Category Archives: PHILLY LOCAL

Philadelphia Phillies receive recognition and hand out honors to cancer survivor

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The Phillies have been recognized by US Department of Homeland Security

For fans of the Philadelphia Phillies who may have found themselves stuck waiting in long lines to enter Citizens Bank Park at times this season, the cause has not simply been the increased crowds due to increased interest in a winning ball club.

There has been an increased emphasis on security at the ball park. That increased vigilance has a direct correlation with increased incidents of public violence around the country in a number of settings including workplaces, movie theatres, places of worship, and more.
Last month, the Phillies organization was awarded a SAFETY Act designation by the United States Department of Homeland Security. This special designation came as recognition of the club’s increased commitment to fan safety in the ballpark during not only Phillies game, but also concerts and other special events.
Security is paramount at Citizens Bank Park,” said Salvatore DeAngelis, Phillies Director, Operations/Security per a mid-April press release from the team. “The safety of our fans, employees and players is of the utmost importance. The recognition by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took place after an almost three-year process and we are honored to be recognized for our efforts.
Over the last handful of seasons, the Phillies have incrementally undertaken a number of security measures in and around the ballpark. They have installed magnetometers at the gates and static crash-rated bollards (operable barriers) near the ballpark, along with portable anti-ram barriers on closed streets.
We have 40,000 people in the park on any given night,” DeAngelis said per Adam Hermann of The Philly Voice. “We want anyone coming to our games to feel safe.
Fans now notice explosive detection canine teams at all vehicle entry points and routine canine patrols at gates. There are counterterrorism officers and mounted police units all over the facility, and improved security collaboration with law enforcement. This includes increased police resources, regular exercises and drills, and ongoing training for club personnel.
The SAFETY (Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies) Act was part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, part of the immediate response to the 9/11 terror attacks. It provides incentives for the development and deployment of anti-terrorism technologies by creating systems of risk and litigation management.
PHILLIES WILL ALSO HAND OUT AN HONOR
On Sunday, May 19 prior to the home game against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies will honor Andy Sealy. The 39-year-old from Delaware County made national news back in 2017 when she held a “goodbye party” for her breasts after she had found out she had breast cancer and needed a double mastectomy.
The Phillies will be specifically honoring Sealy for her extraordinary commitment to “Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer” and she will take the field that day as part of Major League Baseball’s Honorary Bat Girl program. All 30 teams have selected an individual for their team honors, most of which will take place on Mother’s Day. Since the Phillies are on the road that day, Sealy is being honored on May 19.
I speak out on my disease as often as I can,” said Sealy per an official May 7 press release by the team. “Statistics say my median life span is three years. I don’t follow statistics…never have! I am no longer working, but I am grateful for every breath. This is my NEW NORMAL. THIS is metastatic breast cancer.
MLB has partnered with CrowdRise by GoFundMe to host a fundraising contest for each of the Honorary Bat Girls. The winner of the contest will receive a trip to the 2019 World Series. MLB will donate all funds from the contest to SU2C and Komen.
Phillies fans can support their honoree, Andrea “Andy” Sealy, by making a donation to benefit Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) and Susan G. Komen at this link: VOTE FOR ANDY SEALY.

Duffy String Band opens 2018 with bittersweet Mummers tear-jerker

On New Year’s Day, we welcomed in 2018 with the usual pomp and celebration here in the United States and around the world.

In my hometown of Philadelphia, PA welcoming in the New Year means one thing above all others. That would be the annual Mummers Parade.

For the uninitiated, the Mummers Parade is one of the greatest spectacles of color, music, dancing, and merriment that you could ever enjoy. The vast majority of it, and the most fun, takes place right out on the streets of Philadelphia.

Mumming, a form of colorful costumed performance, is a tradition that dates at least back to England in the 13th century. In both England and Ireland in the mid-1700’s, costumed Mummer’s plays were put on, and this custom spread to America when we were still just a colony.

