This is the latest in a series of sports memories contributed by the student-athletes of the past – the people who were part of the great high school sports moments in the Cape-Atlantic League area.
Bill Osborn was a three-sport all star at Wildwood High School in the mid 1980s. He was named to the Cape-Atlantic League All-Century team in football (see it HERE), scored more than 1,100 points in basketball and was also a star in baseball. He won many awards in high school and went on to play all three sports at the University of Pittsburgh. These days, many of his sports loyalties lie with Cherokee High School, where his sons have excelled.
By BILL OSBORN
Basketball has always been a big part of my family and friends, And when I think of basketball, I think of how many friendships and great memories I have in my life because of the sport.
For as long as I can remember, basketball has been a big part of my life. A lot of the interest early on had to do with my father, who I knew growing up was a good basketball player back in his day. I saw pictures and heard stories how he got the nickname of “Bullet Bill”.
There was a picture of him in Wildwood High School that identified him as one of the school’s top 5 basketball players from 1935 to 1970. He was almost 6’5” and 230 pounds. He was the Recreation Director in Wildwood Crest for 20 plus years. He also was a basketball referee for pretty much my entire life. He officiated a lot of big high school basketball games throughout New Jersey, including the big Atlantic City games, the big Pleasantville games, when AC played Camden or Pleasantville and a lot of state tournament games. However, he also worked all the games around our town – boys and girls youth games, grade school games, CYO games, summer league games – anywhere a referee was needed.
My sisters and mom, Rose, were all big basketball fans. My sisters, Donna and Linda, played in 1978-79 for the legendary WHS girls basketball coach, Dave Troiano. My oldest sister, Roseann, was the statistician for the boys basketball team, better known at that time as “Bernie’s Army”.
That’s where some of my first basketball memories and my love for basketball started – going to the Wildwood High School boys basketball games as a young 9-10 year-old to watch Coach Bernie McCracken and his team. The teams were very good and that gym was the place to be, at least from a young boy’s perspective. Bernie’s Army was a movement. I don’t know how it started but a grade school friend, Louie Flacco, and I became the official ball boys for the Warriors. We wore matching maroon Adidas sweat-suits with the old Adidas low top white sneaks. My mom and Aunt Marie took us to every game, home and away.
The home games were sold out. It was like an event. As the players came charging out, the WHS pep band (led by Mr. Gicas) played the music from “Jesus Christ Superstar”. The players were introduced before the games with the lights out and a spotlight on them when their name was called. I dreamed that one day I could play for WHS and have my name introduced.
Not to be outdone, Wildwood Catholic had a very good high school basketball program. Coach Fran St John and Dave Raucci coached the boys and Coach Matt Tomlin and Ed Koehler the girls. Their games were also very crowded. The games Between Wildwood and Wildwood Catholic were such an event, they had to be moved to the larger Convention Hall to fit the overflow crowds. Each program had star players. If I started naming them, I would leave someone out, that’s how many good players there were in our small town.
In my backyard, playing with my neighborhood friends Matt Tomlin, Mark Tomlin, John Young and Paul Franco, I dreamed of one day playing high school basketball. When we got older, Matt, Mark and John went to WCHS, Paul and I went to Wildwood and played basketball and football together. Paul’s family had season tickets to the 76ers games. Julius Erving was my favorite player. Moses Malone was Paul’s favorite player. We’d play many games where we tried to imitate our basketball heroes. When we got older, I would drive us to a couple Sixers games a season right after a high school basketball practice. We were at the game when The Doctor rocked the Spectrum when he did the “Rock the Cradle dunk” over Michael Cooper and the Lakers.
Fortunately I grew up in a town with small high school enrollments and they needed good athletes to play as many sports as they could. Nowadays a lot of good athletes play only one sport and they start thinking about scholarships in grade school. In my Wildwood, if you liked basketball and wanted to play on a team, you could start at a very young age. I started playing organized basketball in second grade for the Police Youth League at the Crest Pier. Once you got to sixth grade you could play for your grade school team, the CYO team and in the Rec sponsored leagues. My grade school team, Crest Memorial, was coached by Andy Ridgway and Dave Raucci. On the weekends you played for the CYO teams. In Wildwood Crest you played for Assumption CYO, coached by WCHS Girls Basketball Coaches Matt Tomlin and Ed Koehler. They won many CAL Championships. Mr. T was also my neighbor. Joe Lloyd coached the high school CYO team.
