A few weeks ago I was thumbing through the ESPN app on my phone, passing the time, when I came upon an article that impacted me profoundly. The article was on the closing of St. Anthony High School. St. Anthony is located in Jersey City, NJ and is well known throughout basketball circles as one of the premier basketball programs in America.
The leader of the St. Anthony program is Bobby Hurley, Sr., a retired probation officer who coached at St. Anthony for over 40 years. The success of the program led to numerous opportunities for Coach Hurley to leave and likely make millions of dollars at the collegiate level. However, Coach Hurley, because he believed in the school and loved his work, chose to stay at the school. It would not be a stretch to suggest Coach Hurley is one of the best known and most successful high school basketball coaches in America. If you are interested in learning more about Coach Hurley, I suggest reading The Miracle of St. Anthony, a book I have passed on to several of my players, though I do not believe a one has finished it.
Let me start by being clear - Monroe is not entirely like St. Anthony High School and I am in no way remotely Coach Hurley. However, what hit me was the idea that a school with this kind of notoriety and athletic success could be shut down. To be quite honest, it scared the heck out of me.
I am a graduate of a public school, as are my two sisters. We received a good education and we are all reasonably successful in the endeavors we have chosen to follow. This column is not meant to diminish public education. However, as an educator at a private Catholic school for the past nine years, I have become passionate about the mission of our school and schools such as ours - whether they be Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist or any other religious denomination.
The tragedy of St. Anthony is not the loss of the basketball program. The tragedy is the loss of a school committed to educating the whole person. You see, I was not taught compassion, faith, social justice, nor the value of service during my years in school. I learned these qualities through my mom and dad and my time here at Monroe. The problem is, not everyone has a mom or dad or heaven knows both, willing and capable of teaching these qualities.
Study after study (as referenced in the article) indicates Parochial Schools are better at helping prepare their students for college and a better life. Perhaps more importantly, NOBODY is better at helping at risk students reach their potential than schools such as ours.
Monroe does not exist as a school simply to teach Math, Science, English, History, etc. Yes, these are part of our curriculum, but just as big a part of our curriculum is the concept of teaching social justice, of working to right a wrong, to help a person in need. Concepts as simple as saying ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ are included in the rubric of our educational expectations.
We are all willing to pay extra for a better meal, car or house. Why don’t we all value the education of our children as much as we value aspects of life that keep us from being uncomfortable?
I am not a finished product, but I am a better person with the experience of my nine years at Monroe. I am more compassionate and filled with empathy today than I once was (though it may not always seem like it on the sidelines). I am grateful for what this school has done for myself and for my son and for my family and I know what it could do for others.
Monroe has great programs; dual credit classes offered through UAF-CTC, music, art, languages, 12 varsity sports, Academic Decathlon, class retreats, community service programs and more. My players will tell you, that every year at some point, I tell them they play for a Community bigger than the school as they know it. They play for alum, for the ICS students, for those who support the school. Kids at other schools play for themselves or for each other. Yes, we do the same, but we play for much more. These schools do not have to exist; they are here because in the 1940’s local families asked the Jesuits and the Sisters of Providence to provide the opportunity of Catholic education in Fairbanks. We play to carry forth this incredible history; to shine a light on the gift these schools are to the Fairbanks Community.