Bob Hurley is a coaching legend, there is no denying that.
What makes him even more invaluable to St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.)
is the wide vantage point he sees things from, like Catholic high schools closing at epidemic proportions throughout the country due to lack of funding.
Hurley won't let that happen to St. Anthony, which finished as the No. 1 basketball team in the
MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Boys Basketball Rankings
and currently owns the nation's longest winning streak (65), one spanning back two years to March 13, 2010.
What used to cost $5,000 to put a student through the tiny, 230-student, 11-classroom small brick building on Eighth Street in a leafy part of Jersey City now costs about $12,000. Rising educational costs have come from the decreased amount of religious teachers Catholic high schools once had.
That, and the increasing cost of everything else today, has placed St. Anthony in the same dire stretch as many other inner-city Catholic schools, at about a $1.3-million deficit after each school year, according to Hurley.
It's the very reason why Hurley has increased an already inhuman devotion to the school he's been at for 45 years. If Hurley has anything to do with it, St. Anthony will be open for another 45 more.
"We use June 20 to end our calendar year, and we're as close as we can to hit the number we need to hit; but we really don't know this year, and we're already working on the budget for next year," Hurley said. "I was never involved with this stuff before. I was a coach and retired now for three years. But being retired, it's given me an opportunity to do more things for the school. Everyone wants to keep the school open. The kids are committed and we're proud of what's happened with the kids. I know what's going on today with the financial climate, and in order to keep the school open, I'm doing more things than I previously have."
Hurley, you can say, is St. Anthony. Call him St. Bob. Though you'll never hear him, nor will he ever take any credit, he's the face of the school, working in conjunction with Sister Felicia, the school's president who's been involved with St. Anthony the last 30 years, to wage an ongoing battle. It's an arduous task that Hurley has gone after with full fervor.
He's traveled the country, hitting everywhere from St. Louis to Toledo, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., doing corporate speaking engagements promoting the virtues of a Catholic high school education. It's a situation in constant crisis.
Hurley has helped offset costs by engaging corporate heads like Mickey Drexler, the current chairman and CEO of J.Crew, by outfitting St. Anthony's students. Reebok sponsors almost all of the Friars' athletic teams and Hershey's provides drinks. A significant source is the annual golf tournament Hurley holds, the Hurley Golf Tournament (which this year will take place on Oct. 1).
The "Miracle of St. Anthony" book is being made into a Hallmark movie set for a possible March 2013 release, and the school is hoping to generate additional income with branding.
At one time, according to Hurley, 60 percent of the families who sent their children to St. Anthony were living below the national poverty line.
"We're trying to do everything we can to allow families to be able to afford tuition by spending less on other things," Hurley said. "We have the Zampieri scholarship, for example, which has provided a stream of scholarship money, from Robbie Zampieri's family, who died in the World Trade Center and he was a Bergen Catholic graduate. We're getting tremendous help from a number of outside sources and outside people. It's what makes this pretty amazing."
It's altruistic offers like that which have sustained St. Anthony. The ultimate goal is to build an endowment so the mounting costs each year could be a more reachable $700,000 each year.
"I love our Jersey City public schools and what those teachers do is tremendous, there's no doubt about that, but 50 percent of those kids go to college," Hurley said. "We're proud of what we're doing here. The fruits of our labor show up as long as the doors are open, and we just completed the 17th-straight year of 100-percent college acceptance for our seniors."
Hurley, who will turn 65 in July, sees no stopping any time soon.
"I have a lot of free time," he said. "We'll start running camps during the summer; cocktail parties and having people join the board of trustees seeking out money. Our goal is $10 million for our capital campaign.
"It's not me, and I'm not about to take any credit for anything. I work with a wonderful group of people. The real heroes are the board of trustees, who meet constantly and without them, this doesn't happen. It's placed some personal demands on me, but I don't play golf and my wife has been very understanding, because she knows where to find me. I'm easy to find."
Sitting on the St. Anthony bench, where he guided the Friars to their seventh undefeated season, is that spot. His first season was in 1974 when Hurley was 26. This last undefeated team came when he was 64.
But Hurley does have one thing wrong: It's becoming increasingly hard today to find a committed, devoted coach, like him, who's willing do more than just coach, rather out front and banging the drum for a tiny school that continues to defy today's economic odds.Watch more videos of St. Anthony basketball