The following is from an article for the old Riverfront Mummers written by John Francis Marion back in 2007:

“Local tradition has it that as early as the 1620s the Swedes and Finns in Tinicum – now a southwestern section of the city – celebrated the New Year by shooting off guns (they were often called “the shooters”), banging pots and pans, and making a clamor as they visited neighbors after Christmas.”

By the 18th century, Mummery had come to Philadelphia in the form of street parties and parading around Christmas time. These would merge with other working class celebrations over the next century or so, becoming a celebration of the arrival of the new year.

By the 19th century, city leaders were looking to organize the rowdy New Year’s Day street celebrations. The city pushed for the marchers to organize into groups, each with leaders who would be held responsible for the actions of their individual group.

The first official Mummer’s Parade was held on January 1, 1901. Over the next few decades the costuming and musical presentations became much more elaborate and sophisticated. For the longest time it was racially and sexually segregated, but those traditions (prejudices?) were dropped decades ago.

The parade has grown into an annual signature New Year’s Day celebration on the streets of downtown and South Philly. Part of the celebration, the Fancy Brigades, have even been moved indoors. This allows more intricate and artistic presentations, and also guarantees a show for tourists on January 1, just in case poor weather postpones the rest of the day-long parading.

Many who marched in the Mummer’s Parade passed down the marching tradition to their children. Those traditions have many times resulted in generations of a particular family not only taking part in the parade, but also remaining as staples within a particular organization.

Into this backdrop stepped Jake Kudrick on New Year’s Day. In many ways, Jake is a typical 6th grader. Family, friends, school, video games, TV, music – you know the lifestyle.

His family story is also one that is familiar to many Philly Mummer families. Jake’s dad, Teddy Kudrick, was Captain of the Duffy String Band for the last 32 years. Before that, it was Teddy’s dad, Henry Kunzig, who had captained Duffy for 26 years. Jake has been marching alongside his dad since his first parade, when he was just 11 months old.

On October 19, tragedy struck Duffy and the Kudrick clan when Teddy died suddenly of a massive heart attack at home in Nether Providence Township, Delaware County. He was just 52 years old. You can imagine the emotional devastation that this brought to young Jake and his family.

There was a funeral, and the many arrangements that requires. And then perhaps the hardest thing of all, an attempt to return to life. To get back into school and activities and friends, all while dealing with the sudden hole in your family and your life.

As a practical matter, Duffy had a sudden problem as well. Their leader was gone, and the Mummer’s Parade was right around the corner. As with every Mummer’s club, there is an officer hierarchy. A decision had to be made as to whether they would march at all. And if so, who, if anyone, would captain the club in Teddy’s place?

Teddy was always going to have Jake be the successor, I guess you can say, to the throne,” club president Charlie Kochensky told Rick Kauffman of the Delaware County Daily Times. “But we expected two or three more years when Jakey was a little taller.

Duffy made the decision to march. Not only that, but the club also decided to continue the tradition and pass the captaincy down to Jake, who was serving an apprenticeship as co-captain. He would step into his Dad’s role, and thus become the youngest string band Captain in Mummer’s Parade history.

“I know he would rather still be co-captain, and still have his dad with him, but I think he’s going to surprise some people with how he’s able to pull this off,” Jake’s mother, Colleen Kudrick, told Kauffman.


Not only did Jake pull it off, he wowed the crowd at City Hall, as well as everyone watching Duffy’s performance on television. He truly led the club during their “Wiz Wit” presentation, exhibiting the showmanship and leadership required of every good captain. 

As the performance ended, Jake threw his hands into the air in celebration, a wide smile bursting across his face. The crowd roared in appreciation, and the band marched proudly off, knowing they had done Teddy’s memory well.

But Jake wasn’t finished. He took a bouquet of flowers over to a box painted onto the street, and laid it down in a final touching memorial to his father. 

The realization of what just happened began to wash over him, and as Jake turned to walk off the staging area he began to break down in tears, overwhelmed by the moment. Anyone who was watching and who knew the circumstances was sharing in those tears. It was genuinely incredible and emotional. 

