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St. Joseph announces it will close after this school year

The Chargers won state basketball titles in 1999 and 2015 and produced dozens of notable players, including Isiah Thomas.

St. Joseph players pose with the Class 3A state championship trophy in 2015.
St. Joseph players pose with the Class 3A state championship trophy in 2015.
Sun-Times file photo

St. Joseph, the basketball powerhouse in Westchester, announced on Tuesday that it is closing after this school year.

“Amid the current COVID pandemic, with its severe impact on the finances of many families, and the serious fiscal burdens St. Joseph has experienced during the past several years, as well as our steadily declining school enrollment, the Board of Directors has reluctantly made the recommendation to the Christian Brothers to cease operation of St. Joseph High School at the conclusion of the academic year,” David Hotek, the St. Joseph principal, wrote in a letter to alumni.

Legendary St. Joseph basketball coach Gene Pingatore died in 2019. He’s the winningest coach in state history, with a record of 1,035-383 in 50 years. He coached NBA stars Isiah Thomas and Evan Turner and had a starring role in the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams.” Pingatore coached three McDonald’s All-Americans: Thomas, Daryl Thomas and Daryl Cunningham.

The Chargers were one of the state’s best teams under Pingatore. They won two state championships (2015, 1999), advanced to the state finals six times and won 13 sectionals.

Nick Rakocevic, Jordan Ash, Jonathan Peoples, Tony Freeman, Demetri McCamey and Glynn Watson were all recent All-Area and All-State players from St. Joseph.

Bill Riley, Pingatore’s longtime assistant coach, took over the program after Pingatore’s death. The Chargers had a difficult year in 2021, finishing 3-12 after star junior Kyle Thomas was injured in the first game of the season.

Turner is currently an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics. He had a long NBA career and was national player of the year at Ohio State. St. Joseph grads Akeem Miskdeen (Florida Atlantic) and Brandon Watkins (Bowling Green) are both college basketball assistant coaches. The school also produced two notable NFL players, Cameron Meredith and Andy Frederick.

“I’m just heartbroken, very heartbroken,” Miskdeen said. “It’s been a year since Coach Ping died and now this, so it is rough.”

St. Joseph opened in 1960 and educated more than 11,600 students, according to Hotek’s letter.

“It prepared me for college, that’s the biggest thing,” Miskdeen said. “The teachers taught with so much passion and were so committed. I’m still friends with some of them on Facebook and every time I came home I would visit St. Joseph.”

The school was all-male until 2005, when it became coed after its neighboring school, Immaculate Heart of Mary, closed. St. Joseph moved into the Immaculate Heart of Mary building in 2007 and the original school has been vacant and was used only for athletics.