St. Anthony is a small Catholic high school in Jersey City. Divorced from its namesake parish and receiving no funding from the Diocese of Newark, the school operates on the will of two Felician nuns and basketball coach Bob Hurley. With an enrollment of little more than 200 students, the school is known most for its nationally ranked boy’s basketball team. Producing hundreds of collegiate players and five NBA first round draft picks, Coach Hurley has become an institution in basketball. His team has won two-dozen state championships and finished number 1 in the national high school rankings twice. Up until recently, however, his sons Bobby and Danny were more famous.
Bobby played for two-time NCAA Champion Duke in the early 1990’s and was ranked as one of the top 50 players in the Atlantic Coast Conferences history. Unfortunately, his professional career was cut short after a car accident. Son Danny starred at Seton Hall and went on to become an assistant coach at Rutgers University.
With little known about the patriarch, coach Bob Hurley, ESPN writer and Record of New Jersey columnist Adrian Wojnarowski followed the St. Anthony basketball team for the 2003-04 school year. In writing The Miracle of St. Anthony , Wojnarowski stumbles upon a well-known formula: inner-city students with little chance to succeed are guided by a hard-nosed authoritarian teacher/coach – they overcome adversity and live happily ever after. Unlike other Hurley teams, however, this senior class is habitually underachieving – something the coach has never experienced or tolerated. At one point, Hurley verbalizes his frustration, telling the seniors, “Do you think we love coaching you? We can’t wait for you to be gone.”
Wojnarowski does a great job of introducing us to Hurley’s players. The characters have interesting personalities and stories. Ahmad Mosby, a troublesome senior who has been kicked of the team twice, is the last male in his family not to be imprisoned or in jail. Sean McCurdy, a rich white kid from Connecticut, moved to New Jersey solely to play for coach Hurley and pursue his basketball ambitions.
Despite their disciplinary problems, Hurley’s team is accomplished on the court. Playing together since grade school, St. Anthony’s seniors have competed at the highest level in AAU tournaments around the country for the past six years.
We learn that that there is something nomadic about St. Anthony basketball. In Hurley’s 35+ year tenure the team has practiced in 25 gyms and has had nine different “home courts.” The team must fold tables in a bingo hall several blocks from the school to practice in a small gym with two baskets and 30 feet smaller than a regulation court. After practice the team puts the tables and chairs back.
The school is constantly under threat of closure. Receiving no money from the diocese, Coach Hurley and Sisters Mary and Alan must resort to elaborate fundraisers. At one point in 2002, the school was set to close. Losing several benefactors in the September 11 terror attacks and with more people donating to World Trade Center relief funds, the school was neglected for a year. Only an article in USA Today saved the school.
As people from around the country and the world read about coach Hurley and his small school, hundreds of thousands of dollars were donated to help with the operating budget and keep the school open another year.
Working as a Hudson County probation officer for 30 years, Hurley is as street-smart as they come. He motivates through yelling and cursing and fear, but his players understand what’s at stake: college scholarships and the coach’s love and respect.
It’s not self-righteousness that spurs him on. It’s a consistent theme in his work as a probation officer. Each criminal office Hurley dealt with shared the same story – at some point around eighth or ninth grade, they fell by the wayside and pursued a life of crime and drugs. Hurley must protect and encourage his players so they don’t follow the same path.
Ultimately, this book is geared towards those interested in sports, teenage issues and “little engine that could” stories.