By the time I got to high school, basketball was my first love. Our whole community and all of Cape May County had a love affair with the sport of basketball – and still does. The high school programs were called the Big 4 – it was like a family. Lower Cape was led by Coach George Holden, his son Pat was the star Caper Tiger. He and I played against each other starting in grade school. Middle Township was led by the legendary basketball coach and former Wildwood Catholic basketball star, Tom Feraco. Coach Tom hired Pat Holden and me to work for him and the Feraco Family during the summer months, where we became great friends. We are all still friends to this day.
Basketball was my first love but I was also playing baseball and football. I would tell everyone that whatever sport that was in season was my favorite sport. However, I played basketball year round. Nowadays I don’t know what would’ve happened but back then a lot of my friends played three sports, so I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. My best friend growing up was Greg Cardaci and he played the same three sports I did.
I loved basketball but I hurt my left knee playing football as a freshman and tore my medial meniscus. I missed about four weeks of my football season and I had to rehab and wear a knee brace for two years. But, fortunately, I didn’t miss any basketball games. Not many people knew about this injury. Fortunately, I rehabbed very hard and didn’t loose my speed, but I did lose the spring. I never regained the jumping ability or spring in my left knee.
At Wildwood High School I wore No. 14 to honor my dad. The Wildwood Booster Club is known as the Warrior 50. My Dad was one of the original 50 WHS alumni to start the Booster Club.
When I got to high school I was a decent basketball player but I was fortunate to meet a man who had a big influence in my life. His name was Allen “Boo” Pergament. He ran Boo’s Basketball Camp. Anybody who played basketball attended his camps during the summer. Going to his camps made me a better basketball player. He also ended up helping me with the recruiting process. I remember attending a Mainland basketball game where I met Doug Strang, the Mainland football star and Penn State quarterback. He gave me great advice. I met with Boo once a month and I still have the files he helped me organize during the recruiting process.
As a freshman, I was fortunate to make the JV team and play for Coach Joe Bimbo. The freshman coach was my cousin, Stanley DelCorio. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I made the varsity team for Coach Greg Tracey, who had replaced Bernie McCracken as the head coach. We had a very good basketball program at Wildwood and to play on the varsity team as a sophomore was an honor. We made the state tournament every year. Our No. 1 rival was Wildwood Catholic. Through all the years the teams were very closely matched. Usually the games were split. When I went to high school, I got a little luck and only lost one time to them in basketball. It was in my junior year that we lost, 44-41, in the second game of the season. We won the later meeting, 85-55.
My senior year we were 16-4 in the Cape-Atlantic League and tied St. Augustine, let by Coach Paul Rodio, for the championship. During the regular season, they beat us at the Spectrum, 62-59, before a 76ers game. At WHS, I hit a buzzer-beater and we won, 66-64. Today, we might be called co-champions and each get a banner. Back then, you played one game to decide the championship. We played the Hermits at Absegami High School for a winner-take-all championship. They led by 10 at the half. We led by six at the end of three quarters. Dave Orlandini and I each had 26 points to lead our teams in a back and forth, tightly contested game. When the buzzer sounded, the WHS Warriors lost, 69-66.
Ironically, Dave Orlandini and I had been invited to Five Star Basketball Camp after our junior years. He and I were roommates. Little did we know we would end up playing against each other in the CAL championship game. We ended up 20-6, losing in the South Jersey Finals to Paulsboro, 70-69. We lost six games in the 1983-84 season by 19 total points. Coach Tracey was assisted by Joe Bimbo, AD Mike Coront and Rewi Thompson. Greg Cardaci, Mike Schafer, Paul Franco, Matt James, Darryl Digs, Jerald Wright and Charlie Ohala were my teammates and are still friends today.
Basketball helped me become a better baseball and football player and helped me earn a football scholarship. Coach Dave Trioano was also an assistant football coach (helping the legendary John Barbose) and he said that the schools recruiting me for football would call and ask to come see me play basketball. He said we played at Pleasantville and Coach Joe Moore From Pitt sat on one side and Coach Tom Bradley from Penn State sat across the gym on the other side. I had no idea either was there. He said it was after that basketball game both schools told him they knew I’d be a good college football player.
