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Archive for October 6, 2019

Oct. 6, 2019 — A reclamation of sorts

Late last week, it was announced that my old high school, Burlington Doane Academy (N.J.) had purchased two lots of land adjacent to the current campus that had been sold to the city back in the 1950s.

As I had learned from some of the older alumnae from Founders’ Day and graduation weekends, the property was, back in the day, used for field hockey. In the days before the Amateur Sports Act, USFHA selectors visited the field on Blue-White field hockey days to scout not only for playing ability, but having the ability to pay their own way overseas. There are stories of at least one St. Mary’s Hall player having made one of Constance Applebee’s touring teams in the early 1920s.

The school kept on playing field hockey intramurally as well as on the varsity level; there is evidence as far back as 1934 of St. Mary’s Hall playing other high schools on the varsity level. The school dropped field hockey in 1985.

The land acquisition comes at an interesting time in the history of the school. In the last couple of years, the school unveiled a new addition to the middle of the school bridging the two main buildings. The three-story building replaces Doane Hall, which had burned in a 1974 fire, and Nelson Corridor and its annex, which had been condemned and razed about a decade ago.

Doane was a very small school when I attended, with just 14 students in my senior class. But shrewd and risk-taking fundraising has led to an amazing sense of school pride amongst current students that was rarely felt in the 1980s because of school management getting rid of numerous popular teachers.

But with the purchase of the properties — including an elementary school building capable of handling about 100 students, which could mean an increase in enrollment of about 30 percent.

It’s all part of a strategy which has forced a number of its contemporaries to change tactics when it comes to marketing and fundraising. One way, oddly, is through sports. Back in the 1970s and 80s, the school used to play a mish-mosh of small private academies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

This year, Doane Academy is now playing in the well-established Burlington County Scholastic League, and are eligible to play for state championships in the NJSIAA — something that was unthinkable for most of us back in the day. That was something unheard of in my day; we were just thankful to play. And we were the kind of school which would not even blink when I missed a varsity basketball game to travel to North Jersey for our quiz team, a version of the old College Bowl.

Last spring, Doane won the NJISAA Class B title for small New Jersey private schools — a tremendous achievement, especially considering your Founder was on a very poor basketball team in the mid-80s that maybe won four games in two seasons.

I guess, with investment in the school, shrewd fundraising, and land acquisition, our school, which was a well-kept secret for decades, is now in the position of being able to take a risk or two. It’s a formula which has worked very well in other private schools in the mid-Atlantic, and I think it will be interesting to see what happens there.