Back at the Duffy clubhouse, word was received that they had finished in 9th place. This marked the first Top 10 finish for the club in anyone’s memory. And young Jake? He tied for 4th place Captain in a category populated with veterans having decades of parading experience.

If you want to see someone his age with the moxie he has, you’re going to have to go a long way to find another one like him,” said Kochensky per Kauffman. 

And even though we’re just a couple of days in, the year 2018 is going to have to go a long ways to find a bittersweet tear-jerker to match the moment provided by Jake Kudrick and the Duffy String Band on New Year’s Day.

My Experience at the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia

Working the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia

To say that the 2017 NFL Draft, held in my hometown of Philadelphia over the last three days, was a major success would be an understatement.

I got to experience this signature event of the National Football League up close and in person as a Sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department. It was just the latest in a number of high profile events that I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy while on-duty during my career.

Assigned to take charge of a group of police officers, we spent both days on the south side of the 2400 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It was a slight surprise to me when my group actually took that position and found that we were at the very front lines of the stage and seating arena area. It turned out to be an exciting and rewarding assignment.

The crowd was massive, but Philly-friendly and cooperative. As far as their interactions with myself and my officers, I couldn’t have asked for a more positive reception. Everyone was friendly to us and appreciative of our efforts, and quite a few let us know that fact.

One thing that none of us knew, from the top brass on down to rookie police officers, was exactly what kind of crowd we would be met with. It was the first time that the NFL had put on their annual Draft of college players in that big of a show.

Philly can be notorious at times for our fan reactions, especially where Eagles fans are concerned. You also had to add in the factor that this was a free event. Would the crowd turn surly at any point? Sometimes it only takes a few bad apples to spoil things for the whole bunch. If any officials held any concerns of a worst-case scenario, those never materialized. In fact, just the opposite.

Even when faced with moments involving the hated, rival Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, or Washington Redskins, the Philly faithful responded with spirited but controlled reactions.

The biggest target of the ‘Boo Birds’ over the first couple of days was easily the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. Yet even with the Commish, I witnessed first-hand a somewhat different reaction from the crowds.

On Thursday, before the actual player selection process got underway, Goodell came out and greeted fans along the very front of the crowd at the sturdy barricades which separated the street from the arena section. As he emerged, there were boisterous boos.

Goodell approached and then walked down the entirety of that front line. He reached across the barricades to shake hands, fist-bump, and even take selfies with those in front, all of whom looked star-struck. The crowd returned his outreach with smiles and handshakes. There were no boos at that point.

Yours truly with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

As the Commissioner made his way back towards the actual arena, he walked straight at me and shook my hand. I took the opportunity to ask if he minded a quick photo, and in a friendly tone he responded: “For you? Absolutely!” He then thanked me for the work we were doing. Great stuff!

As all cops do, I’ve worked many of these high profile details over the years. I’ve been within interaction distance of numerous famous folks including U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and South African President Nelson Mandela. I certainly could have tried to insinuate myself with any of them at some point, but always held off.

I’ve gotten to shake hands and exchange quick pleasantries with folks such as Flyers legend Bernie Parent and numerous other musicians, athletes, politicians, and celebrities. Goodell was the first time that I asked for a photo. Strange choice, no?

As the time came for the Draft ceremonies to begin, the event was kicked off with a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“, by Chloe and Hallie Bailey.

Standing at attention, facing the stage and flag, I threw up the customary respectful salute. As I held my salute through the anthem and the girls wound towards the end, two cameramen suddenly charged me. Next thing I knew, there I was, flashing a salute (1:39 into below video) on national television for the NFL Network audience.

As the Draft itself unfolded, the crowd grew massive at the front of the stage area. They roared with approval whenever a local favorite such as Ron ‘Jaws’ Jaworski appeared, and booed lustily when some rival legend showed up. The best was former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson, whose boisterous pro-Dallas rant was met by an equally vibrant reaction from Birds’ fans.

