Towson Catholic Closing Stuns Alums

Members Of Legendary Sports Program Looking For Answers

July 09, 2009|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Towson Catholic's decision Tuesday to close its doors after 86 years ends one of the most storied - and sometimes controversial - athletic programs in Baltimore sports history.

"Unbelievable. I'm really, really disappointed," said Gene Shue, 77, an alumnus who went on to star and coach in the NBA.

"It's a weird feeling to have your high school shut down. It's almost surreal," said Anita Nall-Richesson, 32, who won three swimming medals in the 1992 Olympics.

"I was shocked. This is rough," said Reggie Williams, the former NBA star hired in May as Towson Catholic's basketball coach. "It was a competitive team in a challenging league. I was ready to go, man."

For more than half a century, Towson Catholic has turned out stellar athletes who brought colleges scurrying to the little school on Ware Avenue. Basketball was the sport of choice: Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets) played for the Owls, as did Donte Greene (Sacramento Kings). Both were first-round draft picks, as was Shue, who was taken by the Philadelphia Warriors in 1954.

Girls basketball had been big-time too. Between 1982 and 1985, Towson Catholic won 70 consecutive games, traveled world-wide and was ranked No. 1 in the country three times by USA Today. But when a recruit from Kentucky was found living off-campus, unchaperoned, school officials - with the blessing of the Archdiocese of Baltimore - chose to de-emphasize the sport.

And in 1950, two Towson Catholic male students were barred from competing in the Maryland Scholastic Association, and their coach reprimanded for recruiting the pair from other schools solely for their "athletic prowess."

Other schools envied Towson Catholic's success and kept close tabs on its program. No more.

"Nobody saw this coming," Williams said of the closing. The former Dunbar star coached last year at Jericho Christian Academy in Landover but lost his job there when that school closed in May. Williams, who lives in Dunkirk, took the Towson Catholic job despite the two-hour drive round-trip.

Yesterday he tried to stay positive.

"One door shuts and another one opens," said Williams, 45, who played 10 years in the NBA.

Towson Catholic's student-athletes must find new schools as well. Some are considering private schools such as Montrose Christian in Rockville. Others are said to be weighing Baltimore public schools such as Digital Harbor.

"I feel sorry for the kids who are still there," said Larry Bastfield, a 2008 graduate of Towson Catholic who plays basketball at Toledo. "The upperclassmen there have got to look for new high schools now when they should be looking at colleges."

Niall Harrison, a junior, said he has "no idea" where he'll be going to class six weeks hence.

"One of my coaches is trying to help me find a school for basketball, but ... it's kind of hard because most schools have already done their registration," Harrison said.

He wonders what might have been at TC.

"This was going to be a big year for us," he said. "Our new coach was an NBA all-star. We would have had a good year."

Athletic alumni said they felt blind-sided by the school's abrupt move to close.

"I would have thought we'd have had a money drive before this," said Nall-Richesson, of Jacksonville, Fla. "I don't remember hearing anything about distress."

Nall-Richesson was a 16-year-old junior when she won three Olympic medals - gold, silver and bronze - at Barcelona.

"I missed tons of school that year, but the teachers were real accommodating," she said. "Towson Catholic was quaint. With 38 in my graduating class, the individual attention I got academically was just what I needed to prepare for the Olympics.

"If I lived [in Baltimore], I'd have had no problem sending my own two kids there."

Discipline. Nuns. Rulers. Thwack. That's what Shue, a 1950 graduate, recalled of his high school years - that and an antiquated gym with stone floors and huge padded posts that rose like stalagmites in the middle of the basketball court.

"I have great memories of that place," said Shue, who later played for and coached the Baltimore Bullets. "The nuns were fantastic. It was a small community and you wanted to be there. Sometimes I had to hitchhike from my home in Govans, but it was worth it."

Towson Catholic prepared him well for the University of Maryland, where he made All-American, Shue said. A California resident, he was stunned to learn of the closing of his alma mater from a reporter.

"I had no idea they were in big trouble," he said. "That place gave me a tremendous background.

"What a great, great little school."

Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell and reporter Olivia Bobrowsky contributed to this article.

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