The Parent Trap: North Catholic parents want answers

Sometimes, all it comes down to is uniforms.

Denise Maccari knows about uniforms. As the mother of sophomore at Northeast Catholic High School, she understands that uniforms have to be bought, and not at a discount price. If you’re lucky, perhaps a neighbor with a son just out of school will be able to give you a tie or a sweater. But Maccari’s son is also an athlete. That translates into even more uniform purchases, and a gym bag to carry everything. And all of this merchandise has one thing in common – it all proudly displays the name of Northeast Catholic.

“I’ll have to replace uniforms, sports equipment, gym bags and spikes,” said Maccari, who attended a meeting of the Friends and Family of Falcon Football last week.

The initial intention of the 4-F Club meeting was to discuss the upcoming Thanksgiving game, perhaps the final game of a series begun in 1930 against Frankford High School. Nothing has stopped this game. Not war. Not Catholic League or Public League championships. But parents had more on their minds at the meeting, which occurred less than a week after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Northeast Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty High Schools would be closed at the end of this school year.

“I feel terrible for the poor juniors,” said Liz Mackin, co-president of the 4-F Club and mother to a senior football player at North. “They’ve worked so hard to establish themselves, and they’re going to go someplace else and be accepted? Maybe, but maybe not.”

Mary Anderson is the club’s other co-president. Hers is a catholic school family. Her father went to Northeast Catholic, as did all of her uncles and her oldest son. Her daughters graduated from Little Flower, and all that is now left is her youngest son, a senior and a football player.

“We got a recorded [phone] message that was so unfeeling,” Anderson said of the way that many families found out about North’s closing.

It didn’t matter to Anderson or Mackin that their sons, who will be among Northeast Catholic’s last graduating class, wouldn’t be affected by the school’s closing. The 4-F Club sticks together, and if the past two weeks are any indication, so does the Northeast Catholic alumni and its extended family.

“The outpouring has not surprised me,” said Jim Lemanowicz, a 1972 North grad and current president of the school’s Father’s and Mother’s Association, who attended last week’s protest in front of the school. “They’ve been out here almost every day.”

It’s not just the students and alumni who have been protesting. Mothers have come out in droves to fight for Northeast Catholic’s right to exist. Beth Wesolowski, mom of a North grad with another son who is a sophomore in the school, proudly held her homemade “Save North” banner alongside friends and fellow North moms Patti Biscella and Joan Samacicia.

“I graduated from St. Hubert, and I feel more connected to this school,” said Wesolowski, who waved as a passing police car honked its support during the protest. “You walk into that building, and breathe tradition.”

Wesolowski, who lives in Tacony, worries that her son, who plays hockey at North, won’t be able to get a foothold with another established team.

“The administration and coaches say it’s not a problem, but it will be with the players,” she said. “They won’t be accepted.”

Maccari’s son receives a scholarship to attend Northeast Catholic, so she worries if the money will cease if he has to attend another school. Wesolowski looks at her son’s options for next year. She’s not sure if he wants to go to Father Judge. Most charter high schools have waiting lists, and none have large sports programs. Lincoln? For her, that’s not even an option.

“I want him to go to an all-boys school, taught by the Oblates,” she said.

The Oblates of St. Francis De Sale is the order of priests which has been operating Northeast Catholic since it opened in 1926. Yet during this ordeal, the order’s silence has been deafening.

“Surprisingly, they haven’t said anything to us,” Anderson said. “At Dougherty they’ve already had a meeting with the parents. According to the Web site, there will be a meeting, but we haven’t had it yet.”

All agree that a meeting is essential, even if only to present options for placement. For his part, football coach Chalie Szydlik has promised that he and his staff will do all that they can to introduce his players to prospective coaches.

“Your kid will not go into a new school cold,” he said.

His words were reassuring but to many, premature. They aren’t giving up this fight for North to continue. Hanging around for 83 years in the river wards has produced a lot of students and graduates with strong allegiances and fires in the belly. And that goes for the moms of the students and graduates, too.

“After two days of crying, I’m here to fight for my school,” Maccari said. “I grew up in this area, and I work with a lot of alumni. This school means a lot to me. If my son earns a position on another team, I can’t see myself wearing [a different] sweatshirt.”

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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