Early on Thursday, prior to starting my work assignment, I had visited the 2100 block of the Parkway. There I got to view some of the other attractions which I would end up missing while working up at the arena area.

I also ran into my cousin, Philly police officer Bob Veasey, who was working the daywork shift in that 2100 block of the Parkway. Bob told me that he had a great day, even getting a picture with the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to the Super Bowl winners.

Philadelphia looked fantastic. The mid-spring green colors in the trees were highlighted by unseasonably warm temperatures. It was as though three early-summer days had decided to invade the springtime, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time for the city.

Part of the crowd near the front of the general public staging area for the 2017 NFL Draft

A chilly rain had fallen for days prior to the start of the NFL Draft. With the event over now, Sunday is cloudy with a chance of rain. So it turned out that even Mother Nature was on Philadelphia’s side this week.

The Parkway itself was fully decorated in NFL Draft paraphernalia. Numerous tents and attractions drew fan participation and photo opportunities.

There was plenty of opportunity to purchase food and beverages. If you bought a bottle of water, you could refill it for free at a handful of kiosks scattered around the event. Porta Potty’s were aplenty.

From a concession stand set up next to the famed “Rocky” statue, I got to enjoy a delicious hot sausage on day one, a jumbo hotdog on day two, both washed down by a nice, cold bottle of H2O. The sausage, I waited in a short line and purchased by myself. The hotdog was a treat from a couple of my officers.

Speaking of those police officers, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. I had the same group of cops under me on both days. Only one of the officers had any time on the job, the others were all rookies.

All of the officers comported themselves with professionalism. They basically held to my directives: “I need to see you around regularly, keep an eye out for problems while enjoying the event and the people, and don’t do anything to get yourselves on TV.” I was ribbed by a couple of them on that last one after my salute appearance.

While visiting with that Rocky statue, waiting on my first-day hot sausage, I ran into an old classmate from my Police Academy class 289. Newly minted Philly PD Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson has always been a great guy, and hasn’t let the new rank change him at all. My only problem with him? The man looks like he hasn’t aged a day in 27 years.

People in the area where I was assigned from outside of the Philadelphia Police Department were extremely cooperative and friendly. Fire Department paramedics on their Segways were everywhere. The event security personnel, federal law enforcement, the NFL staff, and employees of the various networks providing TV coverage all worked together well.

One member of that NFL staff gets particular thanks from me, and I’m sorry that I never got his name. The situation went like this: on Thursday night, after taking a few opportunities to capture some of the pageantry by taking a few pictures and videos, my cellphone died.

Still having a few hours to go on the work detail, I realized that I had left my portable charger back in my car. Overhearing me mention this in a conversation with my officers, a member of the NFL Network technical crew offered to charge my phone. I took him up on the offer, and a half hour later had a half-charge and was back in business.

Near the end of Thursday night’s first round, I got to meet and speak for a few minutes with the woman who was in charge of the actual arena structure. If you didn’t get to see it in person or on TV, the NFL Draft arena was an amazing piece of temporary architecture.

Flanked by Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders

She said that her company goes from town to town, event to event, pulling off similar amazing feats. For instance, this summer they will be handling the huge Lollapalooza concert in Chicago in August. Her folks did a phenomenal job putting that structure in place.

On Friday, newly-promoted Philly PD Deputy Commissioner Joe Sullivan stopped through my area and mentioned that “we haven’t even had to handle a fight.” We both knocked wood, hoping it would stay that way.

Stay that way it would. No fights, no major disputes. I saw one protest sign the entire time (“Investigate Pizzagate – it’s real!“) which garnered zero attention for the guy trying hard to get some. He left the front after about two minutes and no crowd response.

There were a couple of lost children, ultimately returned to their families. And there was one other incident that was handled by myself and my crew with the help of Chief Inspector Frank Vanore and the PPD Bomb Squad.

