Cardinal Gibbons among schools to close

March 03, 2010|By Brent Jones and Don Markus | Baltimore Sun reporters

The Cardinal Gibbons School, for decades a local academic and athletic powerhouse, will close at the end of the academic year, The Archdiocese of Baltimore told employees and parents on Wednesday.

"Until recently, Cardinal Gibbons' administrators hoped that by pursuing every known option we could avoid having our school closed by the Archdiocese," read what was said to be an official statement on a Facebook fan page for the high school. "Unfortunately, these efforts did not result in a positive decision for our school. What we do have is a shared dedication to our students and their continued success."

Cardinal Gibbons is the only high school among the 13 schools the archdiocese will close in June.

Principal David Brown met with faculty members at the school Wednesday afternoon. He told reporters that he was sending an e-mail to parents, but referred all questions to the Archdiocese.

"We'll have something to say [Thursday] when everything settles down," Brown said.

The high school was closed Wednesday to allow teachers to attend the funeral of the wife of a longtime guidance counselor. By the time they returned in mid-afternoon, another somber gathering was awaiting them: news that the 48-year-old Catholic school would likely be shut down. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is planning a consolidation of the Catholic school system.

Known for years as an athletic powerhouse, particularly in basketball under the legendary Ray Mullis, the 48-year-old school was as much a breeding ground for future doctors and lawyers as it was for big-time college point guards and professional tight ends, for future priests as well as punt returners.

Built on the grounds of St. Mary's Industrial School, where a local miscreant called "Babe" first honed his larger-than-life legend and where other less famous but more well-behaved teenage boys got their education from 1866 until 1950, Cardinal Gibbons became synonymous for turning out talent in and on many fields.

It is where Jean Fugett's confluence of physical prowess and business acumen took shape, leading first to an eight-year NFL career with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys and later, after earning his law degree, to the Pro Bowl tight end joining his brother Reginald Lewis in running billion-dollar Beatrice Foods.

It is where Dr. James Richardson and Dr. Dennis Smith, recently selected by Baltimore Magazine among the area's best 200 physicians, first considered their careers in medicine and from Vice Admiral Mark Ferguson III prepared for matriculation to the Naval Academy before rising to his current positions as Chief of Navy Personnell and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations.

It is where former Duke point guard and current assistant Steve Wojciechowski first thought about becoming a coach while playing for Mullis, who in 31 seasons led the Crusaders to a then Baltimore City record 631 victories. It is where the late Bob Flynn attempted to revive the tradition craeted by Mullis.

"The gym was always so packed that if you didn't come in during the JV game, you didn't get in," Flynn, a third-string center on Mullis' championship teams of 1974 and 1975, told the Baltimore Sun when he came back to coach his alma mater in 2003. "I remember Gibbons as a tough place to play. I want to bring all of that back."

Flynn did, briefly, winning 27 games and going to the BCL championship game in 2004 before returning to small-college coaching at McDaniel College. After his premature death at age 49 from a heart attack in 2007, the court at Gibbons was named in his honor.

Along the way, Gibbons was overtaken athletically by schools such as Calvert Hall, Towson Catholic, Archbishop Spalding and Mount St. Joseph. Eventually, the enrollment dropped too, as it did at Towson Catholic, forcing the decision to close the school in June.

What happens to its returning students, including those who came to Gibbons from Towson Catholic, is not clear. But those who would like their children to remain in a Catholic school are running out of options.

On its Web site, there is mention of an uncertain future under the heading "Supporting your School".

"No one can predict with certainty the manner in which our institution will evolve in the years ahead," it reads. "The challenges of providing the best possible education to our students have grown tremendously since our founding. However, it can be said with strong conviction that the characteristics of this fine school will serve it well into the future. With our progressive teaching faculty, our devotion to meeting the needs of our students and the generous support of our benefactors we are prepared to meet whatever challenge the future will hold."

Marty Kraft, a 1979 graduate and former president of the Parents Club, said that officials from the Archdiocese told Gibbons administrators last summer that the school would remain open if it stayed "in the black."

According to Kraft, he was told that the school was "four or five [students] above" what it needed in terms of enrollment.

"If they close it down, they [the Archdiocese] lied," Kraft said Tuesday.

Kraft's nephew, Brad White, is a junior at the school and a member of its lacrosse team.

"I'm angry," said White, who lives in Glen Burnie. "Where am I going to go next year for my senior year? I've got all my friends here. We're not going to all go to the same school."

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