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Athletes at 11 city high schools won't B-O-K for long

THOUGH FRANK "Roscoe" Natale is only in his ninth year of teaching and coaching at Edward Bok Tech, don't assume his feelings for the place are minimal.

THOUGH FRANK "Roscoe" Natale is only in his ninth year of teaching and coaching at Edward Bok Tech, don't assume his feelings for the place are minimal.

His connection to the South Philly school extends back more than 60 years.

Natale's mother, then Lucy DiLullo, was the captain of the cheerleading squad in the 1949-50 school year - as everyone knows, you gotta B-O-K to go to Bok. And, she was always in attendance at games that following fall, seeing as how she was great friends - she even dated him - with backfield star Charlie Guida.

That season produced a city title, as Guida, who would later become Bok's coach, paced a 13-0 victory over North Catholic, winner of 25 consecutive games, at Penn's Franklin Field.

Mom turned 81 Thursday. And she received news through her son that turned her stomach.

"When I told her Bok is going to close, she couldn't believe it," Natale said. "She was pretty upset. She loves that place. So many great memories. She kept saying, 'Hopefully, they'll be able to keep it open.' "

Time will tell, but things don't look good. And not only Bok is facing extinction.

The school district, as part of a sweeping plan that's also targeting elementary and middle schools, announced Thursday that it will close 11 high schools come June.

The others: Charles Carroll, Communications Tech, Douglas, Elverson, Germantown, Lamberton, Robeson, Strawberry Mansion, University City and Vaux. All offer basketball. Bok, CT, Germantown and UC have football teams.

Before Wednesday, Natale, the athletic director and football/baseball coach, was clueless that anything shocking was remotely in the wind.

"I was at our wrestling match when our principal, Barbara McCreery, came in and said the word was getting around they might move our whole school to William Penn's old building," at Broad and Thompson, Natale said. "I guess nobody wanted to tell her the truth.

"I'm a positive guy. I'm always open to change. No matter what situation pops up - they're telling us our kids and tech programs will be moving to Southern - I figure I can make the best of it. But this? Bok's gonna die? You gotta be kiddin' me."

At Germantown, M.W. "Mike" Hawkins, the football coach, athletic director and employee for all but four of the last 37 school years, tried to remain upbeat.

"We're not done yet. This is still the first quarter," he said. "I've seen these things get turned around. But it's probably going to take a lot of work by politicians to make that happen."

A few minutes later, his mood changed.

"This is heart-wrenching," he said. "Looks like we're going to have to live through everything the people in those Catholic schools did.

"When I retire, I want it to be from Germantown. When we get to this June, I don't want somebody telling me, 'You're outta here. See ya later.' "

Hawkins has poured his heart and soul into Germantown athletics. For 10 years, he worked behind the scenes to get the Bears' Benjamin L. Johnston Memorial Stadium turned into a super site with an artificial surface. That happened in 2005.

"Overall," he said with a sigh, "I just have to follow the advice our principal [Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi] gave the students over the PA system this morning: 'Don't push the panic button.' "

Germantown has been playing Public League sports since the 1916-17 school year. It owns one basketball title ('64), but has captured six in football. Its most recent was in Hawkins' first season as the head coach ('99).

Bok is the second-oldest of the schools scheduled to close. Its Public League debut came in 1946-47. It also won the Public crown in '51, then lost out on tiebreakers in '52 and '54. Mostly dark days followed, but under Tom DeFelice (through '10) and Natale, the Wildcats have claimed five consecutive enrollment-based championships.

At the other schools, the most notable program has been basketball at Strawberry Mansion. The Knights claimed titles in 2000 and '02, and '03 grad Maureece Rice is the leading scorer in city history (2,681). All he did was eclipse '55 Overbrook grad Wilt Chamberlain (2,206).

Back to Bok . . .

"People have such a special feeling about it," Natale said. "Anywhere I go in the city, if I'm my wearing my Bok jacket, people grab me. 'Hey, I went to Bok! . . . My dad went to Bok! . . . My mom went to Bok!' They're so proud of what our football program has done. We always get lots of people at our homecoming game.

"Just this morning, I got a call from a '78 grad who's now a doctor. He wanted to order a varsity jacket."

Here's guessing he won't be the last.