There’s a moment in the film THE STREET STOPS HERE, which airs on NPT and PBS stations nationwide on Wednesday, March 31 at 9:00 p.m. Central, that every documentary filmmaker dreams of. It’s the night before the St. Anthony High School Friars are to play for the New Jersey State Championship against their longtime rivals, and defending champions, St. Patrick’s. Coach Bob Hurley Sr. has lost his patience with the team. He’s fed up with them and the people lingering around the gym doors. He sends the team home, and not necessarily kindly. I wouldn’t be spoiling anything by revealing that in that moment, after more than hour of watching a stern and focused Hurley drive his team, and ride his team, and leave them no choice but to be the best, Hurley smiles and even laughs a little. The team is gone, but the camera is there, and there’s a quick cut when he turns to the camera. We only get a glimpse. It’s a smile that you know all along is there, somewhere, but fear you’re never going to see, even if St. Anthony does win the state championship. It’s a revealing and wonderful moment in an outstanding and inspiring film.
THE STREET STOPS HERE, directed by Kevin Shaw, is the story of St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, its legendary basketball coach and the journey of his team’s national record-setting 25th state championship season during 2007-2008. Hurley is one of the most successful basketball coaches at any level. In 36 years of inspiring and motivating his players, many of whom have grown up in difficult circumstances on the streets of Jersey City, Hurley’s record stands at 957 wins and 101 losses, a national record of 25 state parochial championships and three USA Today national championships, to name just a few statistics. Five St. Anthony High School basketball players have been NBA first-round draft picks, three have been NCAA All-Americans and seven have been McDonald’s All-Americans.
But here’s the really impressive stuff. Only two players in 36 years didn’t attend college after graduating from St. Anthony. 150 players received college scholarships.
St. Anthony, housed in an old public school building, has accomplished all of this without its own gym or weight room. The success of the team and Hurley’s leadership often takes on heroic proportions, as the school often struggles to keep the lights on, and must rely on the team and its national attention to drive fund-raising.
So while THE STREET STOPS HERE introduces us to Hurley and the teenagers fighting to get out of underprivileged neighborhoods and challenging circumstances — point guard Jio Fontan says, “You can’t prove everyone wrong, but you can definitely try” — we also meet Kathleen Staudt, the school’s development director, as she struggles to raise $1.5 million to keep the school open amid a crumbling economy that’s just around the corner. When Bear Stearns collapses, the documentary’s title takes on a whole new meaning.
But St. Anthony, Hurley, Staudt and Sister Alan, the team’s biggest fan who herself faces a formidable opponent in cancer, forge forward. What they become is a glimmer — no, a beacon — of light in dark times.
In just a few days, the NCAA Final Four takes place, and in THE STREET STOPS HERE, we get profiles of several players currently playing in the NCAA, among them Mike Rosario (Rutgers), Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas), Travon Woodall (Pittsburgh), Jio Fontan (Fordham) and Dominic Cheek (Villanova). If you’ve got March Madness, the documentary will more than satisfy you while waiting for this weekend’s games. If you don’t follow basketball, tune in for an outstanding documentary about life. You’ll be talking about it the next morning.
And speaking of the Final Four, it’s good to see Duke back in it. It was Hurley’s son, Bobby Hurley, Jr., himself a St. Anthony grad, that as a point guard led the Blue Devils to three Final Four appearances and back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992.
On a personal note, as I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I grew up in Jersey City. My high school, Hudson Catholic, often played against St. Anthony, to very little success. I was an aspiring journalist when I went to college, and as a sports reporter for the Jersey Journal, often got to cover St. Anthony games, and on a couple of occasions, interview Hurley, Sr. While Hurley may have been inspiring young basketball players, he was no slouch in training young sports reporters either. He was intense, head down, providing rapid fire, succinct answers to the barrage of questions thrown at him. As a sports writer in-training, interviewing Hurley was a lesson in being prepared, being quick and being confident. He didn’t suffer fools lightly, and to be among a group of veteran sports writers, all with more experience and more confidence, it was important to claim my space, and make my presence felt, in order to get my questions in. I learned quickly, and am grateful I got the opportunity to interview and write about one of the greats. Lucky for me, he just happened to be in my backyard.