Hoop dreams meet today’s realities

The James P. Koehler Memorial Scholarship at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey was the very first charitable outreach undertaken by the Play for James Foundation.

James as a little kid with BB star Anthony Perry of St. Anthony HS

The connection between James and the school began with sports, but not the one you might expect. Although he became a professional baseball player, as a kid James also loved basketball. He was really good at it and like thousands of youngsters from New Jersey with hoop dreams, the St. Anthony Friars basketball program was the center of his universe.

So, when he was about 10 years old, James went to a summer camp run by the school’s legendary coach, Bob Hurley. Bob and his fellow coaches ran the show and the Friars players were his instructors. The lessons stuck and James’ skills grew way beyond his size. More important, so did his understanding of teamwork and his respect for others.

Most of the young men he met were from backgrounds and economic circumstances far different from his own. Yet he truly loved them and they loved James.

In the years that followed, James never lost touch with his friends from St. Anthony and stayed connected to the school by helping raise funds, mentoring and serving as an unofficial ambassador for the program that has helped so many under-privileged kids beat the odds and achieve success in every walk of life.

In fact, the small (about 300 students) co-ed school, run by Felician Sisters, has a record of academic success that’s perhaps even more impressive than its nationally-ranked basketball program. Traditionally, 100% of its graduating seniors are accepted into college. It is broadly multi-cultural and attracts students of all races, ethnicities and religions. As members of the “Friars Family” these diverse and vibrant students also gain a sense of self-worth, individuality and responsibility to friends, family, teachers, and the community at large.

We’re proud to be able to play a small part in the vitally important work that St. Anthony has been doing since 1953. This year the first James P. Koehler Memorial Scholarship award was sufficient to cover the full tuition cost for one deserving student. In 2017 our goal is to fund 10 such scholarships. The need is real… but so is our determination to make difference.