Cory McCarthy shares how he used athletics to bring a brighter future to his students and turn this urban school into a city powerhouse.
Cory McCarthy’s younger life revolved around one thing: a single pair of pants. As a child, he used his $5 weekly allowance to turn that one pair of pants seemingly into five pairs. On Monday, he wore black pants. That night he would turn them blue using dye he purchased with his five dollars. By Wednesday, they faded to gray, on Thursday they appeared stone-washed, and on Friday he would dye them back to black.
From a young age, McCarthy had a knack for building something out of nothing. And that’s exactly what he did for New Mission High School.
Life Before New Mission
McCarthy was born on the sunny island of Barbados where he spent the first few years of his life. At the age of seven, his family relocated to the U.S., settling down in the small neighborhood of Dorchester.
After losing his dad a few years later to a sudden brain aneurysm, McCarthy started playing sports. But he quickly found himself hanging out with the wrong crowd. It wasn’t until coming home one night that he saw how much the stress and pressure of single-handedly managing a family had aged his mother. At that moment, McCarthy decided he wanted to do better—to do more.
He began working for a tutoring program, learning, making friends and staying out of trouble. The teachers and mentors at that program would catapult McCarthy into who he is today. They gave him the inspiration and intent he still carries with him.
Even after walking the stage as a UMass graduate, McCarthy continued working closely with the boys of the tutoring program and wound up coaching their basketball team. Little did he know at the time, but that coaching experience would help him propel a no-name high school into one of the most powerful public schools in Boston.
Unfortunately, the following year, the program lost its funding. But that paved the way for McCarthy being offered a job as a substitute teacher at New Mission High School.
At New Mission
It was the school that no one wanted to touch. It was a tired, rodent-infested facility with no gym, no cafeteria, no elevator—it was barely recognized by the city. But they did have a girls’ basketball team, one that had never won a game, didn’t have a coach and barely had a roster.
That’s where McCarthy came in. After his short stint coaching the boys at his tutoring program, McCarthy agreed to take on the girl’s head coach position.
On his first day, he came in, took charge and kicked two of the best players off the team because of their poor attitudes. He knew it was going to be an uphill battle then and there, but he continued to show up and take care of those girls as if they were his own.
“We’re used to people just leaving us, and it feels like you’re not going anywhere.”
But McCarthy’s dedication showed no bounds. After their first game, with no school busses available, he got them on public transportation and made sure each athlete got home safely. What McCarthy showed them at that moment was something they never experienced before. McCarthy still remembers one of his players telling him, “We’re used to people just leaving us, and it feels like you’re not going anywhere.” after that night.
That was all he needed to hear. He vowed to continue pushing New Mission from nothing into something. Just like he turned that one pair of pants into five.
Building New Mission into a City Powerhouse
Ironically, clothing continued to play a vital role in McCarthy’s life. But this time it was t-shirts. He bought 300 with his own money to start branding the school and his program. He didn’t know how powerful those t-shirts would be, but when he started seeing them around the city he had a feeling this was going to be good.
The buzz he started with those t-shirts led to New Mission’s first taste of success. Shortly thereafter, McCarthy coached their girl’s basketball team to a charter league championship. A team that hadn’t won a game had just won it all. This was huge—their momentum was growing, their reputation was growing, and that first championship put New Mission on the map.
But there was more to be done. New Mission still wasn’t recognized in the Boston Public School league. So McCarthy, along with his principal, went straight to the athletic director and superintendent of the Boston Public School system. After much debate, they finally gave in and allowed New Mission to be part of the league, still telling McCarthy his team would never win a championship there.
The next hurdle? New Mission was still unrecognized as a college prep school, which meant that none of their athletes could receive scholarships to NCAA schools.
The school had to keep growing its success. So he bought more t-shirts. Another 250 New Mission branded t-shirts hit the city of Boston and the buzz got bigger.
The girl’s basketball team continued to thrive, making it to the city championship at the TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Surrounded by nearly the entire city, that championship win pushed New Mission even further towards becoming a recognized institution.
With the success of the girl’s team, McCarthy took on the head coach position of the boy’s team. They lacked drive, determination and motivation. But McCarthy stuck with them, just like he had with the girls.
He built rapport by taking them on college visits and to summer tournaments. These trips led to more formative relationships and enabled them to play better as a team. Soon the boys started seeing success on the court too. Their achievements resonated with the city and the community started paying even more attention.
New Mission Today
Coming off the success of their athletics, New Mission changed its academics and became a college prep school. Their students now had an opportunity to receive athletic scholarships to NCAA schools. As of today, they’ve sent 71 boys off to college with over a dozen receiving athletic scholarships and countless more receiving academic and merit scholarships. Over 48 have graduated and the remaining still working on their degrees. As for the school itself? Applications have grown from 100 per year to more than 1100 per year.
McCarthy nearly single-handedly built New Mission into one of the top public schools in the city of Boston. The t-shirts, his relentless dedication to his athletes, it all helped transform a run-down school into a powerhouse of opportunity and success.
Today, New Mission is one of the top public schools in Boston and continues to see success in both athletics and academics. McCarthy’s achievements echo through the streets of Boston and you can feel his impact when he’s greeted by former friends and colleagues.