Photo courtesy of Johnnie Photography.
By David Cordova
For many years, St. Patrick High School was one of the perennial powerhouses in the state of New Jersey until its closure in the spring of 2012. That fall, the school resurfaced as The Patrick School, which is a private, non-Catholic high school in Hillside, New Jersey, and is now in its seventh year of existence.
The talent is still coming out in droves and the program continues to excel as a powerhouse in the Garden State. However, there is something new and fresh that is forming in the school. The name of that project that is forming is known as The Patrick School Basketball Academy, which is in its inaugural year and will hold 45 middle-schoolers this year.
But just because there will be basketball at the Academy, doesn’t mean that it will just be that. Academics will also come into play as well. “It’s extremely important, it’s been the driving force behind everything we do, from St. Patrick’s to the Patrick School,” said head coach Chris Chavannes, who is also the president of the school. “That’s the number one objective, because without that, nothing else matters. It’s the key.”
When asked about the origins of the Academy and how it came about, he replied, “The Academy came about, because one of our board members – in 2012, when St. Patrick was closing and we opened The Patrick School – was always mentioning to me how things were done in Europe, and how they have academies, and how the emphasis was on class and developing players. So there was more emphasis on skill development than there was on playing games, so you might play one game a week and the rest of it, you were training four or five hours a day.”
Chavannes also added: “So you know, when we started off in 2012, obviously, there were more important things at the time, finding a building, getting your accreditation from Middle States, getting certified by the NCAA, the SAT’s, all the things you needed to do, and that took awhile. Now that we’ve moved in here, and settled in, this appears to be a good time to build out a little more, build our finances, and it appears that it will help some of those questions.”
The question here is, what will make The Patrick School Basketball Academy unique, in ways that other programs aren’t? “For one, it’s probably the first of its kind, for this age group, that’s associated with a school that’s accredited, Middle States accredited, certified by all agencies, cleared by the Department of Education,” said Chavannes. “Probably the first of this kind in the country, I’m not absolutely sure, we’ve been looking and searching for the past three or four months, and we haven’t found anything else.”
In addition to it being the first of its kind, Chavannes said, “We’re not inventing the concept because it’s been out there for high schools for quite awhile, and others that have mastered it. For us, we thought the middle school, we’d start out, and in the near future we’re hoping that we’d have the entire school in that mold, or expand it into the high school mold for those who want to go to school for that. But this is a key year to see how it works.”
For those youth who want to improve academically and athletically, the Academy is bound to help those who need help in both areas, so that they can be well-rounded student-athletes.
“For us right now, from an academic standpoint, they’re able to be educated at their academic abilities, so it’s with a blend of learning. You have a certified teacher in the classroom, plus, you have classes online, so that in itself, with online classes, that’s what you’re doing. There’s probably a tutor that comes in. In our case, we offer you a teacher and an online class, which are able to give our kids some things we might not have. For example, we don’t have labs here, so there are virtual labs that they would have access to, so that they can academically compete with schools that have the ability economically to provide more for those kids in their districts.”
Chavannes continued: “We can compete on that level now, so we can offer almost any courses to the kids. If you want to take an AP course, an honors course, or Mandarin, or some foreign language or whatever, because of limited budgets in the past, we’d be restricted from doing that. Now, our kids have the flexibility of taking a variety of courses across the board.”
In regards to the hardwood, he replied, “From a basketball standpoint, you know, the idea that you could go to class, take your courses, and then, now go put more time into the basketball aspect of things. So athletically, you’re training in the gym, you’re in the fitness room, now your day ends at 3:30 [PM], you get back to your family life. Most of those parents and families don’t have that now, because they have multiple kids, they’re taking one to this trainer here and this trainer, for shooting, then the ballhandling guy and the strength guy, you’re getting that all in one day.”
“So when you and your family leave here at 3:30, it’s your life, you get back to what it was years ago, where families got to do something fun, mom and dad could actually have a mom and dad moment, kids can have mom and dad together. And so you get a lot of that things that this provides, and it was an easy sell to the parents when they heard that, ‘hey, we get all this in one day, from the best trainers that are available out there in this area, and then at 3:30, it’s done. I’m not hustling all over the place, we get our lives back,’ and if they choose to do more training, unlikely because of what we do here, then that’s on them, unlikely because of what we’ll be offering here, so they’ll get their lives back. So that’s a big, big part of putting the family unit back together, or making it stronger.”
The courses that the students will be taking are math, sciences, social studies and language arts such as English. Chavannes also said, in regards to the classes, “You can have kids taking a variety of math now, from Algebra I, pre-Algebra, to Geometry, Algebra II, etc., they are not limited, based on ability, same thing goes with the language arts and World History, they’re branching out to take a variety of things based on ability, because when you’re coming from different school districts, different states, to come here, they have different requirements, they’ve been exposed to different things.”
