Fifteen months ago, Trenton Catholic Academy staved off closing for good. The Diocese of Trenton had determined they would no longer provide financial support for the school. Much like other Catholic high schools across the nation, Trenton Catholic Academy faced the ultimate tough choice. Should they close the doors permanently like North Catholic, Cardinal Dougherty, Bishop McDevitt and John Hallahan have done in Philadelphia? Or, do they find a way to continue providing safe, affordable, college preparatory educational programming to families sans Diocese funding? The Patrick School, St. Joseph’s Academy and Wildwood Catholic Academy have recently managed to fight off closure in this way.
The folks in Trenton chose the latter. The school formerly known as St. Anthony’s High, McCorristin High and Trenton Catholic Academy officially re-opened in September 2021 as Trenton Catholic Preparatory Academy.
One of the first decisions they made was to hire one of their own, Mark Bass, to lead the proud boys basketball program. Bass, a member of the Mercer County Sports Hall of Fame and the St. Joseph’s University Basketball Hall of Fame, is an all-time great Iron Mike. To this day, Bass remains entrenched as Trenton Catholic’s all-time leading scorer. He was a star guard for McCorristin (Class of 1991), as the team made back to back appearances in the State Championship game.
As a member of the St. Joseph’s University Hawks, Bass would go on to have a wonderful career in Philadelphia’s Big 5. He became one of the deadliest shooters in the history of St. Joseph’s basketball. After playing professionally in China, Bass would become the longest tenured (20 years) assistant coach in St. Joseph’s history. Bass has the distinction of leading the Hawks to the NIT final as both a player and a coach. He was also instrumental in the development of NBA players Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, Dwayne Jones, Langston Galloway, DeAndre Bembry and Charlie Brown.
Hiring Bass to lead a resurgent Trenton Catholic Prep Basketball program was an absolute no-brainer. The accolades flowed after the decision was announced. “Mark is a perfect selection to lead TCPA’s boys’ basketball program,” said John Castaldo, Bass’ head coach while at McCorristin. “He returns to his alma mater with a wealth of basketball knowledge. His past successes as a player and coach will serve him well. His skills in developing and nurturing relationships are outstanding. He was a superb player during his high school and college career, and he has always been an individual of high character and moral integrity. His family support has always been remarkable, and I am confident he will lead TCPA positively into its next chapter of history and traditions.”
Bass did not disappoint.
After watching the Iron Mikes play in late January, Greg Johnson, writing for the Trentonian, noted “In the program’s first year under coach Mark Bass, Trenton Catholic Preparatory Academy plays with a toughness on the defensive end that figures to make these Iron Mikes a lethal threat come state tournament time… Ball pressure. Steals. Intercepted passes… TCPA used all of it to swat away visiting Robbinsville, arguably the best team in the Colonial Valley Conference, for a 69-53 victory.”
A month later, Bass and Trenton Catholic Prep defeated Trenton High 72-57 in a raucous CURE Arena for the Mercer County Championship. The decision to bring Bass home continued pay huge dividends. The last time Trenton Catholic had been crowned NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public Champions was 12 years ago in 2009-2010. Three times they reached the sectional title game, 2012, 2015 and 2019. Three times they were turned away.
In his first year at the helm, Bass led the the Iron Mikes, ranked No.4 in the state by NJ.com to a 70-55 victory over Ranney in the 2022 South Jersey, Non-Public B title game. For the first time in 12 years, Trenton Catholic would play for a state title.
Unfortunately, the Iron Mikes would have to face a Roselle Catholic team that was the best team in the state and is currently a consensus #1 in the nation.
Tough task… for sure…
In the contest held at Rutgers’ Jersey Mike’s Arena, Trenton Catholic rallied from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter to take a 53-50 lead entering the fourth quarter before falling to Roselle Catholic, 74-66, in the Non-Public B final. As always, Bass represented Trenton Catholic with the class and dignity he has displayed over the past three decades. Following the loss, he stated “I can’t say anything bad about my guys. They played hard, man. They played hard. It was so much energy in that third to fight back, to take the lead. They’re a physical team, and we’re a physical team. But our thing was no turnovers and rebound their misses. But they were getting extra shots, extra possessions and it hurt us.”
Always gracious, Bass continued, “I’m very proud to win a Mercer County Tournament, to win a sectional. Nobody had us there. To be (ranked) fourth in the state, nobody expected us to be there. But it’s a tribute to the staff, it’s a tribute to these players. They worked and they believed in themselves and it worked out.”
Again writing for the Trentonian, Greg Johnson at the time wrote, “Bass is eager to keep leading the program. After graduating from McCorristin (Trenton Catholic’s former name) in 1991, he coached at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia for 20 seasons before taking some time off with his family and deciding that high school was the right fit.”
“It went well beyond what I expected,” Bass said. “I’m grateful that the school allowed me to coach them. I’m grateful for the players and my staff. I’m happy here. I went to school there, I’m proud of these guys and I’m looking forward to next year.”
Immediately after the season, Bass focused his energies on completing a Master’s degree in Athletic Leadership at Rider University. He received his graduate degree in August and began to prepare for year two.
Unbeknownst to Bass, the Trenton Catholic Athletic Director, Marty Flynn had other plans. Winning with discipline and tenacious discipline apparently did not appeal to Flynn. Capturing the county titles, playing for the state championship and sending young men off to college was not enough.
Apparently, Flynn wanted someone other than Bass to lead the program. He immediately named former coach, Eric Elliot (above far left) to replace Bass.
Those involved in college basketball recruiting will readily admit that it has become a year round process. Moreover, the emergence of the NCAA transfer portal as a readily available pool of talent has taken a serious toll on all but the highest ranked high school prospects. The “Fall” season has become an increasingly important aspect of high school basketball. At least it is for programs that are serious and players with ambitions to play beyond high school.
Open gyms and fall events are crucial. College coaches are out there on the streets, trying to identify and recruit prospects. These fall events and fall leagues can get expensive. Most cost between $175 and $350. These fees add up quickly and can become burdensome for parents struggling to make Catholic school tuition payments.
Bass and his players decided to conduct a car wash to raise funds to pay for fall events. This way the program could avoid pestering parents. The car wash raised $600. Bass used the funds to pay registration fees for the COBL Fall event and a fall league.
The Iron Mikes played in the events. The players received scholarship offers. The $600 raised washing cars has resulted in scholarship offers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Nonetheless, Flynn reported Bass to the NJSIAA. Let’s be clear here… The Trenton Catholic Prep Academy athletic director sought to have Bass and his players punished for washing cars to pay registration fees for Fall events. After reviewing Flynn’s complaint against Bass, the NJSIAA determined that a two-game suspension was warranted.
Sounds about right for such a minor infraction…
Flynn, however, wanted a pound of flesh. He somehow, someway, determined that termination of Bass as Boys Basketball coach was the appropriate consequence for washing cars and raising $600 to get his kids in showcase events.
Let’s be clear… This is how Trenton Catholic Prep treated one of its greatest alums. Any Black or Brown family thinking about enrolling their student-athlete in Trenton Catholic needs to this know this simple fact.
The boys basketball players at Trenton Catholic have suffered a loss… The families of the players have suffered a loss… The Trenton basketball community has suffered a loss…
The only winner here is Marty Flynn… I’m still trying to figure out what the prize is…