For Guy Moore, it was the cruelest of déjà 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.’” ••EndFragment