When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 50's and 60's, the most powerful force uniting Catholics, Jews and Protestants, at least among boys, was the game of basketball. By the time you were 9 or 10, you knew this was a game that the people around you played better than anyone else in the country because the skills were transmitted with religious devotion in schoolyards, community centers, schools, and gyms attached to churches and synagogues.. Whether the players were Black, Jewish Irish, Italian or Puerto Rican, they were coached well, pushed to the highest levels of excellence by fierce early competition, and inspired by great players who were school and neighborhood legends.
As an aspiring player, and someone immersed in the legends of "The City Game" I followed every high school, college and professional star to come out of New York City and the New York Metropolitan area. And I was totally ecumenical in my fandom! Even though I was a Jewish public school kid, I rooted for all the great players coming out of New York City Catholic High Schools. By the time I was in college in the mid sixties, I knew as much about schools like Rice, Tollentine, Bishop Loughlin, All Hallows and Holy Cross as I did about public school powerhouses like Clinton, Columbus, Boys High and Erasmus.
Which is why when inner city Catholic High Schools that had been exemplars of the best of NY Metoropolitan area Basketball started closing, I felt I was losing a piece of my youth. First Rice, then Tollentine, then Lasalle, then Bishop Ford and now, across the river, St. Anthony's of Jersey City, where the great Bobby Hurley Sr. coached for more than 25 years.
These schools were all places where working class kids Black, White and Latino, found an anchor, a skill, great coaches and mentors and an opportunity to show their skills to the neighborhood the city, and in some cases, the country and the world. And these schools helped kids who were not basketball players do some of the same things through academics
I know nothing stays the same and change is inevitable, but I can't help feel that what these schools provided to young people still is needed, but is increasingly hard to find in our gentrifying cities. I know this, with these school closings, New York metropolitan area basketball has lost much of its dynamism, and quite possibly, some of its soul