Mercer County will soon lose a big name in the local high school sports scene.
The Catholic Academy of Trenton announced Friday that its upper and lower schools will close in June due to its growing financial deficit combined with the economic impact of COVID-19.
This means that the upcoming winter sports season will be the last for the top boys’ and girls’ basketball teams in TCA.
“Let’s face it: there have been a lot of Catholic schools, unfortunately, that have closed in the last four years,” said women’s basketball coach Bob Fusik. “Obviously with the Catholic school, we all know that it’s possible for something to happen every year, but I never really thought that Trenton Catholic would ever close. The main reason I say this is because we are a school for the city and we give options to certain children. Do you go to your public school or do you want to go to a private school?
The news is particularly hurtful for Fusik, who also has a son – a freshman who has been in school since sixth grade.
Now, he and many other parents face tough conversations about why their kids need to graduate somewhere else.
“My son needs smaller classrooms, and if he goes to public school, he’ll be one of those kids who gets lost,” Fusik said. “I just think TCA was a great opportunity for a lot of those kids because they were smaller. The classrooms are 14, 15 kids, and I just think it’s better learning, better education because that you get a lot more one-on-ones, or one versus five sometimes versus 30, 32 kids in a class.
Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, said in a statement that the Diocese of Trenton intends to make transitional scholarships available for the 2021-22 school year to students who wish to continue their studies in one of the Catholic schools affiliated with the Diocese or its parishes.
“TCA students will be welcomed to Notre Dame High School in nearby Lawrenceville and a number of Catholic elementary schools near TCA so that Catholic education can continue to be available in Mercer County. “Said Schmidt.
Many athletes, however, face more complicated decisions. Players and parents commute from areas such as New York and North Jersey specifically to come to TCA, so for some it may not be as simple as pivoting to another school in Mercer County.
Emotionally, Fusik said he and assistant coach Sherika Salmon will miss his close bond with the kids.
“It’s a sad day because we just feel like we’re losing our family,” he said. “Our kids who are graduating…we always reach out to these kids once a week on social media, or even on Christmas they all call.”
Fans in the area will miss fierce sporting competition, especially on the pitch.
The boys’ program, one of the best in the state, has won six of Mercer County’s last nine tournaments and eight overall since 1986. Its greatest achievement was winning the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title. in 2010 as the Non-Public B State Champion.
Fred Falchi returned last year for his third stint as the boys’ coach – a tenure which began in 1998 and included time off the pitch in 2011, 2018 and 2019.
During that time, he sent countless athletes to college and trained three NBA players: Malachi Richardson, Charles Cooke and Myles Powell. Richmond Aririguzoh, who graduated in 2016, went on to a stellar four-year career at Princeton and signed a professional contract in Denmark in November.
The program’s rich history also includes Frantz Massenat, who was the 2010 ToC winner point guard and went to Drexel, Bryan Caver, who attended in the late 1980s when it was called McCorristin Catholic High School, and Nick Werkman, a 1960 alumnus of Trenton Catholic High School.
Caver and Werkman played at Seton Hall, where Werkman is still the Pirates’ all-time leading scorer with 2,273 points.
Meanwhile, the women’s program has won three straight MCT titles under Fusik and 10 overall since 1987.
Fusik guided the Lady Mikes to their second straight section title last year, but their dominating 28-1 season, which had Tournament of Champions potential, was cut short due to the pandemic.
That team had about a handful of Division I-level players, including two seniors currently playing in college: Maniya Custis (Central Florida) and Giana Hernandez-Boulden (Rhode Island).
The girls program’s success also dates back decades with stars such as Linda Weise at McCorristin. Fusik was proud to follow in the footsteps of Khaliq Lewis El in 2017 and rebuild TCA into a powerhouse.
“There were coaches long before (my time) with the McCorristin years where there were big rivalries between us and Trenton at the time,” said Fusik, who also spent time as a boys’ assistant under Falchi. . “It’s just a shame because the region needs it, and now it won’t.”
High school basketball teams are scheduled to begin practice Monday with games starting Jan. 26.
Fusik said he will meet with his players and parents to stay focused on the final season and try to win all of their games — albeit without any NJSIAA trophies as it’s another season shortened by COVID-19.
“I saw this season as a different season anyway because we weren’t playing for anything,” Fusik said. “But I feel bad. We got some good freshmen, and now we’re like, ‘Hey, thanks for coming, but goodbye. That’s the sad part of this whole thing.