A non-thinking member of the stage crew had left a backpack leaning unattended against a tree for a length of time near a side stage entrance. The bag was reported to us as a concern by the NFL Network folks.

This was ultimately great work performed by the brave Bomb Squaders, who thankfully got to deal with a bag full of clothing this time. After the 2013 Boston Marathon attack, unattended backpacks are a no-no at major public events, people. Something to keep in mind.

It was this spirit of cooperation and friendship that was on display everywhere you looked this week which truly stood out. Whether it was with internal PPD ranks, or with security staff.

Especially with the crowds. Philly fans were outstanding, even from or towards rival Cowboys and Giants fans. A couple of Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders humored me with the above photo. Everyone was in it together, and in it for the right reasons – a peaceful good time.

Congratulations to everyone associated with bringing this showcase to Philly, and with organizing, managing, and running the event itself. The 2017 NFL Draft was a major success story, one of the nicest events that I’ve had the pleasure to work over a law enforcement career that is now in the middle of its 28th and final year.

Smerconish begins to show his true stripes

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Smerconish interviewing President Barack Obama

 

An article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, as politically liberal a rag as exists anywhere in America today, titled “Sorry, but for me, the party is over“, written by local quasi-celebrity Michael Smerconish was published in that paper’s Sunday, February 21st edition ‘Currents’ section.

In this article, Smerconish reveals what every true local Philadelphia Republican has known for more than a year.

The man who has billed himself as THE local Republican voice, who glommed onto the popularity of programs such as Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor“, and who attached themselves at the hip to commentators such as Sean Hannity, is in fact not a Republican after all.

The article, which carried a secondary headline where it continued on page C3 titled “Parting ways with the party, after 30 years”, reveals that Smerconish recently had an epiphany of sorts. And he had it while standing in line at, of all places, the DMV.

The Inquirer, of course, then bent over backwards to advertise this alleged political change away from conservatism. But is it really a change at all?

Smerconish goes to get his license renewed and the clerk asks him at one point as to whether he would also like to change his voter registration party affiliation.

Why this is an appropriate question for some clerk at the DMV to be asking in the first place is never revealed, nor ever fully explored by the allegedly dogged journalist.

Smerconish then goes on to reveal that this was his “hallelujah” moment. One can imagine a mystical light shining down on him from above and revealing that he is actually not a Republican, nor is he a Democrat, but instead he is that most cherished of ideals. He is an “Independent” thinker, beholden to no party values! Hallelujah!

He has the clerk switch his voter registration status from ‘Republican’ to ‘Independent’, leaving behind his party of the past three decades. Smerconish writes that in doing so he is better reflecting his personal values. He claims that actually, he is “not sure if I left the Republican Party or the party left me. All I know is that I no longer feel comfortable.”

Now let me state before I go on that I myself have switched my formally registered political affiliation a few times over the years. As I have explained in full detail before here at this blog, during my 20’s in the 1980’s I was a fully-indoctrinated liberal Democrat.

It was at some point during the first Clinton administration where I had my own ‘hallelujah’ moment, realizing that my values and positions had evolved to conservative ones. I made the switch to Republican and have not looked back.

During the time that I was a registered Democrat, however, I switched my party affiliation from Dem to Republican a couple of times. Each time I did so at the request of, and specifically for, my father.

My Dad was involved in the political process and publicly supporting Republican candidates such as John Egan for Mayor of Philadelphia. I would always switch back to Dem following the election cycle, and remained so until making the permanent switch during the mid-90’s.

However, unlike the spineless Smerconish, I did not ever try to paint myself with the brush of mediocrity that is the act of being a registered Independent. Smerconish tries to make himself out to be some sort of victim to the system. “Where political parties used to create coalitions and win elections, now they seek to advance strict ideological agendas.”

Malarkey! Political parties have existed in America since the earliest decades of our founding, particularly in the years following George Washinton’s first Presidency.

