About a dozen local student-athletes officially accepted college scholarships last week by signing National Letters of Intent in sports such as baseball, basketball, crew and softball.
Hannah Appleget, a Mays Landing resident and senior at Atlantic County Institute of Technology, was rewarded for years of dedication and hard work with a scholarship to Lindenwood University, a NCAA Division II program in Saint Charles, Missouri.
Appleget is the daughter of John and Denise Appleget. John is one of the area's top PGA instructors — he teaches at the Shore Club in Middle Township — and is arguably the best golfer in South Jersey. He teaches at the Shore Club in Middle Township.
But though he's won a slew of tournaments, he gets more satisfaction out of watching Hannah compete.
"Gymnastics doesn't get a lot of attention in our area, so it's great to see Hannah's hard work pay off," John said. "She's very excited and so are we."
The scholarship offer was a bright spot in what has been a difficult journey.
Hannah took up gymnastics when she was a toddler and spent the bulk of her career training at Jersey Shore Gymnastics Academy in Mays Landing, which is less than a mile from her home.
The facility closed in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It eventually closed permanently, leaving Hannah without a place to train for three months. In June, she followed coach Jacqui Strickland to Precision Gymnastics in Bayville, Ocean County, which is over an hour away.
She also missed two-thirds of the 2019 competitive season with a wrist injury.
"That hurt her because she didn't have a chance to get visibility (for college coaches)," John said. "You can send all the videos you want, but coaches want to see you perform routines under pressure."
She caught a break when one of the coaches at Precision who was a gymnast at Lindenwood recommended her to the coaching staff.
Hannah and her family visited the school, met with the coaches and team members, and signed her letter last week.
"I visited a few other schools, but Lindenwood seemed like the best fit for me," Hannah said. "The coaches there showed the most interest and the team culture is outstanding."
A football rivalry returns
It's finally happening again.
Seven years after their last meeting, Hammonton High School and St. Joseph Academy will be renewing their intracity football rivalry 6 p.m. Friday at Hammonton.
"This is awesome!" former St. Joseph running back/linebacker C.J. LaFragola wrote on Twitter. "The tradition is hopefully back."
The Blue Devils and Wildcats last met on Nov. 30, 2013, when LaFragola and twins A'Laam and Salaam Horne helped St. Joe rally for a 28-21 victory. LaFragola, who later wrestled for Brown University and played football for Rowan, and Rocco Ordille each scored fourth-quarter touchdowns. Hammonton running back Justin Fucetola rushed for 135 yards and a TD.
Hammonton's last win over St. Joe had happened the year before, when Blue Devils quarterback Christian Mortellite threw a touchdown pass and defensive back Dylan Mento snared three interceptions in a 14-6 triumph.
Those games were part of one of the area's most intense and exciting rivalries, one that began in 1962. Usually held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, almost every meeting featured an interesting back story.
Probably the most famous one occurred in 1995.
St. Joseph was set to host Hammonton at its field on Wood Street when word leaked out that some Blue Devils supporters were plotting to spray paint their logo on it. Bill Bendig, then-president of the St. Joseph Booster Club, parked his camper outside the entrance to guard it and passed away from a heart attack that night.
It was promptly renamed Bill Bendig Memorial Field in his honor.
Despite the history and interest in the game, the annual meeting was discontinued after the 2013 season, when Hammonton left the Cape-Atlantic League in favor of the Tri-County Conference. There was talk of the two teams playing again a couple years ago when both became part of the West Jersey Football League, but it never materialized.
It took a pandemic to make it happen.
After COVID-19 forced the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to cancel the state playoffs for the season, the WJFL developed a series of four-team "pods" featuring some of South Jersey's top teams. Winners of the first games would meet for an unofficial championship while losers would play a consolation game.
Hammonton and St. Joe were originally in different pods. Hammonton was in a group with St. Augustine Prep, Williamstown and Nottingham. St. Joe was in with Ocean City, Camden and Burlington Township. Both lost their first-round games last Friday, with the Blue Devils losing 14-13 to Williamstown and the Wildcats suffering a 12-7 defeat to Ocean City.
However, Nottingham and Burlington Township had both shut down their football programs earlier in the week, leaving Hammonton and St. Joe without opponents.
That's when they decided to renew the rivalry.
"We never thought they would both lose (their first-round games)," WJFL President Derryk Sellers said. "It was divine intervention."
Friday's game should be interesting.
Hammonton (3-2) features one of the state's top running backs in senior Jaiden Abrams. St. Joseph (5-2) has a talented lineup that includes running back/defensive back Ahmad Ross, quarterback Jayden Shertel and defensive end Keshon Griffin, who is committed to Rutgers.
Here's hoping this is not just a one-and-done scenario, that the two schools commit to making the rivalry an annual event once again.
Eagles' playoff hopes are dwindling
Based on how they played in Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Giants, don't be surprised if the Eagles go winless the rest of the season.
At 3-5-1, they are somehow still in first place in a dreadful NFC East, but Sunday's game at Cleveland marks the start of a tough, five-game stretch against teams with winning records. It's hard to fathom them beating the Browns (6-3), Seahawks (6-3), Packers (7-2), Saints (6-2) or Cardinals (5-3). Actually, I wouldn't be shocked if the Eagles also lost to the Cowboys and Washington to close out the season.
Quarterback Carson Wentz has regressed to the point where coach Doug Pederson may eventually be forced to give Jalen Hurts a chance to be more than a gimmick player. If that happens, Pederson should also turn over playcalling duties to senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhingweg, who previously worked with Michael Vick with the Eagles and Lamar Jackson with the Ravens.
Austin Johnson and Austin Johnson
Austin Johnson and the other Austin Johnson both enjoyed success last Sunday.
Giants defensive tackle Austin Johnson, a St. Augustine Prep graduate and Galloway Township native, tied his season high with two tackles in helping New York beat the Eagles. The other Austin Johnson served as caddie for older brother Dustin Johnson during his historic victory at the Masters.
Speaking of locals, kudos to Cape May resident Colin Thompson for scoring his first NFL touchdown for the Carolina Panthers last Sunday. Thompson, a tight end, caught a 7-yard pass from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first quarter of Carolina's 46-23 loss to Tampa Bay. It not only was his first TD, it was his first career NFL reception.
In his spare time, Thompson also serves as offensive coordinator for Lower Cape May Regional High School's football team. His family owns the Cotton Company store on the Cape May Mall.
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