Montrose Christian, the small Rockville private school that rose to national prominence by producing future NBA players such as Kevin Durant and Greivis Vasquez over the past decade, is going to de-emphasize basketball, a school official said Thursday.
Montrose Christian Chancellor Ken Fentress said in an interview the sport is no longer “a top priority” at the school and a final decision on whether there will even be a basketball team next year has not been made.
“We are not the basketball school that some people might have supposed over the past several years,” Fentress said. “We’ve got a mission and a vision here that far exceeds basketball. If basketball helps us to reach our mission, we’ll have a basketball team or any other sports team. If it doesn’t help us reach our mission, we won’t do it.
“I know basketball is a big deal for a lot of people, and it is important and I don’t want to diminish the role it plays,” he continued. “But man, it’s not the most important thing for us here. We don’t operate in that universe anymore. I think if the school did in its past, that’s not who we are now.”
Fentress said the school will remain open next year, but there is uncertainty about its future, and the administration has provided parents with few details. The school’s property along Randolph Road is for sale.
The fallout from Montrose Christian’s decision to de-emphasize basketball has been swift. Junior LeAndre Thomas said Coach Bryan Bartley called a team meeting two weeks ago and told his players he would not be returning next season but offered few other details.
Fentress would neither confirm nor deny Bartley’s plans to leave Montrose Christian, and Bartley declined to comment. He is still listed on the school’s Web site as head basketball coach and assistant principal. But two parents, including Tom Moore, the father of All-Met point guard Alani Moore, confirmed Thomas’s account of Bartley’s impending departure and said their sons had already reached out to schools about transferring.
“We were emotional,” Thomas said of Bartley’s announcement. “Everybody kind of took it pretty hard. I know, me personally, I did.”
Several families with boys on the basketball team have begun looking for new schools for their children to attend since the period during which most Washington-area private schools award financial aid for next year is already underway.
“We’re definitely looking at other options just because we don’t know what’s going to happen. Financially, I don’t know how stable the school is,” said Steve DePollar, the father of senior Kyle DePollar. Steve DePollar also served as an assistant coach for Bartley this past season. His youngest son, Christian, is an eighth-grader at Montrose Christian.
One parent of a current player, who was granted anonymity in case the school does continue its basketball team, said college coaches mentioned the school’s impending closure during recruiting calls this week. The parent noted this year’s team had to rely on extensive fundraising and additional donations to raise enough travel money to play the national schedule Bartley promised during the recruiting process.
According to Maryland court records, Montrose Christian Baptist Church has paid more than $744,000 in federal and state tax liens over the past 16 months.
Last May, Fentress wrote a letter to the neighborhoods surrounding Montrose Christian alerting residents that the church intended to “seek a new home closer to those we serve” and would be filing a re-zoning application in hopes of redeveloping its property with single-family townhomes.
But Randolph Civic Association President Brian Hooker said no Montrose Christian officials have attended any of the subsequent community meetings on the issue and a hearing with the Montgomery County Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings has been delayed several times. Hooker noted that an official from Palisades Development hinted earlier this year the church planned to move to a site in Gaithersburg and wrote in a recent e-mail that financing “was coming together.”
“I would call it a somewhat strained relationship with the church. They’ve been a little bit insular,” Hooker said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be upset to see Montrose Christian move on to somewhere else.”
Montrose Christian School has been in its current location since 1958 and had its first graduating class of high school seniors in 1986. According to the school’s Web site, more than one-third of its enrollment of 178 this year are international students, who pay more than double in tuition and fees than domestic students.
The school became known for basketball with the arrival of Stu Vetter as coach in 1999. The small campus featured a dingy gym that seats fewer than 600, but Vetter nonetheless attracted a bevy of talented players and thrived despite high roster turnover.
Under Vetter, the school soon had one of the nation’s top boy’s high school basketball teams, sent numerous players to the college ranks and won the 2010 ESPN Rise high school national championship.