St. Joseph High School to close after 61 years in Westchester

The basketball powerhouse in the western suburbs will close its doors for good at the end of the school year.

Video Transcript

KAREN JORDAN: That's right, Ravi. At one point, hundreds of students were enrolled here at St. Joseph High School. But this year, 185 students are enrolled. The closure is a sad end in the story of a school that came to fame across the nation when it was featured in the film, "Hoop Dreams."

St. Joseph High School in the western suburbs known for decades as a basketball powerhouse will close its doors for good at the end of the school year. Students say teachers were in tears as they broke the news this morning.

NAOMI MATHEWS: Everybody was like, wow. We thought it was like, oh, you're joking. But then we was like, whoa, when it really hit. When a teacher started crying and stuff it really hit.

SALVADOR RIVERA: Everyone was just head down. Teachers just trying to express the words and their feelings about how things are going out. I don't know, man. It wasn't the best day of school.

KAREN JORDAN: In a letter posted on the school's website, the principal says it was a difficult decision to close the school. Citing declining enrollment and ongoing financial strain made worse by the pandemic. Paul Gattuso, village president of Westchester says there were many fundraising efforts over the years to help the school.

PAUL GATTUSO: The school has been in our town since 1960, 61 years. And they've been a great partner to the village of Westchester.

KAREN JORDAN: Notable alumni include NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. He played for Gene Pingatore, considered the winningest boy's high school basketball coach in Illinois State history. St. Joe's alumni, Terry Mister, says he had the honor of being coached by him, and says there were also high standards off of the court.

TERRY MISTER: I mean, it was the structure of going to school. And being in a Catholic school which was a little different, you didn't have a lot of freedom, you had to do well in school because Ping was definitely not going to let you play.

KAREN JORDAN: Many students are now trying to figure out where they will go next year. But those who did graduate say they value their experience at St. Joe's.

JOSEPH GENOVA: It was just a family environment, you know? You walk in there in your freshman year, you don't make any friends, you just you gain a whole new family.

KAREN JORDAN: At this point, it's not known what will become of the 30 acre parcel of land. Village officials say it's too soon to tell what will become of it. And the last day of school is May 26th.