From those early parties like the Whigs through to Teddy Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” Party to today’s liberal-dominated Democrats, political parties have displayed polarizing differences in their platforms and in their personalities.

Smerconish tries to defend his decision by pointing to a handful of examples of party inclusion of disparate ideas and visions. In every party there will always be individuals who are slightly moderated from the main party platform and ideals. But you rarely, if ever, can find a full-on conservative Democrat or a full-on liberal Republican, especially among the politicians.

That may prove Smerconish’s point, that the parties are indeed ideological, but the fact of the matter is that situation has been in existence since those early years of our Founding Fathers. It didn’t suddenly happen in the last election cycle. It didn’t slowly develop in recent decades. Political party ideology has been around forever.

The fact is that Smerconish began broadcasting full-time in the early years of the George W. Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He took up the Republican mantle fully, supporting most Bush policies and positions vocally and publicly, including the use of torture on terrorist suspects.

Over the next half-dozen years, Smerconish became a quasi-celebrity, his public conservative positions landing him gigs as a guest host for O’Reilly and Glenn Beck and his largely conservative writings leading to New York Times best-sellers. Smerconish made a lot of money and gained a measure of celebrity in these years thanks to what were perceived to be his intact, well thought-out, mature political and social positions.

But what also was going on is that Smerconish was doing all of this while working at a local Philadelphia radio station. He was not a nationally syndicated host with a vast network of listeners supporting him, he was broadcasting in one of the most liberal cities in America. His stated positions made him a number of political enemies, and shut him out of a number of local sources.

Realizing over time that he was not going to break out nationally as had people like Beck and Hannity, Smerconish saw himself stuck in Philly and treading water. Then suddenly it happened, the savior, Barack Obama, came along with his glib tongue and his two faces.

Smerconish began earlier than most to sense the momentum of the Obama campaign, and the alleged Republican talk radio host did the unthinkable in endorsing Obama for President.

It was in this moment that those of us who had suspected for years that Smerconish was simply a charlatan opportunist, using 9/11 and the Republican Party popularity of the early part of the last decade to his advantage, got our proof of that as fact.

There is no way that anyone who took any time to evaluate a politician’s actual record before endorsing them, as a public personality with a radio talk show in a major market should, could ever find anything other than the facts. Those facts were that simply from his voting record and previous public associations, Barack Obama was one of the most, if not the single most, liberal members of the United States Senate.

Michael Smerconish threw in with Obama because he saw the momentum switch, believed strongly that Obama was going to win, saw that Obama was articulate and intelligent, and further believed that the sun was setting on the ideology of conservatism. Smerconish basically glommed on to the next big thing to maintain his local audience relevancy.

In the beginning it was actually a good thing to say that he was a Republican who was supporting Obama. In that way, Smerconish could actually try to portray himself as not being ideological himself, despite what was out there in the public purvey for the past half dozen or so years.

But as time has gone on, Smerconish has become more and more enamored with the Obama celebrity himself, tossing aside the substance of the issues for increased access to the administration.

Thanks to his position as ‘the Republican talking head who supports Obama’, Smerconish was actually given the first live radio broadcast, interview, and listener question-answer session from inside the White House with the new President in August of 2009.

A man whom I happen to admire, Glenn Beck, has been an outspoken registered Independent for some time now. But with Beck there is a major difference. He legitimately sees and eloquently expresses his own ideology of American exceptionalism, pointing out with detailed precision how leaders of both parties have been led astray by political and social ‘progressivism’ and calling for a return to the Constitutional direction of the Founders.

Whatever their motivations, I still believe that whether it be in Beck’s principled stand against progressives or in Smerconish’s unwillingness to publicly embrace either his change to liberalism or that he has no political backbone, registering as and championing oneself as a registered ‘independent’ is a bit disingenuous.

There is no doubt that Beck’s conservative lean would, for example, find him in the voting booth ever pulling the lever next to the name of any current Democrat, while there are any number of Republicans who share his basic ideals.

