- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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St. Patrick (N.J.), which has become a national boys basketball powerhouse, will be closing at the end of the year, according to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger. A school official told the paper that the school's staff was informed on Saturday and the students and parents would be told on Sunday.
The Star-Ledger reported that St. Patrick plans to appeal to the decision. The article said that enrollment has been around 200 to 220 students and the Elizabeth school needs to be repaired. St. Patrick is the oldest parochial school in New Jersey and was founded in 1863, according to its website.
"It's sad to see. So many kids that were taught there by people like (principal) Joe Picaro and others went on to have successful, quality lives due to go to St. Pat's," former boys basketball head coach Kevin Boyle told ESPNNewYork.com. "It's a shame the economics are what they are and you just can't get enough kids to go there."
The Celtics built up their reputation as a national power under Boyle, who left the school prior to the season to go coach at Montverde Academy (Fla.). He led St Patrick to five New Jersey State Tournament of Champions titles in his 23 years at the Elizabeth school. Boyle was named the 2011 Naismith High School Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
Last season, the Celtics went 26-1 and were ranked No. 1 in the nation before falling to St. Anthony (N.J.) in the state tournament in a game that was dubbed the mythical national title game as the teams were the top two ranked squads in the nation.
St. Anthony and St. Patrick had developed one of the premier rivalries in high school basketball, with both teams usually highly ranked nationally and competing for New Jersey supremacy. The teams swapped Tournament of Champions titles over the years.
"It was a great rivalry and it culminated last year when the unthinkable happened in national high school basketball with one and two playing in our game on March 9 at Rutgers," St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley said. "Both schools gave the almost 9,000 people that a basketball experience they're still talking about. One of the greatest nights in the history of high school basketball in our state.
"I think we definitely elevated them to a level to compete with us and and then Kevin got it to to the point where it was more than a rivalry and we had to try to elevate to be able to beat them."
The Celtics are currently 14-9 this season under first-year head coach Chris Chevannes.
St. Patrick has placed several players in the NBA, including current rookie sensation Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver's Al Harrington and Houston's Samuel Dalembert. Kentucky freshman star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also attended St. Patrick as well as North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland.
Boyle talked fondly about how his former stars, including Harrington and Dalmbert, never were treated any differently by the student body at the school. The athletes were looked at as just another student at the small school.
"(I'll remember) the community, the family, the tightness, it was a small school so it was family like," Boyle said. "The kids were really invested in each other academically and athletically.
St. Patrick joins the unfortunate trend of Catholic schools in the Metropolitan area, as Paterson Catholic (N.J.), St. Mary (N.J.) and New York City boys basketball power Rice High School closed last year, and Nazareth (N.Y.) recently announced that it will be closing its doors at the end of the year.
"It's a sad and unfortunately you see more and more closings, like with Paterson Catholic," Boyle said. "I don't know what the solution is."