COLUMN: OC Sportsperson of the Year – Joe LaTorre

By TOM WILLIAMS

A variety of people have been recognized as Ocean City Sportspersons of the Year over the last six decades for a number of reasons..

It all started in 1963 in the Sentinel-Ledger with the selection of Bob French, a strong supporter of youth sports. Others in that category – like Chet Wimberg, Bill Gans, Harry Vanderslice, Rich Tolson, Naz Costanza, Greg Donahue and Joe Fagan – would follow over the years.

There have been remarkable athletes (Jack Neall, Pat Lynch, Kevin Sinclair and Chad Severs) and administrators (Don Pileggi, Mike Allegretto, Paul LeFever, Walt Tucker and Geoff Haines).

And many high school coaches – from Kelly Halliday, Andrew Bristol, Kevin Smith, Aaron Bogushefsky, John Bruno, Matt Purdue, Trish LeFever and Paul Baruffi, back to Dixie Howell, Fenton Carey, Jack Boyd, Pat Dougherty, Mike Slaveski and Phil Birnbaum – have been recognized.

This year another coach has earned the salute.

Joe LaTorre became Ocean City’s boys lacrosse coach in 2013. The program was six years old but had three different coaches over the three previous years. Those first six teams were a combined 48-53 overall. After two seasons at around. 500, LaTorre has built the OCHS program into one of the very best.

In his last six seasons, LaTorre’s Raiders have been 96-30 with four Cape-Atlantic League championships and, last spring, the school’s first South Jersey title in the sport. He has taken a sport that was relatively unknown at the school (though lacrosse is one of the fastest growing high school sports in the nation) and attracted OCHS athletes from a multitude of other sports.

For his success in building a rather new sports program into one of the area’s best and adding to Ocean City’s already strong lineup of sports teams, Joe LaTorre becomes the 63rd person to be chosen Ocean City Sportsperson of the Year over the last 59 years.

LaTorre and all star Jake Schneider pose with the South Jersey championship trophy

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As we get used to our new calendars (and try to forget about the bad parts of 2021) it is always a good time to look back on the top local sports stories of the previous year. As is our custom, the 10 sports stories that seemed to generate the most interest throughout Ocean City in 2021 are gathered:

But first, a reflection on some of the people we lost from the sports community in he past year. Start with Don Pileggi, the dean of recreation for Ocean City. Add Hall of Fame athletes Andy Jernee and Dave Andrews,; Dave’s son, Kyle, another successful athlete, and former athlete Dave Blizzard; plus former coach John Cervino and Father Ed Lyons, creator of the Seagull Classic, who served in the resort for many years.

Now, about the top stories-

1. The impact of COVID -19, including the cancellation of most of the basketball season and restrictions on attendance at all high school events.

2. The retirement of Paul Baruffi as girls basketball coach after 429 wins in 20 seasons, including 14 championships within the CAL, seven South Jersey titles and the program’s only state championship.

3. The baseball team winning the program’s first state championship.

4. Yet another strong football season by the Raiders, including the school’s fifth undefeated regular season, a record 12 wins and the first West Jersey Football League title. And Brendan McGonigle finishing his career and the most successful kicker in CAL history.

5. Gannon Brady winning the Billy Schoppy Award as the top CAL athlete in the Class of 2021 after leading Cape-Atlantic League boys basketball scoring for the second straight year and also leading South Jersey scoring – both firsts for an OCHS player.

6. Summer Reimet leading the state in soccer goals sand blowing up the OCHS records for scoring. And Hope Slimmer leading the state in assists and setting all new school records in that statistic.

7. The girls soccer team winning the South Jersey Coaches Invitational, a first for a CAL team, and also winning the CAL Tournament.

8. The boys lacrosse team winning the South Jersey Group 3 championship.

9. The induction of 13 individuals and two teams into the OCHS Sports Hall of Fame, highlighted by 1950s icons Joe Kennedy, Frank Wickes and Steve Libro.

10. New school swimming records by Steve Gooden and Dolan Grisbaum and an indoor track record by Dan Givens.

Let’s hope 2022 provides as many great memories with a lot less confusion and disappointment.

Coming next week – the Cape-Atlantic League Sportsperson of the Year.

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