“So if you might’ve been in your district, you’re going to be exposed to Alegbra I, in the seventh grade, so you come here now, and we can’t have them repeat that, so now, you might test into Algebra II or Geometry, or even beyond that, if necessary, so that’s the beauty of being able to offer within those four core areas, the variety of sciences, the variety of math, the variety of social studies, it can be World Cultures, it can be U.S. I.”
In middle school basketball, a lot of players are known to reclassify, which means to spend an extra year in a grade for athletic or academic reasons. On the subject of the reclassified, Chavannes replied, “A number of kids are reclassing, so if they’re in the eighth grade and reclassifying, now you’re starting your freshman year curriculum, and some of those courses can carry over, and count by the NCAA in your high school career, so going into high school, it’s possible that you can finish your Algebra I or your World History or your English I, or whatever, and now in high school, you’re taking a different type. Like in New Jersey, you still have to have four years of English and certain subjects or whatever, plus some of that could have been taken care of in this school.”
“So when you get to your senior year of high school, you’re able to take college courses, like for example, here, Jamir Harris and those guys, when they left here, they left here with like 12, 15 credits in college, because they were introduced to taking online courses here, and by the time they got to senior year, they were able to take college course along with the state-required courses for high school in New Jersey. So when they left here, all of them left here with nine to twelve to fifteen college credits, you know, so that’s another advantage, if the kids stay here.”
When a kid reaches high school, they have a chance to go to other high schools, whether in their towns or cities, or in other states. Chavannes hopes that some of the students at the Academy will transition into the high school when it comes time for them to make such a decision.
“One of things we’re doing now, is that we’re going to have to find a way, these kids are staying home now, as far as when they leave the middle school. They’re not required to come to the high school, so we have to find ways to make sure that all of the kids have the opportunity to play on a team, and what we did was we went up to the NJSIAA, and shared with them what we’re doing, and they gave us the [rules] on what we can and cannot do, so we found some methods on how we can give the kids an opportunity to play here, a lot of them, and get exposure and learn and be under the Patrick School Nike brand.”
On the subject of the admissions process to get into the Academy, Chavannes replied, “First, they had to apply, they’d be granted an interview, and before the interview, there’s an essay that’s required, which would ask them, ‘Why would you want to be a part of the Academy and What could you bring to the Academy?’ and that was a big part of whether or not we’d accept them. So, the interview, we didn’t take any videos, we didn’t research any kids, I wanted it to be where kids from different walks, different demographics, economically, socially, whatever, had an opportunity to be here.”
“I didn’t want to have just the best players from anywhere, here. I wanted to have kids, that if they were very good, that’s great, and if they were in the infancy stage of their basketball career, that’s great also,” Chavannes continued. “But that for me, would be a nice challenge to say, ‘You got a kid here, and he was in the infancy stage of his basketball career, and when he left here, you know he’s improved by 50%, 70%, and for those kids that are more advanced, now they’re more prepared to go to high school, whether it be here or anywhere else, and be a productive member of that school,’ and so there was no criteria for that.
“When I’ll look at them, we actually start on Wednesday, with the assessment portion or the basketball portion, yes, we’ll look at them at that point. But I didn’t want that to be one of the prerequisites to get in here. I think that’d be unfair, I think everybody deserves an opportunity to come in here and if it’s truly a school to develop and to learn, then it shouldn’t matter how good you are or not at this stage. With that being said, there’s an amazing amount of talent from what I understand, that’s here.”
One of the youths is Jacob Hogarth, a 13-year-old eighth-grader who recently enrolled into the Academy and is a talented player in his own right. When asked what led him to seek out the program, he replied, “Basically, my mom was looking at good schools to go to get good exposure and I previously came here last year, so I’m coming back here for my second year of [middle] school.
With all of the things that are set in store for them, there’s no reason why the youths that were selected to be a part of the Academy shouldn’t succeed. The rigorous academic preparation, as well as the basketball training will only serve to help them get to the next level and beyond.
What’s next in the future for the Patrick School Basketball Academy?
“The future is, one of the things that we’re looking to do this year, is to use this pilot here, to see if we move the entire school into that mold, or we expand it and still maintain it as a traditional school. So that is going to seriously be evaluated as we go along, as to where this goes. With the interest that we’ve gotten, there’s still more interviews to be done with people that want to be in the Academy, we have people from all walks here, and it’s generated a lot of interest in a short amount of time, so I suspect that we’re going to have think bigger in the very near future,” said Chavannes.
If The Patrick School has been a success, there’s no reason why its middle school basketball academy shouldn’t thrive. Although it is the pilot year, there’s a chance that this could be a trendsetter for other academies in the future. But for now, there’s work to be done, and class is now in session.