By TOM WILLIAMS
When people are recognized as Cape-Atlantic League Sportspersons of the Year there are many reasons. The list is quite diversified and the selections have been both for accomplishments during just one year or over a longer period of time.
The spotlight has generally been turned on these special people for their success on the field or court. Many of them have been coaches.
That group has included Atlantic City basketball coach Gene Allen, Oakcrest basketball coach Dave Lewis, Hammonton football coach Pete Lancetta, Ocean City girls basketball coach Pat Dougherty, Pleasantville basketball coach Ken Leary, St. Joseph football coach Paul Sacco, Ocean City soccer coach Mike Pellegrino, Wildwood Catholic basketball coach Dave Deweese, Absegami wrestling coach Gene Barber, Ocean City basketball coach Dixie Howell, St. Augustine basketball coach Paul Rodio, Mainland football coach Bob Coffey, Ocean City girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi, Middle Township basketball coach Tom Feraco, Wildwood girls basketball coach Dave Troiano, Ocean City field hockey coach Trish LeFever, Sacred Heart basketball coach Jim Mogan, Millville field hockey coach Claudia McCarthy, Atlantic City/Stockton basketball coach Joe Fussner, Ocean City football coach Gary Degenhardt and Bridgeton track coach Bob Cwik. They are some of the coaches whose programs have brought great pride to the CAL and were Sportsperson of the Year.
Administrators have also been given the nod – people like Frank Campo, Joe Clements, Paul LeFever, Nuncie Sacco, Tony Surace, Harry Ackerman and Mike Gatley.
Sometimes it was for behind-the-scenes contributions – Yogi Hiltner, for his dedication to local sports on all levels; Boo Pergament and Father Ed Lyons, creators of the Seagull Classic; Bob and Rick Traa, for their sponsorship of the McDonald’s Game of the Week on cable television; John Pierantozzi, for his contributions as a coach and basketball official; Ernie Troiano, for his efforts creating and directing the Boardwalk Basketball Classic; both Jason Kaye of FantaSea Flagship Resort and Dave Talarico of Schoppy’s Inc. for the significant support they’ve given to CAL sports; Mike Gill, who took local sports radio to a higher level; Dave Catalana, for his efforts in creating the Shoot Down Cancer Classic; and John Rodio for his progressive ideas about assigning basketball officials and for bringing back the Seagull Classic.
This year, the nod goes to 22 people.
All of us involved with high school sports had a challenging 2020. Schedules changed at the last minute, in many cases not because of something that happened at your school but at the school of your opponent. There were heavy restrictions on attendance and many other requirements to keep student-athletes and coaches safe and healthy.
Nobody was more affected by these unusual circumstances than the athletics directors at the Cape-Atlantic League’s 22 schools.
These men and women already have a lot on their plates. They make sure athletes, coaches and teams follow school and NJSIAA rules. They are responsible for completing the schedules for every team, in many cases including middle school teams. When there are home games, the ADs make sure they have staff to fill all positions and that the game officials are on board. When its an away game, they schedule the buses.
They also have to deal with the league, the NJSIAA, parents, fans and even annoying requests from members of the media. It is a time-consuming job filled with responsibilities that affect hundreds – sometimes thousands – of people.
Of course, we don’t always agree with all their group decisions. For example, a CAL Basketball Tournament this year would be a good idea. But we know that their decisions are based on looking out for high school sports and, in particular, the student athletes.
These dedicated people have challenging jobs under normal circumstances. And 2020 was not normal.
So, this is a salute to Absegami’s Steve Fortis, Chris Ford Jr. of Atlantic City, Dr. Rob Wagner of Atlantic Tech, Cyndi Wilks of Bridgeton, Dave Albertson of Buena, Cape May Tech’s Joe Cascia, Mike McGhee of Cedar Creek, Mike Pellegrino of Egg Harbor Township, Marni Parks of Hammonton, Steve Normane of Holy Spirit and Erik Simonsen of Lower Cape May.
Also, Mike Gatley of Mainland, Dr. Sharon Rementer of Middle Township, Millville’s Dave LaGamba, Dave Bennett of Oakcrest, Geoff Haines of Ocean City, Matt Lenguadoro of Our Lady of Mercy, Pleasantville’s Stephen Townsend, Mike Rizzo of St. Augustine Prep, Anne Marie Mercado of St. Joseph Academy, Don Robbins of Vineland and Mike Saioni of Wildwood Catholic Academy.
And lets add Derryk Sellers, the AD at Lindenwold and president of the West Jersey Football League, for all the extra work he did during this cancellation-filled season, not only for CAL schools but for all the football teams in his league.
For all the work they do and hours they invest to make high school sports what it is, especially during this year of the pandemic, the CAL ADs are the 2020 Sportspersons of the Year.
With the calendar year over, it is always a good time to look back on the top CAL sports stories. Here are the 10 that seemed to generate the most interest among Cape-Atlantic League fans in 2020:
1. The impact of COVID-19, including the cancellation of the entire spring sports season, limited attendance at all fall high school events because of the virus and not a single sports event in December.
2. The boys basketball teams from Wildwood Catholic, St. Augustine and Atlantic City and the Ocean City girls basketball team all unable to play their state finals because the season ended suddenly.
3. An undefeated season and No. 1 ranking in South Jersey by the Holy Spirit football team, led by Patrick Smith’s memorable performances running the ball.
4. The end of Claudia McCarthy’s remarkable 50-year career as Millville field hockey coach. She finished her career with a 610-238-121 record, a total of 969 games. And to make it more memorable for her, granddaughter Casey Etter set a new Millville record for career goals with 91.
5. The selection of Mainland’s Kylee Watson as the CAL’s first-ever girls basketball player to be named a McDonald’s All-American and the Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year.
6. Ocean City’s Faith Slimmer scoring her 100th career soccer goal, earning her fourth straight selection to the CAL first team all stars and her second straight all-state first team choice while leading the Raiders to a 34-game unbeaten streak.
7. A South Jersey cross country championship by the Mainland girls, led by freshmen Claudia Booth, Gillian Lovett and Chloe Malone.
8. St. Augustine’s Mike Misita winning a district and region wrestling championship and finishing third in the state at 195 pounds.
9. Nay Nay Clark of Oakcrest leading South Jersey girls basketball in scoring, the first Falcons player to do that in 46 years. And Ocean City’s Gannon Brady leading Cape-Atlantic League boys basketball scoring, only the fifth OCHS player to do so in the last 60 years. Both Clark and Brady return for the 2021 season.
10. Another great season by the Egg Harbor Township boys swimmers, led by Joey Tepper and Brandon Bell. The Eagles, ranked No. 6 in the state, only lost to No. 1 Cherry Hill East.
Lets hope there will be less problems but more great memories coming up in 2021. To make it more likely, please wear a mask, stay 6-10 feet apart and wash your hands often.