Though close to closing, Hudson Catholic plays on
Small school still showing big spirit
HUDSON - Today is the first day of postseason baseball and softball for teams in the MIAA. This used to be the most rewarding time of year at Hudson Catholic.
But today also marks the end for the tiny high school along the main strip of this working-class downtown. After 50 years of operation, the school will be closing its doors Wednesday.
On the diamond, the baseball team has taken its jilted feeling a step further, opting not to don the school's logo, an interlocking H and C, on its caps. All season, the caps have been plain, and solid black.
"Obviously, we disagree with the closing down of the school, and we're angry at the parish for it," said Jeremy Williams, a junior right fielder who also was the starting quarterback on the football team. "We're not playing for the parish. We're playing for ourselves. We're very angry about it. That's why we're wearing the hats."
Rumors of the school's demise have been circulating for years. Two years ago new science classrooms were added, and the school finally replaced its ragged gymnasium floor. But enrollment was down - just 125 students this year, including only 25 freshmen - and there were financial struggles. Several figures were mentioned as to how much money the school needed to continue operations next year, the most consistent hovering around $500,000.
On March 30, St. Michael's Parish announced to a gathering of roughly 200 parents, alumni, and students that the Archdiocese of Boston was shutting down the school at the end of the school year. The decision has left many students, parents, faculty, and alumni in shock.
"It's been heartbreaking, to put it bluntly," said baseball coach Lonnie Quirion, a 1996 Hudson Catholic graduate who also teaches English and social studies. "It's something that has affected me personally, on multiple levels. I'm not pleased with this decision. It's hard to find a silver lining in all this."
The school has always taken pride in its resources, no matter how small. Quirion's baseball program, for instance, fields just 14 players - some in their first year of playing at an organized level.
But the Green Wave made the most of it. Sophomore Tim Welsch threw a no-hitter this season against Nashoba Valley Tech, and at one point had allowed just one earned run in 16 innings. Robbie
A series of rallies has HC in the Division 3 Central tournament as the final seed, at 9-9. The Green Wave, who have advanced to two Central Mass. finals in Quirion's nine years, will head to Douglas tomorrow afternoon for a first-round game.
The softball team, coached by assistant principal Mark Wentworth, is in the Division 3 tournament for the 16th time in 17 years. The team is also just 14 strong; at 10-8, the Green Wave travel to Winchendon this afternoon to take on No. 5 seed Murdock.
In the school's heyday, enrollment was around 250. Its softball squad dominated the former Catholic Suburban League, winning all but two titles from 1977 to 1998. Its girls' basketball squad won 10 titles from 1977 to 1993.
The Green Wave football program enjoyed its most success in the early 1970s, earning a lone Super Bowl berth in 1973 under the late Owen Kilcoyne, who went on to coach future NFL players Joe Morris and Jerry Azumah in stops at Ayer and St. Peter-Marian, respectively, winning a combined seven Super Bowl titles.
Hudson Catholic's best asset though, might have been its multipurpose gymnasium, often used for everything from school lunch to plays to church meetings. There was home-court advantage for all the right reasons - loud fans who packed bleachers just three rows deep, a mere 3 feet from the sidelines - and all the wrong.
The floor was warped, having survived a fire ignited by a smoldering cigarette during a Bingo game in the '70s. The running joke was that your vertical leap rose a few inches if you drove from the right.
"There'd always be new dead spots," joked Alice Mullane, a 2003 graduate who played basketball and softball. "You'd be running and hear the floor bouncing, sounding like you're going through the floor. You'd be dribbling, and all of a sudden the ball doesn't meet your hand. It was so old, so [run-down], but so awesome."
When the floor was finally replaced two years ago, Brandon Shea reaped the benefits. This season, the senior sharpshooter set the school record for career 3-pointers.
Over time, the small amount of resources forged a strong sense of community; a loyal, family-like environment.
"At Hudson Catholic you really developed who you were as a character," said Jimmy Krantz, a former baseball player and 2003 grad who is active among alumni. "It didn't matter if you were a senior or freshman, everyone had their inside jokes. It's something we still talk about. I feel confident calling anyone in my class on a whim, if they want to get drinks or dinner."
Almost two-thirds of the student body plan to enroll at neighboring Hudson High, while others are off to St. John's of Shrewsbury, Marian in Framingham, or two of the region's largest public high schools - Wachusett Regional in Holden and Algonquin Regional in Northborough.
Others, such as junior softball player Amanda Mauro, are still searching.
"It pretty much stinks," said Mauro, who resides in neighboring Marlborough.
Wentworth still has his part-time job as an assistant men's basketball coach at Bentley University. But, like everyone else, he has yet to nail down a job.
"It's frustrating when it's something you've put in over half your life to," said Wentworth, who has been at HC as a teacher or coach since 1981. "In a way, it's like a big company when they lay people off. That's more impersonal, but this is personal to me. I think there is still a value to what we offer."
In the meantime, a foundation entitled "Friends of Hudson Catholic" has been started to raise money. According to its website, $35,066 has been donated for 2009, while another $25,000 has been pledged for 2010 and 2011 each - well short of its stated goal of $500,000.
As the reality sinks deeper that this is it, emotions heighten.
"I'm excited. This is my first time in districts," Williams said. "But we've got to keep this going as long as we can."