By TOM WILLIAMS
Another group of talented and successful athletes and coaches was inducted into the Ocean City High School Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.
This is the fourth year that the induction has been held in the Hughes Auditorium at OCHS. Previous ceremonies were on the Music Pier, in The Flanders Hotel and at Harry’s Inn in Somers Point.
The induction of three former coaches who combined for 1,007 victories in their careers – Craig Mensinger, Bill Moreland Bill Nickles – was a big part of the afternoon. And they brought three other great coaches – Andrew Bristol, Matt Purdue and Tony Galante – to the stage to introduce them.
Bridget Flynn, a winner of the Billy Schoppy Memorial Award as the Cape-Atlantic League’s best athlete in 2014 who went on to Ivy League success at Dartmouth, was a highlight. So were Gene Watts, from the 1980s, who made the trip from Texas to participate, and Terry Tracey, from the 1970s, who was represented by his son, Aidan.
Jen Frank Vallillo, the greatest OCHS girls tennis player, was also inducted. In addition to her sports success (she was also a very good softball player) she is currently a ICU nurse at Hackensack University Medical Center where she has helped those fighting COVID-19.
But this year’s ceremonies, more than those that came before, was filled with emotion and nostalgia.
Dixie Howell, Fenton Carey and Archie Harris – probably the three most significant members of the OCHS Sports Hall of Fame – were all inducted posthumously. So were three of this year’s inductees.
Frank Wickes, a three-sport athlete in the 1950s, died last year at age 82, He had become one of the best college band directors in the country, spending 30 years at LSU.
The other two posthumous awards were more emotional.
Jeff Michner, a 2001 OCHS graduate, was the greatest of all OCHS golfers when he graduated. He had continued success on the golf course at Drexel University and in International competitions before working his way up to an executive chef in New York City. He died suddenly of a brain aneurysm three years ago.
Jeff’s family was there in full force to celebrate his shortened life and accept his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Dave Andrews, a three-sport star in the 1970s, died earlier this year as a passenger in an auto accident at the foot of the Ninth Street bridge. HIs daughter, Ali – wearing Dave’s No. 12 on her shirt – represented her father and read the thoughts of her father’s former teammates and coaches that they sent her.
There was also the 2005 boys soccer team, inducted along with the 1956-57 basketball team. That soccer team, just 16 years ago, was ranked No. 18 in the nation and is the CAL’s only undefeated boys soccer team. Two members of that team – Kyle Evans and Mike Davis – have both died from addiction problems.
Incidentally, members of the 2005 team have started a website – OAR13.org (it stands for Opioid Addiction Recovery) – to help fight the problem.
Sunday’s ceremonies also brought back to Ocean City High School (though in a different building) some of the names from the 1950s that really laid the groundwork for the success of the school’s athletic program.
Joe Kennedy, Steve Libro, Mike Varano and Charlie Bowman – four men who were significant players on multiple teams in the 1950s – were all there. These four were coached by Dixie Howell and Fenton Carey and, in many cases, had not seen each other in a long time. Having them all there on Sunday brought added nostalgia to the Hall of Fame ceremonies, something that doesn’t happen every year.
COVID-19 precautions eliminated the post-induction reception and most of the other social activities. John Bruno, who also hosted the Homecoming Queen ceremonies at Friday’s football game, was the host. Geoff Haines, Bill Shallcross, Joe LaRosa and Steve Trauger worked behind the scenes. Dr. Tom Baruffi, Ocean City superintendent, and Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, chairman of the Hall of Fame committee, both spoke. You can watch the complete ceremony HERE.
It was an honor to be part of it.