why this was hap­pen­ing to them. We had plenty of hope, and were un­der the im­pres­sion that things would work out, but un­for­tu­nately we didn’t get the news we were hop­ing for.

“Me per­son­ally, I let the news hit me for a minute, then I kind of got my­self to­geth­er and fo­cused on those kids,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s a very emo­tion­al time for them, not know­ing where to turn. Am I hurt over this hap­pen­ing to me again? Sure I am, but I have to re­mem­ber that I am an adult that teaches and coaches chil­dren. My ca­reer will even­tu­ally take care of it­self, and I have faith in God that He will guide me in the right dir­ec­tion. But now, their well-be­ing is all I am con­cerned with.”

Par­ents of West Cath­ol­ic stu­dents should take com­fort in know­ing that someone as emo­tion­ally strong as Moore will be guid­ing their chil­dren through this dif­fi­cult time. After all, Moore has been at this cross­roads be­fore, though he notes that the North Cath­ol­ic and West Cath­ol­ic situ­ations are totally dif­fer­ent. North’s clos­ing was sud­den; at West Cath­ol­ic — which has ex­is­ted for 96 years — many had hope but still saw “the writ­ing on the wall,” he ex­plained.

It left Moore to won­der how he could end up in such an eer­ily fa­mil­i­ar scen­ario. But he also had to press for­ward yet again to coach his kids in a bas­ket­ball game.

He knew that sports has the won­der­ful abil­ity to take people’s minds off their prob­lems, at least for an hour or two.

“I think play­ing the game in times like these can be both thera­peut­ic and a dis­trac­tion,” Moore said. “But for us, we look at it as our pur­pose. We want to re­main fo­cused on the game at hand and on our fi­nal sea­son. We will not give up and throw in the tow­el. We rep­res­ent West Cath­ol­ic, and we will do so proudly with our play on the court.”

So against Judge, Moore and his team did something they’ll do a lot for the next two months or so — they’re say­ing good­bye, but they also want it to be mem­or­able. And if his team’s play against the well-roun­ded Cru­saders was any in­dic­a­tion, West Cath­ol­ic will be a night­mare for any op­pon­ent in this fi­nal sea­son.

Judge did pre­vail, 56-55, but West gave the Cru­saders all they could handle — in fact, the game was de­cided on the fi­nal pos­ses­sion. West was 0-3 in the Cath­ol­ic League when the Times went to press this week, but in times like these, the play­ers and coaches don’t put much stock in­to stand­ings. Rather, the Burrs know they don’t have too many to­mor­rows, and Moore is go­ing to make sure his team plays like it.

“As a per­son, I can’t dwell on this too much,” he said. “I owe it to these kids to have their best in­terests in my heart. I am up­set, but not be­cause it’s me los­ing my job twice on two sep­ar­ate oc­ca­sions. I’m up­set be­cause the young people in the North and West Cath­ol­ic com­munit­ies have to ex­per­i­ence such great loss. I think that lack­ing the op­tion of a good Cath­ol­ic edu­ca­tion is un­for­tu­nate, but I try to keep an­ger out of it be­cause me be­ing angry won’t help these kids.

“You have to un­der­stand, people are crushed over this news,” Moore ad­ded. “People have had the same job here for fif­teen to twenty years, and it’s up­set­ting to have to won­der about your fu­ture at this stage in your life. But I think we’re more crushed be­cause when times are so tough like this, people live paycheck to paycheck but they do it be­cause they love to work with kids. It’s not the highest-pay­ing job, but we love it so much that we don’t care about the money. Hav­ing that taken from us is the hard­est thing.”

But emo­tions aside, Moore knows he is in a unique po­s­i­tion to help with the trans­ition at West Cath­ol­ic, be it help­ing the seni­ors real­ize their fu­ture goals or help­ing the un­der­class­men who are won­der­ing what comes next in their high school lives.

“Has what happened at North helped me pre­pare for this situ­ation at West? Ab­so­lutely,” Moore said. “I know to talk to the kids and make sure they are fo­cus­ing on their school work and their fu­tures dur­ing school hours, and on the court I know that I need to pre­pare these young men to rep­res­ent their school in the proudest way pos­sible. Our fo­cus is on the sea­son at hand, and we won’t lose sight of that.”

For Guy Moore, it’s all a mat­ter of keep­ing the faith.

“I know God will guide me and the play­ers in this pro­gram,” he said. “They will be guided to con­tin­ued edu­ca­tion, and I’ll land on my feet as a coach again. But for now, all that mat­ters is what we do with the time we have left with the school. And what I keep telling the stu­dents is, ‘They can take the bricks and mor­tar of your school away, but really it’s just a build­ing. What mat­ters is the spir­it of West Cath­ol­ic, just like for North, which will al­ways live on in our hearts.’” ••

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You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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