In contrasts to Beck’s independence status, Smerconish is simply a fraud. He is an opportunist who now sees his best opportunity at continued celebrity by casting in with Obama and his liberal followers. Smerconish is waiting for this type of characterization. He is waiting for it and expecting it so that he can use it as well. He is waiting for conservatives to let loose on him for his alleged betrayal.

No, this indictment of Michael Smerconish and his allegedly changed political positions and resulting party registration change do not stem from feelings of betrayal. They come from a long-held belief that the man is all about himself, not any true, bedrock values or political positions. He has no political backbone whatsoever, and has only proven his irrelevancy with this registration switch. That is one man’s opinion based on what I have seen and heard.

It is also my opinion that this move to alleged ‘independence’ is only itself a temporary move. Right now, Smerconish senses the unsure direction of the future political winds as Obama’s plans prove to be the socialist failures that many of us predicted.

I predict here that Michael Smerconish’s political independence itself will not last, and that it is only a matter of time, and more security in the direction of those future political winds, before the big ‘R’ is back, or before the big ‘D’ takes a permanent place on his voter registration.

For local Philadelphia morning drive-time radio listeners, you do indeed have a choice. The intelligent, articulate, personable Bill Bennett can be heard by sliding your radio dial over to 990AM weekdays from 6am-9am. There, Bennett’s ‘Morning in America’ program is a part of the “intelligent, conservative talk” that local station WNTP offers each weekday.

The one thing that Bill Bennett will never be accused of by anyone is being spineless, and you won’t ever see him change his political affiliation for career or financial expediency.

Low times for Catholic Highs

North Catholic students in 1954 during the school’s heyday

 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the other day that two of its long time iconic high schools, North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, would be closing at the end of the current school year.

Reaction from students and their families at the two schools, each of which had once held the distinction of being the largest Catholic high school for boys by attendance in the world, as well as from alumni of the two schools, came swift and strong.

Many of the students had dreamed of graduating from North and Dougherty, some of these students as ‘legacies’ who were the sons and grandsons of alumni. The loss of the schools would break family traditions stretching back for generations.

There would also be day-to-day changes for the students, such as travel arrangements to new schools and trying to fit in socially at an entirely new environment.

For alumni, the issues included the loss of tradition and a perceived elimination of a large slice of their own teenage memories. These former students and graduates had walked the ‘hallowed halls’ at North and Dougherty. They had competed for the sports teams, participated in the clubs, attended the religious services, and got their groove on at the dances and proms.

When North Catholic opened in 1926 it enrolled approximately 450 students. By the post-World War II years the school enrollment had swelled to more than 4,000 young men. By 1953, that enrollment had grown over 4,700 students, and North Catholic was recognized as the largest Catholic high school for boys in the entire world. It was a slow downhill from there as far as attendance figures.

By the late-1970’s, with North Catholic celebrating its 50th anniversary, total attendance had fallen to about 2,700 students. The total dropped below the 2,000 mark by the early 1980’s.

Though there are now approximately 40,000 alumni of North Catholic high school, the actual 2008 attendance had plummeted to just 750 total students.

The story is similar at Cardinal Dougherty, which opened in 1956. By the 1960’s, Dougherty enrollment had swelled past the 6,000 mark as the school took over the title of largest Catholic boys school in the world. But attendance plunged in the same way it would over at North. By 2008, there were just 784 total students at Dougherty.

When you consider these figures, it is really not that hard to figure out why buildings and facilities originally created to hold between 4,000-6,000 students and now held a little more than 700 each could not continue.

But many students and alumni are placing the blame elsewhere. The rise in tuition costs. The cost of legal defense for Catholic priests accused and convicted in the sex abuse scandals.

Sadly, these Catholics are completely missing the real reasons why enrollment has plunged to the point that schools need to be closed.

For the America of the ‘Baby Boomer’ years during the two decades immediately following World War II, the Catholic Church was a major institution and a concrete part of family life. Families were still together, and many of those were large and thriving.

