CINCINNATI -- Thursday was a very difficult day at Mother of Mercy High School.
Students experienced raw emotions after the school announced Mercy and McAuley will form Mercy McAuley High School starting in the fall of 2018. The schools will combine due to declining enrollment.
Mercy Athletic Director Denise Harvey, who is the school’s longtime volleyball coach, is sad at the thought of next school year being the last for Mercy in Westwood. She bleeds blue.
But Harvey (Ortman), a 1991 Mercy graduate, is trying to remain optimistic. She’s been a 20-year employee. Mercy is a home to her. Thursday had a surreal feeling.
Yet she believes the opening of a new school is the best decision to be respectful of both schools’ history, tradition, students, faculty and alumni.
“We’re telling students and I firmly believe that the opportunity that exists to create the athletic department and the athletic tradition at the new Mercy McAuley High School is an outstanding opportunity,” Harvey said.
The new school will operate at McAuley’s campus on Oakwood Avenue in College Hill. It will have new colors and a new mascot for the 2018-19 school year, according to McAuley Athletic Director Caryl Schawe.
The two schools will continue to operate separately, including in athletics, through the 2017-18 school year.
“Mercy is losing their school,” McAuley cross country and track coach Ron Russo said. “Albeit they are calling it Mercy McAuley. You have to have great empathy for the people at Mercy right now.”
Russo, a guidance counselor at Colerain High School, has coached at McAuley for eight years in a highly successful program.
"I am very, very sad on a lot of different levels," Russo said. "This isn't just about an athletics picture. People's livelihoods are going to be altered."
Mason softball coach Liann Muff, a 1988 Mercy graduate, says she and her three sisters were sad at hearing the news.
“We understand the need, but it still breaks our hearts,” said Muff.
Harvey said no coaches have been named for the 2018-19 school year at Mercy McAuley, but she expects the full amount of sports sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association will be available.
Coaches are typically given an annual contract in high school sports.
“We’re just going to have just be willing to be a part of the process which of course I am fully on board with that,” Harvey said.
Schawe, a former longtime Roger Bacon volleyball coach, and Harvey immediately connected and had a good conversation Thursday after the news was official.
“Caryl and I have a great relationship and I have a lot of respect for her,” Harvey said. “She and I are committed to working together. We both have a lot of ideas and we both have a lot of excitement once we get through helping our athletes figure out what this means for them.”
McAuley’s basketball team plays Springboro in a Division I district final at 1 p.m. Saturday at Princeton. McAuley coach Dan Wallace said he's trying to keep his team focused on Saturday but understands the significance of the news Thursday.
"Everyone is trying to digest everything," he said.
Schawe said Thursday’s news should encourage and inspire the team, which is making its fourth consecutive district final appearance.
“When they put on that uniform they need to do so with more pride than they have all season,” Schawe said. “We are going to be OK. It’s going to take time.”
Mercy has not yet announced any other plans for special events surrounding the final athletics events next school year.
The Sisters of Mercy have not said what will happen to the school building.
“I am committed to honoring the last year the best that we can,” Harvey said. “I think there will be a lot of ideas along those lines and I am committed to exploring all of that and just making it the way it should be -- not only for the students but all the athletes that played here.”