Ryan Flynn, left, and twin brother Michael are sophomore basketball… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
When the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced this month that the Cardinal Gibbons School was closing, students felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under them.
For sophomores Ryan and Michael Flynn, it was more like the floor.
Just three months ago, Gibbons dedicated its basketball court to their late father, Bob Flynn, a popular coach from 1999 to 2005. In a moving ceremony attended by his family, school officials in December unveiled that portion of the floor inscribed with Flynn's name.
Dribbling downcourt at home games this season, past their dad's hardwood legacy, gave Ryan and Michael Flynn a sense of confidence, a surge of pride. In 2007, a heart attack had claimed their father, 49. Competing on the court that bore his name made the loss more bearable.
"That piece of floor is definitely special to us," Ryan Flynn said.
But they'll probably never play on it again. Come June, the school will be closed, the students dispersed. The gym will go dark, and all that Bob Flynn and other Gibbons' alumni worked for years to build will be gone.
Moreover, the Flynn twins, who received free tuition as a tribute to their father, will be forced - with a few hundred others - to go elsewhere to finish school.
"It's starting to sink in," Michael Flynn said. "But it's tough to think about."
Their mother knows why.
"At Gibbons, the boys felt a connection to Bob," Tina Flynn said. "They had ties to those men who'd known and worked with their father. And now the archdiocese has taken that away."
A counselor at Elkridge Landing Middle School, Tina Flynn was at work when a friend texted her about Gibbons' demise. The news almost made her throw up, she said.
"I felt like I'd been punched in the gut, like the night Bob died," she said.
To many in the Gibbons community, Flynn personified the West Baltimore school. A 1975 graduate, he always embraced his Catholic League roots and, when given the chance to return as coach and athletic director 24 years later, he dropped everything and hurried back to rejuvenate a flagging basketball program.
Never mind that, at the time, he was coach at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland.
"Are you nuts?" Tina Flynn recalled asking him. "This is your first head coaching job in college, and you want to go back to high school?"
"You don't understand," Bob would say, time and again, when the question came up. "This is Gibbons."
So he packed up the family, returned to his alma mater and threw himself into the job. Flynn drummed up recruits and rallied alumni who'd strayed from the nest.
At midday, amid the lunch bustle, he would clamber up on cafeteria tables to promote the Crusaders' next home game. Some days, Flynn would be seen glad-handing his way around campus, trailed by his dog, Rebound, a golden retriever. Some nights, too tired to drive home, he'd curl up and sleep at the school.
"Bob was ecstatic, going home to Gibbons," said Mike Rudd, the Glen Burnie coach and a longtime friend. "When he came back, the team had bottomed out, and the gym was a shambles. He held bull roasts, raised money, fixed everything."
Bob Flynn bled Gibbons red, those who knew him said. He had the school's basketball rims painted red. Every game found him with a red towel draped over his left shoulder, a nod to his old coach and mentor, Ray Mullis, the winningest coach (620 victories) in Baltimore high school basketball history.
When Flynn died, he was buried, towel in place. Soon after, Ryan, then 12, found a second red towel in his dad's briefcase and squirreled it away in his bedroom in the family's Catonsville home. There it stays.
Both sons cling to memories of their father. His old Gibbons jersey, framed, hangs in the club basement. Beside it, they'd like to put the chunk of the basketball court that bears his name.
"It [the court] was supposed to be a permanent thing," Tina said. "The only way that will happen now is if we put Bob's part of the floor on our wall."
Leaving Gibbons won't be easy, the twins said. They were 5 when their father took the job, and they grew up gym rats. After home games, it was the kids' turn to scramble onto the court, shoot around and mimic Gibbons players while Bob handled postgame chores.
It was a given that the Flynns would one day play there.
"At birth, Ryan weighed 5 pounds, 10 ounces, and Michael was 6 pounds, 8 ounces," Tina said. "So there was Bob on the phone, in the hospital, all excited, telling people, 'I've got my 6-8 center and my 5-10 shooting guard.' "
Basketball practice began not long after, she said:
"No sooner had they learned to walk than Bob would roll a ball on the floor and yell, 'Loose ball! Loose ball!' And the boys would chase after it."
And now? At 6 foot 1, Ryan is a shooting guard, as his father predicted. Michael, a shade taller, plays small forward. Toward season's end, both were promoted to varsity at Gibbons, which finished 14-15.
"Bob would have loved to see how tall these guys have gotten," Tina Flynn said.
Both hope to coach someday.