I ended up going to the University of Pittsburgh on a football scholarship. My sophomore year I got a call from the new basketball coach at Pitt, Paul Evans, who came over from Navy, where he coached David Robinson. He had recruited me to play at the Naval Academy and said Pitt had lost some players to Prop 48 and wanted to know if I would come out for the basketball team. My football coach, Mike Gottfried, gave me the OK so, after the Football season, I joined the Pitt Basketball team. It was a great experience as we had a great team led by Charles Smith and Jerome Lane. We won Pitt’s first Big East basketball championship, beating Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
We then went to Madison Square Garden and played in the Big East Tournament. I thought I was dreaming when coach called me to go in and play the last couple minutes of our game against Villanova. I got a championship ring and am still friends to this day with some of my teammates – Charles Smith, Pat Cavanaugh and Bobby Martin, from Atlantic City. Ironically, one of the assistant coaches and the top recruiter was a young man by the name of John Calipari. He and I hit it off right away. We stayed in touch and are friends to this day.
Charles Smith and I attempted to have Coach Calipari become the head coach at Pitt, twice. We called the AD and the Chancellor on his behalf. That said, he’s made out OK as one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history at Kentucky.
Speaking of Kentucky Basketball, one of the most famous WHS graduates is Frank Vogel, currently the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He and I stayed in touch through the years. Frank was five years younger than me and his parents were friends with my parents. His mom and my mom were Basketball Moms. I remember him telling me he left Juniata College to go to Kentucky. He had a dream to coach under Rick Pitino. He was not going to be denied.
Later, when I was living in Indiana, Kentucky came in for the Final Four. I went to the game with Frank’s mom and sat behind the bench with Ashley Judd, a huge Kentucky Wildcat fan. Once, Dennis Shea and l flew out with the Sixers. We met Frank for lunch before he coached the Pacers to a win over the Sixers. It was then that I reached out to Coach Troiano. He was the President of the Warrior 50 and we agreed that we needed to get a banner to honor Coach Frank Vogel to hang in the WHS gym. With the support of Superintendent Dennis Anderson and Mayor Ernie Troiano, we made it happen and honored him at WHS.
I always felt Basketball helped me become a better athlete and a better Division One football and baseball player. In the summertime you’d start working around 10 years old. By the time you’re 13 or 14, you might work two or three jobs to earn money. However, there was always time to play in one, two or three basketball leagues, as well as playing at the outside courts In front of the Crest Pier, at the Fox Park Courts in wildwood and the 8th Street Courts in North Wildwood. You can always find good runs in the morning or after dinner.
I used to play with Chris Corchianni and Gabe Corchiani – each became “Mr. Basketball” in the state of Florida. Gabe got a scholarship to New Orleans University and Chris went to NC State and played for Coach Jimmy Valvano before getting drafted by the Orlando Magic. We played for “Ozzies Ice Cream”, sponsored by my dad, in the Wildwood Crest Summer League. Again we have all stayed friends. I also used to play with Mary Gavin in the summer. Many games I picked her on my team first. At Wildwood Catholic, she became one of the best girls basketball players in CAL and South Jersey history. She went to Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship. She played on our Little League all star team too.
Basketball definitely fueled the competitive side of me. From the time I was in grade school to the time I was in my late 40s, I played basketball at least two or three times a week. I played all the way up until I injured my knee for the third time. I even played in the famous Ed Salmon ‘breakfast club’ games at 6 a.m. in the Millville gymnasium many times.
I was fortunate to be named South Jersey Athlete of the Decade for the 1980s, to be inducted into the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996 and to have my high school number retired in 1998 – all before my Father died. However, playing basketball was (and still is) really about all the great memories and great friendships that were started and remain to this day.
Like my Dad, I took my sons to the Palestra for one of their first basketball games. The greatest joy I’ve had recently has been giving back to the Marlton community and watching my sons play the game of basketball. I coached my sons’ Rec and Travel basketball teams from second grade to eighth grade. Counting football and baseball, along with the basketball teams, I was told I had coached 82 teams in the Marlton Rec and Travel programs.
When they were in fourth and sixth grades, I took both their teams to see the Sixers take on the Indian Pacers, led by Frank Vogel. After the game, Coach Vogel came out and said hello to all the boys. A great memory all brought together because of basketball. My dad was likely looking down that night, smiling and probably dribbling a basketball.
My boys – Billy and Trent – are now 18 and 16 now and have become great student athletes focused on football. I am so grateful I was able to give back and teach them and their teammates things I was taught by my father and my coaches. If I could, I would do it all over again. The memories and friendships continue to grow.
You can read previous Sports Memories by Sue Devlin Repetti, Paul Baruffi, Fred Dalzell, Steve Parker, John Cranston, Skip Castaldi, Joe LaRosa and Ken Weaver – HERE.