Sunday, June 18, 2017

A final farewell to St. Anthony

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

JERSEY CITY, NJ -- The night was a final gathering for alumni, faculty past and present and friends.

It was billed a time to say goodbye. In effect, it was a night of celebration.

They came to the school in lower Jersey City. They toured old classrooms, renewed acquaintances. Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley greeted former players, alums, and well wishers in the school auditorium. The trophies earned over the decades inundated several tables and the immediate vicinity. Hurley spoke about finding them a new home with the school just days removed from being closed.

On this Wednesday evening, Flag Day to be exact, the mood was not somber. Instead, it was a celebration of sort, as St. Anthony; with its obligatory good and not-so-good times, was fondly  remembered. A few reflections give testament:

Ralph Minelli has been an educator at the school for the past quarter-century. He has taught religion, been campus minister; and most recently, worked as a guidance counselor. Next fall, he will be working across the Hudson River at Xavier High School in lower Manhattan. On Wednesday night, Minelli; like so many others, did not show sadness. Rather, it was a feel-good reflection of the years, especially when a former student came by to chat. Did any memory stand out? “Not really,” Minelli said. “There have been so many over the years. So many good memories.”
Cathy Meyers O’Callahan coaches varsity girls at nearby Dickinson High School. She starred at St. Anthony and later played on a Final Four team at Montclair State with Carol Blazejowski. O’Callahan later coached the girls at St. Anthony, helping add trophies to the collection displayed in the auditorium. There was a bit of sadness on her part, soon turning to joy as she greeted and hugged some of her former players who attended the event.

Hearing  the trophies were about to be moved to different locales, Donald Copeland said, “I don’t want 2002 to go anywhere. That was my year.” It was one of many the Friars captured the New Jersey Tournament of Champions. Regardless, it was special to Copeland. An outstanding player at St. Anthony’s and later at Seton Hall, Copeland is now an assistant on Bashir Mason’s staff at Wagner. The former Friar guard was asked if he was ever thrown out of practice by Hurley. A smile came and he said, “oh, definitely. A few times. I don’t remember why, but I am sure I deserved it.” Back in the day, no one was immune from being shown the door.

Leanne Crawford graduated in 2006. She went on to attend Hudson County Community College and is now a certified nursing assistant. Crawford came back to visit the school one last time. “It is kind of strange with the closing,” she said, “but coming back, all the memories start going through your mind.” She stopped and paused by a corner classroom on the second floor. “I got in a lot of trouble there,” she admitted with a laugh. “Mrs. Perez’s Spanish class.”

The memories. For the former players, it was not just about being told to leave practice or other  basketball memories, just everyday occurrences within the walls of the three-story edifice were momentous. David Curomine played on the basketball team and graduated in 1998. A standout memory for him was not hoops-related. “I was about 17 years old and never kissed a girl before,” he said. “I was really interested in a certain girl, and one day in the hallway, she went to kiss me. I backed off, saying ‘what are you doing?’” Curomine laughed as he told the story. The story of those adolescent times still remain vivid for the 37-year-old sales manager.
Curomine spoke with reverence regarding the faculty who were there to lend a helping hand in ways that superseded the academic lessons. “When I applied for colleges, I did not have a whole lot of money,” he said. “Mr. (Michael) McNutt, the guidance counselor, made sure I had fee waivers to save on college application costs.” On the basketball side, Curomine did tell how his freshman basketball team started 0-7. “We had talent, but did not play together,” he said. A players-only meeting in the basement of White Eagle Hall changed things. The team did not lose another game that season.

Mariah Tarawally was a highly regarded player player for O’Callahan’s teams less than a decade ago. A graduate student at St. John’s, Tarawally devoutly follows coach Joe Tartamella’s women’s team. She also follows the WNBA, listing Maya Moore as a favorite. There is a soft spot, though, for coach O’Callahan and those St. Anthony days, days that will not be forgotten and looked on with devotion.

This event was slated to run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. As expected, it ran past the allotted time. In the cafeteria, a group from the late 1960s and early 1970s remembered the times.  A nearby cooler added the the ambience. Bob and Mary Ann Hatler, Class of 1967 graduates, dated in high school and later married. Bob was a point guard on the 1967 team. He recalled the pre-Bob Hurley days when St. Anthony still had a very competitive team. The days of the old ‘horseshoe conference’ with nearby St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s brought up the reminiscence of games half a century ago that seemed so vivid in the mind’s eye.

Around 6:30, another call was made down to the cafeteria to call it a night. It was fruitless. The assembled group still continued the revelry enjoying each other’s company on this night, the final night, and a very special one.

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