The final seconds were ticking down in what was a 50-point loss to perennial state and national power St. Anthony in the NJSIAA Non-Public (Parochial) B quarterfinals, but the faithful fans who followed the Blue Jays of St. Joseph of the Palisades to downtown Jersey City for what was anticipated to be the final basketball game in the school’s history paid no attention to the scoreboard.
The St. Joseph fans were standing and applauding their team as the clock was winding down to zero. They stood in unison. They were clapping in rhythmic fashion. They were showing appreciation to the current Blue Jays, who could very well be the last Blue Jays.
Head coach Damian Kennedy had already gone down the bench and either gave a hearty handshake to his players or offered a huge hug. The scoreboard that read – St. Anthony 80, St. Joseph 30 – was totally inconsequential. It had no bearing on the emotions that were filtering down from the stands to the players wearing the blue and white jerseys, more than likely for the last time.
If this was the last St. Joseph game basketball game ever, then everyone was going to know how appreciated the final Blue Jays’ efforts were.
“The bottom line is this,” Kennedy said after the final horn sounded. “We came here and faced the defending national champions. They’re the national champs. We’re the [HCIAA] Seglio champs. It’s nice to sit back and dream and think we had a chance to beat them. But that would be an extremely tough task for little St. Joe’s. If we did manage to beat them, then someone would have to make a movie about it, because it would be bigger than ‘Hoosiers.’ ”
Kennedy kept the dream going for a little while longer.
“I also dreamed that if we were able to beat them, then maybe the school would stay open a little longer,” Kennedy said.
But the Archdiocese of Newark already determined that the school was going to close at the end of the current school year. And then, this was the final time that anyone would wear a Blue Jay basketball uniform.
“I’ve been prepared for this for a while,” Kennedy said. “If this was the last game, then I’m very proud of them. Our last big game was winning the [HCIAA] Seglio title. That was a big deal.”
But there was a part of the “Hoosiers” dream that was dancing around Kennedy’s head before facing the fabulous Friars.
“But after the first two minutes, reality set in,” Kennedy said. “We’re not even in the same league with St. Anthony.”
In 2007, St. Anthony faced St. Aloysius High School in the NJSIAA state playoffs in what turned out to be the final game in that school’s incredible history. It’s almost sad to think that the Friars drove another local parochial school into basketball oblivion.
“I drove to work [Friday morning] and that’s when it set in that it might really be over,” Kennedy said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Senior T.J. Perez was trying to control the emotions after the loss.
“There is a sense of sadness, but this was good, because everyone came together,” Perez said. “I feel good about what we accomplished. If the school closes, then we left as champions. We worked hard every day. No one thought we could get this far. We were underdogs in a lot of games down the stretch, but we did what we had to do to get a championship.”
Fellow senior Leonel Carranza was also searching for words after the game.
“This is very emotional,” Carranza said. “I know a lot of people are trying hard to keep the school open. But if this was the last game and the school does close, then we did everything we could. I appreciate the fans coming like they did to support us. I’ll never forget this day for as long as I live. It’s sad to lose, but we lost to St. Anthony. I really can’t complain about that. We tried our best. I think we gave a solid showing of ourselves.”
There are some people who are steadfast to their belief that the school is not closing come June.
“It’s not over yet,” former long-time St. Joseph baseball coach and alumnus Manny Cardenas said. “Until they put the padlocks on the doors, then I’ll believe it. Until then, it’s not over yet.”
“The spirit of the school has been great,” Kennedy said. “I can’t even begin to say what everyone did. The cheerleaders made food for everyone. We had more fans here [at the Golden Door Charter School] than they did. That was really something.”
Kennedy doesn’t know what the future holds.
“That’s what I told the kids,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know where I’ll be at next year. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity again to coach. This could be my last game. My wife might be happy about that, but I don’t know about me. But I am very optimistic. I haven’t sent out a resume yet. I’m always thinking we’re going to be open.”
So if this was the last game ever for St. Joseph of the Palisades, then these kids handled themselves admirably. So did the fans. It might have been the last one ever. We don’t know yet. Perhaps there is a stay of execution waiting in the lurch. But if it’s truly over, then the Blue Jays went out with their heads held high. And that’s all they and their fans could ask for. – Jim Hague