Devin Dingle and his Bishop Ford teammates saw their championship game loss as just the beginning of their climb to the top of the Catholic boys’ basketball league. Instead, it was the last game they will likely play in a Falcons uniform.
The star junior guard and the rest of the school learned two weeks ago during an assembly that the board of trustees had unanimously voted to close Bishop Ford’s doors at the end of the school year because of declining enrollment and financial concerns. The Windsor Terrace school was a staple in the community and the Catholic High School Athletic Association for 52 years. Dingle, like so many others, was shocked by the news.
“I was sad at first,” he said. “My first thought was, ‘where am I going to go to school next and what we could do to keep [Ford] open?’ I want to graduate. We want to graduate with who we came in with.”
Dingle said his teammates, including fellow star guard Dior Dixon, had been excited for next season after their young roster jelled late and made an unexpected run to the Class A title game. They were back in the gym working just days after falling to Xavier, and he said their potential made the news of the closure ten times worse. The Falcons ranked as one of the favorites to win it all next year.
Ford coach Denis Nolan, a 1982 graduate who has coached at the school in different capacities for 24 years, said his first concern is helping his players find new schools for next season, but he couldn’t help but think about what they could have done together.
“These kids not being able to say they graduated from Bishop Ford is what really bothers me the most, but it certainly has crossed my mind that it kind of leaves us with unfinished business,” Nolan said.
The coaches and players never thought the school would be finished after this year. They knew Ford was in financial trouble, but with the school year just two months from completion they had begun planning for the upcoming seasons and started offseason workouts.
“Things were going like business as usual with school and games and teams,” said athletic director Pete Goyco, who has been at Ford since 1989.
Nazareth was in danger of shutting down in 2011, but was able to raise enough money and register enough kids to stay open. Nazareth, unlike Ford, got the news of its potential closing in February.
“They had several months to regroup and organize,” Nolan said.
Alumni, students and teachers are already banding together to try and save Ford. A rally was held last Wednesday outside the school and made its way to the nearby diocesan office. Another is planned for April 28.
Ford’s would-be saviours face an uphill battle, however.
The school is $3.5 million dollars in debt, according to Joseph DiMauro, the Bishop Ford Foundation president.
Ford raised its tuition from $6,000 to $9,000 in 2008 and saw enrollment steadily decrease, according to Joseph DiMauro, the Bishop Ford Foundation president. Enrollment has dropped from 1,347 in 2006 to 422 this school year, and was projected to decrease next year.
“People can find six thousand, seven thousand,” DiMauro said. “Nine thousand, you start to stretch these families.”
Falcons football coach Jim Esposito believes that even if the school stays open, the athletic programs won’t be the same. Many of the underclassman will likely transfer to begin careers with more stable teams.
“I think the way that they did it and the timing of it, I don’t think the football program will ever recover,” Esposito said. “I have to tell the kids to do what’s good for themselves. If it’s good for them to transfer right away they should.”
The football team reached the Catholic High School Football League’s Class AA playoffs last year and was seeded No. 14 for the coming year — good enough to be considered an “AAA” squad for the first time. The school’s boys’ soccer team reached the Class B city title game. Bishop Ford closing leaves hundreds of athletes searching for a new destination. Many coaches from other Catholic schools have already reached out to see how they can ease the transition.
The football team was going to have 21 seniors next season, including quarterback and Class AA Player of the Year James Esposito, the coach’s son. The signal-caller said he and his teammates talked about getting as many of them as they can to go to the same school. The star players are concerned for the team’s reserves and role players. Their careers may have ended, while others want to make sure they have a chance to extend theirs past high school.
“We don’t have another year after this,” James Esposito said. “This could be our chance to go to college.”
Most people don’t know what to think when it comes to the school’s fate. All they know is they want to try to do whatever they can to keep it open.
“Some people tell us there is a chance,” Dingle said. “Some people tell us we need a miracle. I don’t know. We just have to see. If we try, and the school still goes down, at least we tried. We don’t want to go down without a fight.”