Gloucester Catholic thinking big

Breaking ground for Gloucester Catholic's new athletic complex are (from left) John Colman, Gloucester Catholic Head of School; Father Allain Caparas; Monsignor Jim Curran; N.J. State Senator Fred Madden; Bishop Dennis Sullivan; student Max McCall; student Rachel Haines; student Kyle Murphy and student Zach Carney. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Breaking ground for Gloucester Catholic's new athletic complex are (from left) John Colman, Gloucester Catholic Head of School; Father Allain Caparas; Monsignor Jim Curran; N.J. State Senator Fred Madden; Bishop Dennis Sullivan; student Max McCall; student Rachel Haines; student Kyle Murphy and student Zach Carney. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 06, 2014

The best line about Gloucester Catholic's plan to build an athletic campus in Deptford Township came from former Rams baseball coach Dennis Barth, who speculated that his team would "really be good" with a new home field.

Seeing as how Gloucester Catholic baseball has won four consecutive state titles and 18 state titles overall - more than twice as many as any other program - the Rams' pitchers, catchers, and hitters hardly seem to need much of an improved home-field advantage.

They might get one anyway, based on plans the school unveiled Wednesday during a ceremonial groundbreaking event for the school's projected athletic facility adjacent to Rowan College of Gloucester County.

"Our field of dreams," Gloucester Catholic principal Ed Beckett said in an apt phrase that cut two ways: both as celebration of the official announcement of an athletic campus that will serve as home to the school's far-flung sports teams, and as a nod to the fact that this project has been more concept than reality for a long time.

Such as, the better part of 88 years.

Just nine decades after the 1926 opening of the school about two blocks from the Delaware River in the heart of Gloucester City, the Rams finally will have a sports home for their outdoor teams to call their own on a 75-acre parcel of land off Gloucester County Road 603 that was granted to the school by the Diocese of Camden in 2010.

Phase I calls for the construction of five fields for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and football - practice for the varsity squad, games for the freshman and JV teams - that could be available as soon as this fall, although the spring of 2015 is a more likely move-in date.

Gloucester Catholic athletic director Patrick Murphy said Phase 1 likely will cost around $1 million and will be paid with money already collected through donations and fund-raising events.

Phase 2 is when things will get interesting for the Rams and for many other South Jersey sports programs.

Gloucester Catholic plans to build the heart of the athletic campus across the road from the first set of fields with a football stadium with a track, lights, and an artificial surface as the centerpiece of a complex that also would include a field house, two baseball fields, and two softball fields.

Murphy said that Phase 2 likely will cost around $3 million and that the school soon will begin a major fund-raising effort to bankroll the project.

"We can only do as much as our alumni and friends help us with this," Murphy said.

That's the reality for Catholic schools in 2014. But Murphy and other school officials are confident that alumni support will surge now that the long-rumored project has moved into the spades-in-the-dirt phase.

Another reality for private schools in 2014 is the need to maintain enrollment in tough economic times amid fierce competition from other private schools as well as public schools that often have better facilities and no tuition fee.

The growth of an increasingly popular school such as Gloucester County Institute of Technology and options made available to parents and students by New Jersey's School Choice program create other challenges for a school such as Gloucester Catholic.

One key for private-school survival is successful sports programs, which attract athletes and also invigorate the student body, engage the alumni, and raise the institution's profile.

There might not be a more effective way to add to the vibrancy of private schools, which is why they all tend to pour resources into improved facilities, actively attempt to attract/recruit athletes, and make wins and losses an unspoken but understood priority in many major sports.

Gloucester Catholic has its share of marquee sports teams in baseball, girls' basketball, and softball, in particular. But one likely by-product of the school's construction of an athletic campus could be to raise the competitive level of the entire athletic program, especially in a sport such as football.

There are only so many top players to go around. Any football, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, track, softball, or baseball athlete attracted to Gloucester Catholic by the prospect of practicing and playing on a new athletic campus will not be attending the public school in his or her district, or another private school.

Nothing is going to happen tomorrow. The Rams are years from staging a football game - or soccer or lacrosse game - on a state-of-the-art playing surface under the bright lights of a new stadium.

But the school isn't going to ask alumni and friends to pony up close to $5 million in donations to build a crown jewel of an athletic campus to serve as the host to a bunch of teams that can't look eye-to-eye with top programs in South Jersey.

"Gloucester Catholic people are very competitive," Murphy said.

With the right coaching and support from the administration, the Rams have a chance to make their sports campus the hub of an athletic program that, in time, can compete at the highest levels in soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, track, and softball, and perhaps in football, as well.

And who knows? Maybe the baseball team will "really be good," as well.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

jerseysidesports

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|