Paul Sacco

St. Joseph High School football coach Paul Sacco locks the gates at the football field in Hammonton. If St. Joseph closes, it will take a winning football program with it.

HAMMONTON — The survival hopes of St. Joseph High School and Elementary School took another hit Friday night.

In a statement, St. Joe Strong, a task force dedicated to saving both schools, said the Diocese of Camden had rejected its offer to buy the St. Joe Elementary School building on Third Street and the school’s athletic fields on Wood Street.

St. Joe Strong asked supporters Friday night for one more week to try to save both schools.

“While the diocese’s decision not to consider the sale of the property effectively closes the Task Force’s negotiations with the diocese, the Task Force has not yet exhausted its options,” the statement said. “We ask that you give us one more week to pursue an alternative option that is presently viable and within our reach.”

The statement did not detail what that option was.

St. Joe Strong on Thursday said in a statement it wanted to buy the elementary school building and the athletic fields and operate an independent private school with no relation to the diocese.

The saga began in April when the diocese announced that Wildwood Catholic and St. Joseph would close at the end of the school year. Almost immediately, students, parents, friends and alumni began to raise money and develop plans to keep both schools open.

Wildwood Catholic said Thursday it had raised enough money and received permission from the diocese to remain open in 2020-21 as a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school named Wildwood Catholic Academy.

St. Joe opened in 1935. Its closing would have a major impact on the state high school football scene.

The St. Joe football team is one of New Jersey’s best, with 20 state championships since the state Non-Public playoffs began in 1993. St. Joe coach Paul Sacco has a South Jersey record 335 career wins.

When it announced its plans to close St. Joe, the diocese said the school had received $1.1 million in loans and had a total debt of $6.6 million. St. Joe had seen its enrollment drop from 331 students in 2015 to 206 this year.

Contact: 609-272-7209

MMcGarry@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressMcGarry

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