By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
If you’re a high school football junky in South Jersey, this morning was a bit like Christmas. You woke up to the knowledge that today is the day — the season-opening kickoff showcase at Ocean City’s Carey Stadium that has been planned for more than a year. The Battle at the Beach kicks off this morning with the first of 11 games over the span of three days, as St. Joseph Academy of Hammonton gets it started against Northeast (Pa.)
At 2 p.m. today Camden, one of the top teams in South Jersey, takes on Salem, and the 5 p.m. game features Collingswood vs. Marple Newtown (Pa.). Host Ocean City takes on Vineland at 8 p.m. in the Friday night showcase game.
“This is awesome. It’s great to have people down here. It should be awesome, we’ve been hearing a lot about it,” said Ocean City senior offensive lineman C.J. Conte. “It will be the first game of the year and we’ll be sporting some new jerseys, so we’re excited. It’s something different. This isn’t your casual high school event. It feels like we’re putting this program on the map. Compared to where we were a few years ago, this is an astronomical difference.”
Hosting this event means a long weekend for Ocean City head coach Kevin Smith and his staff — although coach Smith might have to miss a game or two on Saturday, for good reason.
“This is going to be a special event. I’m really curious to see if we can pull it all off. There’s four games (today), four on Saturday. We’re scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. (tonight) and I keep telling our guys we might end up kicking off closer to 9 p.m. The league had a vision for how to raise the profile of South Jersey football and they are really working hard to execute it, and we’re proud to be a part of it,” Smith said. “The organizers have done a great job and the buzz has been great. I think there is going to be a lot of walk-up sales. They are doing electronic ticket sales but you can buy them as you are here waiting in line. I think it’s really going to be a special event. I’m looking forward to it, and not just our game, I’m looking forward to watching all the other games, too. Saturday’s my wife’s birthday, so I may have to make some concessions there.”
Smith said he’s hoping his players hang around the stadium all weekend and take in as much football as they can. They’ll get a chance to see some outstanding teams, such as Timber Creek, Red Bank Catholic, Holy Spirit, DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland, one of the top teams in the nation. There will also be the likes of Scotch Plains, Woodbridge and Winslow.
“The hardest thing for our kids is going to be to try to keep them on routine. Kids are creatures of habit so we want (today) to be as normal as possible, but at the same time I want them to come and watch as many games as they can because there is going to be some great football,” coach Smith said. “They can learn from that and the energy is going to be electric. I know our guys are excited to play, I know Vineland is excited to play. Whatever team manages their emotions — all the adrenaline is done in five minutes, then it comes down to a football game and who can execute the best.”
As of this morning, according to the West Jersey Football League Coaches Association Twitter account, there had been nearly 5,000 tickets sold. One $10 ticket gets fans into as many games as they want to watch on a particular day. Fans can also purchase tickets electronically through their phone as a walk-up option.
“I think the city has done a really nice job accommodating the league and hopefully it’s a great event that we can make even more successful next year,” Smith said.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s schedule:
11 a.m. St. Joseph Academy vs. Northeast (Pa.)
2 p.m. Camden vs. Salem
5 p.m. Collingswood vs. Marple Newtown (Pa.)
8 p.m. Ocean City vs. Vineland
11 a.m. Bernards vs. Penns Grove
2 p.m. Timber Creek vs. Red Bank Catholic
5 p.m. Union vs. Millville
8 p.m. Holy Spirit vs. DeMatha Catholic (Md.)
Noon Cherry Hill East vs. Moorestown
3 p.m. Scotch Plains vs. Cedar Creek
6 p.m. Winslow vs. Woodbridge