April 06, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) A day after the closing of national high school basketball powerhouse St. Anthony's was announced, Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley read as much as he could about the decision.

The 69-year-old just wanted to know how the little Roman Catholic school in a New Jersey inner city that faces out to the New York City skyline was being perceived.

Many people knew about the 28 state basketball titles, the four national championship and the more than 1,100 wins that his teams posted during his tenure. But St. Anthony's was more than sports, and Hurley saw that, too.

The articles told of the 100 percent acceptance to college over the last two decades, the low tuition that afforded the children of the poor a chance for an education and a mission to build character in students.

He read it all, that is, between the phone calls from his former players, other coaches, parents and friends.

''You enjoy the conversation and all the sudden it is sad,'' Hurley said Thursday. ''The gamut of emotions is going on today. But the day goes on.''

There was also a sense of closure after losing a decades-long fight against declining enrollment and rising cost.

The money just wasn't there. Charging $6,100 in tuition for an education that cost $14,000 was a losing battle and the white flag had to be raised Wednesday.

It was not a surprise. Hurley, the school's president, had spoken to the faculty and staff almost every two weeks about the future and the prospects were not good.

''We could have continued the battle,'' he said. ''I don't know if it would have been a different outcome but the term closure, there is closure today. It's funny there are still people calling that have ideas. It's wonderful that they are calling, but we've had our ideas and we have tried everything over the years. For me personally, it's been 50 years. The school had its first graduating class in 1956. It's been 62 years. It's been a good run.''

The hard part has been dealing with the students. Hurley spoke to roughly 20 basketball players Wednesday evening after the announcement. He has another meeting scheduled with the athletes Friday, and one with all the families that night.

''The kids were visibly upset as expected for kids who love to play basketball,'' Hurley said. ''We try to make basketball available to them. We try to make it important in their lives, but we try to balance it. We're going to try to help them and put them in good situations. But a lot of them feel that so many kids have gone on before them and enjoyed this, and now they have been robbed of their opportunity.''

Hurley didn't make it to school Thursday. He was scheduled to talk at a criminal justice seminar at nearby St. Peter's College and he fulfilled his obligation.

Teachers used the first two periods Thursday to allow the students to ask questions and get their feelings out.

''We'll keep going through this process of talking to families, and try to get them to maybe move in a more positive direction,'' Hurley said.

The one thing he is trying to avoid is having the students let up in the final months.

''That's pretty difficult because this is a big story for them,'' Hurley said.

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