WESTCHESTER, Ill. (WLS) -- St. Joseph High School, which has been known for decades as a basketball powerhouse in the western suburbs, will close its doors for good at the end of the school year.
Students say teachers were in tears as they broke the news Tuesday morning.
"Everybody was like, wow. We thought it was, 'Oh, you're joking,'" student Naomi Matthews said. "When the teacher started crying, it really hit."
"Everyone was head down. Teachers trying to express their feelings. It wasn't the best day at school," student Salvador Rivera said.
In a letter posted on the school's website, the principal said it was a difficult decision to close the school, citing declining enrollment and ongoing financial strain made worse by the pandemic.
Westchester Village President Paul Gattuso said there were many fundraising efforts over the years to help the school.
"This school has been in our town since 1960, 61 years, and they've been a great partner to the village of Westchester," Gattuso said.
Notable alumni include NBA Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas. He played for Gene Pingatore, considered the winningest boys' high school basketball coach in Illinois state history.
St. Joe's alumni Terry Mister said he had the honor of being coached by him and said there were also high standards off the court.
"It was the structure of going to school and being at a Catholic school. You didn't have a lot of freedom. You had to do well in school because Ping was not going to let you play," Mister recalled.
Many students are now trying to figure out where they will go to school next year, but those who did graduate say they value their experience at St. Joe's.
"It was just a family environment when you walk in there your freshman year, you don't make any friends - you gain a whole new family," alumnus Joseph Genova said.
St. Joseph High School to close after 61 years in Westchester
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