Divorce was almost unheard of at that time, and a typical Catholic family would have four or five children or more. These kids grew up to attend the neighborhood Catholic elementary and high schools as a matter of course.

Tuition in the 1960’s was approximately $200-250 per student at most Catholic high schools in Philadelphia. Today those figures have risen into the thousands, in some cases to more than $10,000 per year.

Of course, people who earned a salary of $5,000 per year back in the 1960’s are now making $50,000 in those same jobs today. Few people ever consider this fact when harping on tuition rises. The fact of the matter is that costs have soared for most of the same inflationary reasons that salaries have soared over the past five decades.

Catholic schools have an additional burden in that they continue to provide the best educational opportunities and resources. That includes the quality of teachers, facilities, programs, and the overall learning environment.

The cost of providing that quality is, however, now spread out over hundreds of students rather than the thousands of students attending the schools in earlier generations.

There is one major reason for all of the problems that leading to not only the anticipated closings of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty high schools here in Philadelphia, but also to closings and mergers of other Catholic elementary and high schools in recent years.

This one major reason also applies to the merger of my own alma mater, St. John Neumann boys high school in South Philly, with St. Maria Goretti girls high school back in 2004.

That one major reason is that Catholic families simply have fallen down on the job.

Catholic families began to have fewer and fewer children, to the point now where most Catholic families have approximately two children rather than the half dozen or more kids that was common a half century ago.

Reproductive demographics is only a part of the problem,  just a symptom of the bigger problem that I personally believe is spiritual in nature. Catholic families have not drifted away from the Church over the decades, they have sprinted away.

According to the results of a Gallup Poll released in April of 2009, attendance at Catholic churches has leveled off at approximately 45% after falling slightly below that figure in the immediate aftermath of the priest abuse scandals. In 1955 that figure had been a full 75% attendance for weekly Mass services.

The fact was, if you were a Catholic in our grandparents day, you went to Mass on Sunday – it was obligatory. The sad fact today seems to be that people take Mass attendance far too casually.

Also, where in those previous decades the idea of divorce was almost unheard of, today approximately 21% of Catholic Americans have been through a divorce according to religioustolerance.org figures.

The combination of the deterioration of Catholic family size, structure, and practice is at its core a spiritual problem.

Many Catholics have become more self-centered, more materialistic, more cynical and more willing to surrender to or flee from the problems posed by evil in the world rather than standing by their faith and fighting back. They have fled to other Christian denominations, or to no religious practice whatsoever, and have taken their smaller families along with them.

It is easy for people who want to assign blame, whether it be in the current struggles of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia or in any other area of life, to point at others. There may even be some validity to such accusations. But those same people need to sincerely look themselves in the mirror and ask some hard questions of the person looking back at them.

Do you go to Mass every week, or at least most weeks? Do you make it a priority for you and your family? Do you receive the Sacraments, especially Communion, but also including Confession/Penance?

Are you committed to your family, and especially if a young Catholic, are you committed to growing that family in number and raising your children as strong Catholics?

Did you, do you, or will you send your children to Catholic schools? Do you find a way to support the Church outwardly and proudly despite the shortcomings of some of its leadership?

If you can look yourself in the mirror and answer all of these questions positively, then congratulations, you are not really a part of the problem. But unfortunately you are also not in the majority of American Catholic families over the past few decades.

The answer to the problems which are now requiring the closings of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty, that required the merger of Neumann and Goretti, and that have required the closings and mergers of other Catholic elementary and high schools can be found within ourselves, not in protest or in demonstrations.

We the people who make up the body of the Church need to return to our basic fundamentals of faith, prayer, and support for the Catholic Church. If we are not willing to do that, then more and more Catholic schools will meet the same fate in future years.

The official school motto at North Catholic is “Tenui Nec Dimittam” which translates to “What I have, I will not lose” which should be taken on as the new motto of all Catholics in Philadelphia and all across the United States of America.