HUNTINGTON — St. Joseph Central Catholic High School seemingly moved to end its relationship with national basketball powerhouse Huntington Prep on Thursday.
In a release issued by the Huntington school, Principal Carol Templeton called the decision “disappointing” and “sad,” but indicated that it was reached after Huntington Prep failed to uphold its financial obligations to the school.
Huntington Prep, like other similar programs, is a basketball-focused college preparatory program housed within a preexisting school; in this instance, its players are students at St. Joseph, where Templeton says teachers continued to provide the athletes with instruction, lessons and assessments despite the outstanding tuition balance.
Huntington Prep basketball coach Arkell Bruce confirmed to The Herald-Dispatch on Thursday night that the participants of the basketball program owe the school $54,000, but says over the past decade, have always paid in full.
“We paid over $65,000 this year, then the COVID hit,” he said, referring to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “We were always gonna pay them.”
Bruce pointed to the fact that students transitioned away from in-school lessons to online classes in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, but said he told school administrators in an email at that time that the program still planned on paying full tuition for its participants.
St. Joseph school officials said the decision to terminate the relationship with Huntington Prep was made after consultation with the school’s Advisory Council and the Department of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
“St. Joseph’s has enjoyed a good relationship with the Huntington Prep Academy over the years,” Templeton said in the release. “We have appreciated the excitement and attention they have provided the school. However, we are a Catholic School first and foremost, and we have to fulfill our mission of educating our students.”
Bruce told The Herald-Dispatch that the tuition paid by Huntington Prep made up about 20% of the school’s budget, whereas only about 35% of St. Joseph students pay full tuition.
Calls to St. Joseph on Thursday and Friday were not answered.
“At the end of the day, she made her decision,” Bruce said of Templeton. “She sent out a letter and that’s how we found out. Our parents and players were asking what was going on. We don’t want to lose them. We’d have liked to have talked face-to-face.”
Huntington Prep already is exploring a relationship with another school.
“We’re reaching out to a local Christian school, a Catholic school and a school in Ohio,” Bruce said. “We’ll be fine.”
He said Huntington Prep students have much to offer beyond basketball.
“We have always maintained a team GPA over 3.0, and all the 100-plus athletes that came through St. Joe have gone on to be successful young men,” Bruce said. “In our world, it is known that talent may be equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Every day as you watch and read the news, you see more about if only this young man had a chance how his life could be different.”
Huntington Prep is ranked as one of the top 10 basketball programs in the nation; its notable alumni include Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft; Gorgui Dieng, the No. 21 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft; and Miles Bridges, the No. 12 overall pick in 2018.
In the news release, Templeton said “if circumstances allow” that all Huntington Prep’s participants would be welcome to apply for enrollment at the school, which is open to all.
“Many of the Huntington Prep students have now graduated St. Joseph this year to play basketball at the collegiate level, and we wish them all the very best,” Templeton said.
Bruce said the only black students who graduated from Huntington St. Joe this year were Huntington Prep student-athletes, and that Huntington Prep brings cultural diversity to the school.
“Our players have been integrated with the other St. Joe students since our partnership began,” Bruce said. “They have come from different social, cultural and religious backgrounds and from across the United States, as well as 25 countries including several under-served African countries including Nigeria, Senegal and South Sudan. They have shared their vibrance, differences and culture with the high school student body and the community here in Huntington. Furthermore, they have been very successful in both academic and athletic pursuits during our 10-year partnership.”