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COLUMN: Catholic League a dying breed in Detroit these days

By: Scott Burnstein, January 31, 2013, 10:00 am

The city of Detroit was once a thriving hotbed of activity for the Catholic League.

Today, with the exception of the CHSL staging its annual tournament championship games within the city’s limits, it’s a mere blip on the radar.

Of the 27 remaining schools in the Catholic League, a paltry three spawn from Detroit proper. Of those three schools – Detroit Loyola, University of Detroit-Jesuit and Detroit Cristo Rey – only Loyola and UofD-Jesuit are true factors on the state’s prep sports landscape.

While the Cubbies have one of the top boys basketball teams in the state this winter, the UofD-Jesuit athletic department is hardly the home to perennial powerhouse programs.

This is in wide contrast to what used to be, when the city was home to such juggernaut sports teams stemming from the likes of Detroit Catholic Central, Detroit St. Martin De Porres, Detroit Austin, Detroit St. Theresa, Detroit St. Andrew’s, Detroit East Catholic, Detroit Holy Redeemer and Detroit Benedictine.

Austin, St. Theresa and St. Andrew’s shuttered long ago. De Porres, East Catholic, Holy Redeemer and Benedictine all closed their doors in the past decade. Catholic Central officially left the city in 1978, moving its campus to nearby Redford, prior to landing at the school’s current location in Novi in 2005.

De La Salle was located in Detroit until moving to Warren in 1982.

“Fringe” city school’s like Harper Woods Notre Dame, Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, Grosse Point St. Ambrose, Redford Bishop Borgess, Redford St. Agatha, Redford St. Mary’s, Hamtramck St. Florian, Center Line St. Clement and Southgate Aquinas are gone, too – all, but St. Ambrose and St. Mary’s, became defunct in the last ten years.

It’s a shame.

They were the schools that made the CHSL great and no question one of the most illustrious prep sports leagues in all of the United States.

Some of the names of athletes that got their starts at those schools were future pros such as retired NBA’ers, Willie Burton (De Porres), Dave DeBusschere (Austin), Negele Knight (De Porres) and Shawn Respert (Bishop Borgess), NFL players current and past, like, Braylon Edwards (Bishop Gallagher), Derrick Alexander (Benedictine), Rodney Culver (De Porres) and retired MLB’er Jim Essian (De Porres).

DeBusshere is arguably the CHSL’s most accomplished alum; an eight-time NBA All-Star, head coach, front office executive and Hall of Fame inductee. If that wasn’t enough he pitched in the Big Leagues with the Chicago White Sox.

His legacy also includes, by some reports, inspiring the nationwide “white-out” craze – when teams’ fans where uniform white clothing in the grandstand. In 1957 and 1958, DeBusshere’s Austin hoop squads made back-to-back appearances in the final four, winning a state title his senior year, buoyed by a rowdy student section decked head-to-toe in white.

What are the reasons all these schools went under, specifically the ones that closed since the the New Millennium?

The start of open enrollment in many of the public school districts around the area, the downturn in the economy, which hit Southeastern Michigan particularly hard, and the rapid proliferation of state-sponsored charter schools, amongst other issues, each played a role in the demise of the CHSL in the Motor City..

All we have left is the memories.

De Porres winning eight state titles in boys basketball and a whopping 12 in football.

Andrew Mitchell (Kent State) draining a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in 1997 to send East Catholic’s boys hoop squad to its seventh and final Class D state crown up at the Breslin Center.

James Bresciami skippering Bishop Gallagher to three state championships on the baseball diamond throughout the 1970s and 80s.

And so on, and so on, and so on…….