Two weeks ago, Steve DiPatri worked with optimism on next season's schedule for the Sacred Heart High School girls basketball team.
DiPatri thought that with their returning players and a host of talented newcomers, the Lions would be among the state's best teams.
But then the Camden Diocese announced last week that the Vineland school will close at the end of this school year because of low enrollment.
It didn't take DiPatri, one of the most successful girls coaches in Cape-Atlantic League history, to find a new team to coach and a new challenge.
Wildwood Catholic athletic director Sal Zuccarello announced Friday that DiPatri had been hired as the Crusaders' girls coach.
"Things moved fast, and I didn't know where my future was going to take me," DiPatri said. "There were a couple of opportunities out there, but this is the one that's best for me."
DiPatri coached the Lions to a 352-89 record in 16 seasons. He led Sacred Heart to two state titles (2003 and 2005). The Lions won the CAL title in 2012 and lost to Holy Spirit in this year's title game in March.
DiPatri coached some of the best girls basketball players in CAL history, including Adrienne Rochetti, Ikea Witt and Ashley Durham. DiPatri works as an administrator at Bridgeton High School. His teams always seemed to feature standout point guards.
DiPatri, 43, noted that Wildwood Catholic was a girls basketball power in the 1970s and 1980s.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm looking forward to building the program back to its past glory."
DiPatri replaces Vicki Dilmore, who coached for two seasons. The Crusaders finished 13-12 this past season and will return several players from that team.
"The cupboard is certainly not bare," DiPatri said.
Like Sacred Heart, Wildwood Catholic has struggled with enrollment. The Camden Diocese announced in 2010 that the school would close, but Wildwood Catholic alumni raised enough money to keep the school open.
Zuccarello said he's known DiPatri for 15 years because Sacred Heart and Wildwood Catholic played in the same CAL division. He said the North Wildwood school was lucky to land DiPatri.
"This is like manna from heaven to me," Zuccarello said. "He (DiPatri) can do a lot for the program and for the school. With summer camps and skill sessions, he's going to make basketball in the whole community better."
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