American Christian Academy, a tiny private school in Aston, was known nationally last winter for having one of the best high-school-age basketball players in the country.
On Thursday, the school is expected to eliminate its high school academic and athletic programs - including basketball - in a swirl of controversy.
American Christian, which officials said would continue to operate its day-care center and programs for youngsters in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, allowed postgraduates to play on its teams for the last two years. School officials were expected to leave postgraduates off the teams next season. Now, it seems, there won't be any teams at all.
"They just told us [yesterday] that the high school was closing," said Lititia Dickerson, whose son, Michael Dickerson, is a sophomore and junior-varsity basketball player. "And the only reason I found out was because I called up to the school and spoke to the principal."
In addition to its high-profile boys' basketball team, American Christian offered girls' basketball, boys' and girls' soccer, baseball, girls' volleyball and cheerleading as varsity sports.
Why the high school programs are ending was unclear.
The principal is Jill Wingert. The Rev. Ed Trinkle is the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aston, which runs the school. Jim Peper is the athletic director. None were made available yesterday.
"We have not been given any reason whatsoever of why the school is closing except that it's financially better to close the school," boys' basketball coach Tony Bergeron said. "In my estimation, that doesn't make any sense."
Bergeron helped develop Tyreke Evans into one of the nation's top players. Evans, the most valuable player at this year's McDonald's All-America Game, is expected to play next season at Memphis.
But the boys' basketball program has drawn criticism. Former coach Ray Carroll publicly criticized American Christian's academic standards for many of his former players, including Evans, after he was fired in June 2006, after one season. Carroll suggested that the school was a diploma mill.
Dickerson was most upset because it was only four days ago that she registered her son for the coming school year.
"She offered her apologies," Dickerson said of Wingert. "She said, 'I'm sad to tell you that all they are offering is the mastery program. But the regular high school is closing.' "
The mastery program is a religious-themed curriculum that offers computer-based learning.
Dickerson said she was told that the school administration informed the high school teachers yesterday. According to Dickerson, the students have not been notified.
"I'm frustrated because they are not putting this information out there," Dickerson said. "And if you want to transfer your child to another Christian school, it's past the deadline."
Assistant boys' basketball coach Lamont Peterson said the news became public on Sunday.
"The pastor has refused to speak to anyone [at the school] about the situation," Peterson said. "He announced his decision at [Sunday's] church service that wasn't attended by any of the students. How insensitive, how unbecoming, and how un-Christianlike is that?
"How do you close a school in 72 hours, and none of the students know of this formerly? They never addressed it formerly."
The closure leaves the athletes, especially the basketball players, scrambling. The boys' basketball team, with Evans leading the way, attracted national attention in recent seasons. Bergeron, a prominent figure with the Five Star Basketball Camp, recruited players from New York, Chicago and elsewhere to play 40-game schedules against many of the nation's top teams, and the team played a game that was shown on ESPN last season.
Evans, a 6-foot-6 combination guard, made the cover of national magazines, and his college recruiting was so intense that he announced his decision to play at Memphis live on ESPN.
"They even retired [Evans'] jersey last week at the sports banquet," Peterson said. "No one said anything about the school closing then."
The closing leaves the three remaining members of last season's squad looking for places to play. Junior guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones and freshman guard Achraf Yacoubou are two big-time prospects from New York who attended American Christian specifically to play for Bergeron.
Sophomore forward George Harper, a transfer from Roman Catholic, may end up at Academy of the New Church.
"He took the entrance exam to Academy of the New Church Friday and passed it," Bergeron said. "MoMo and Ach, they are coming with me. Their parents have told me that they are going with me."
Where that will be was uncertain. Bergeron denied rumors that he was heading back to coach in New York.
"Don't be surprised if I stay in the Philadelphia area," he said. "I'm working on some things."
Bergeron also said that Vicki Conteh, the school administrator; Wingert; and athletic department secretary Anita Peper were informed that their jobs would be terminated today. Bergeron said that Jim Peper, Anita Peper's husband, would resign at the end of the school year.