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Chicago Catholic school featured in ‘Hoop Dreams’ doc to close

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J-P Mauro - published on 04/16/21

The decision was made based on dwindling enrollment numbers which mirror a downward trend in the city's Catholic practice.

Chicago’s St. Joseph’s High School, best known for its competitive basketball program, is soon to shut its doors. The conclusion of the school’s 61 years of education comes as the city is experiencing a downward trend in Catholic practice

Rockford Register Star reports that the decision to close was decided based on dwindling enrolment numbers. The 2020-2021 school year only saw 185 registered students, a far cry from the 700 who were enrolled in the 1980s. In his announcement, school principal David Hotek cited low enrollment as the primary factor of the decision to close. He said: 

“The Board of Directors has reluctantly made the recommendation to the Christian Brothers to cease operation of St. Joseph High School at the conclusion of the current academic year. … the recommendation of our Board was accepted.”

Hoop Dreams

St. Joseph’s was best known as a basketball powerhouse, after it was featured in the award winning 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams.” The short film followed two African-American students, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they chased their dreams of making it to the NBA. The two were recruited from poor neighborhoods in Chicago, and commuted 90 minutes to attend the predominately white school.

The film became only the second documentary to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing. One of the things that made the film so compelling was coach Gene Pingatore, who urged his students to greatness while forging tight-knit relationships with the boys. Pingatore is considered the all-time winningest coach in Illinois boys basketball history, with a record of 1,035-383. 

In its 61-year history, St. Joseph educated some 11,000 students. One of the best known of these is NBA star Isaiah Thomas, who was trained in his early years by Pingatore. Along with several surgeons and lawyers of note, the school also educated Wood Harris, star of “The Wire,” and “Remember the Titans.”

The decision to close comes as the Chicago area is experiencing a downward trend in Catholic practice. Over the last two decades Mass attendance has dipped by 27%. Similarly, enrollment in Chicago’s Catholic schools has dropped as much as 30% in the last four years.

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