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High school teams return to the field as Phase 1 of NJSIAA summer workout plan starts

BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — The hardest things for the St. Augustine Prep football team to forgo Monday morning were the hugs and the high-fives.

The Hermits in most cases saw each other for the first time in four months when they gathered for the first day of Phase 1 of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association-approved summer workouts.

St. Augustine students have not been in school since March 9 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hermits junior quarterback Austin Leyman said Sunday night was like Christmas Eve.

“We’ve been looking forward to this moment for three months now, and missing each other,” Leyman said. “There were definitely times when we would go to high-five or fist-bump, and the coaches would have to stop us. It’s the new normal, so we’re just going to have to get used to it and work through it.”

Overall, the Hermits coaches felt the workout went smoother than anticipated. St. Augustine coach Pete Lancetta admitted he was apprehensive beforehand.

“A lot of planning went into it,” Lancetta said, “but I thought it came off pretty good.”

The NJSIAA governs most New Jersey high school sports. Phase 1 is the first of four phases the NJSIAA designed to guide the activities of high school teams during the summer. Phase 1 lasts two weeks and consists primarily of 90-minute, no-contact workouts.

Phase 2 begins no sooner than July 27, and consists of two-hour workouts and weight room activity. Schools must complete Phase 1 before they can begin Phase 2, under NJSIAA guidelines.

St. Augustine was one of few Press-area schools to begin Phase 1 on Monday. The Cape-Atlantic League executive board of athletic directors recommended that CAL schools not begin Phase 1 until July 27.

St. Augustine will have about 80 football players and 50 soccer players working out in Phase 1. If there is a fall season, the Hermits football team is projected to be one of the state’s best.

“Every school is different,” St. Augustine athletic director Mike Rizzo said. “This was right for St. Augustine.”

On Monday, the Hermits football workout lasted from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Rizzo, assistant athletic director Tom Broomell and trainer Matt Pineo met the students in their cars as they pulled into the parking lot.

Before the athletes even left their vehicles, Rizzo, Broomell and Pineo took their temperatures with hand-held thermometers.

Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 was not allowed to participate. All Hermits were under the threshold.

Players also had to present paperwork indicating they had not been exposed to the new coronavirus, experienced any symptoms or recently visited any of the 19 states on New Jersey’s travel advisory list.

“People followed the instructions to a T,” Rizzo said. “Everyone had their masks on, paperwork in hand. There was joy in their faces being back at their second home. Everyone wants to follow the guidelines because they’re just happy to be back.”

The Hermits did not use footballs during the workout. Coaches wore masks. The players did not wear them when working out but as soon as they stepped off the field masks were on.

Players lined up for drills five yards apart. Coaches reminded them to social distance even when waiting for water during breaks.

“I look at this as another form of adversity,” senior lineman Jake Ketschek said. “Everyone in the football community is in this together. We’re all going to stay strong and push forward. Whatever happens is going to happen. You can’t change it.”

The emotional benefits of getting together as a team probably outweighed the physical benefits of Monday’s workouts.

“It was great to see the kids,” Lancetta said. “It was weird. We sat them in the bleachers to social distance with their masks on. There wasn’t a lot of socializing. But to see one another and say hello, I thought it was very positive.”

There was also another reason for the Hermits and other schools to start Phase 1. The NJSIAA is allowing teams to work out until Aug. 28. Teams must then take a break until the start of official fall practice on Sept. 14. The football season is currently scheduled to start Oct. 2. Most other fall sports are scheduled to start Oct. 1.

If schools are overwhelmed by or can’t safely conduct these Phase 1 workouts, there’s little chance of having a fall season.

After Monday’s workout, the Hermits attitude was a cautious “so far so good.”

“We need to see what we can do,” Rizzo said. “If we don’t feel it can be managed, it will stop.”

GALLERY: St. Augustine Prep football team returns to practice field

Spoken-word artist A'Niyah Bishop moves South Jerseyans with Galloway, Mays Landing performances

A’Niyah Bishop was too frustrated to be silent.

Every time she went on social media and saw the treatment of Black people around the United States over the past two months, that feeling only intensified.

She knew she had to use her voice.

The 18-year-old grabbed the attention of many in South Jersey with the spoken-word performance of her poem “Pandemic” during a June 13 protest against police brutality in Mays Landing.

“Can’t no COVID-19 steal the fear that was already there,” Bishop says early in the poem. “See, my Blackness is already treated like a disease. Nobody wanna be near me, So I’m better off being quarantined.”

Bishop, a 2020 graduate at Atlantic County Institute of Technology, originally wrote the poem for a school assignment. When news broke of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, she decided to rework it to include him.

“America, get your knee off my neck,” Bishop says in reference to Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “I’m tired of putting justice on my wish list. You love to say we free, but it’s more like free-ish. Just because you don’t see my shackles don’t mean they don’t exist.”

The Atlantic City resident also makes reference to Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the piece.

In a recent phone interview, Bishop said much of her inspiration for “Pandemic” came from firsthand experience.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always been insecure about being dark-skinned, and I went to predominantly white schools,” Bishop said. “I’ve been called the N-word several times by peers in school when I was younger. I watched my dad get pulled over for no reason at all because someone in the passenger seat didn’t have their seat belt on. They called backup, they pulled out guns on him and they made him lay on the ground and you could tell it was complete abuse of authority.”

The first performance of her original poem was at a Galloway Township protest the week prior to the Mays Landing protest. She was not scheduled to speak, and after the march and numerous other speakers, she simply asked one of the organizers if she could read her poem. Bishop said the reception involved a lot of tearful hugs, and someone even streamed it live on Facebook.

After seeing the Galloway performance, ACIT track and field coach Robert Laws, who’s known Bishop since she was a cheerleader for his Hamilton Knights youth football team, reached out to ask her to perform at Mays Landing.

“I said, ‘Look, I need you to do that in Mays Landing,’” Laws said, “and she did, and it was just a phenomenal job. She really expressed herself in a way where she was able to express how she feels and not offend anybody in the process.”

Bishop said she gravitated toward spoken-word poetry early on in high school. She was inspired by St. Louis-based artist Prince Ea, and loves how much control the style of poetry affords her.

“I feel like the delivery and the way people do it, like the inflection in their voice and the expression, is so much more powerful than just reading on a page,” Bishop said. “And I feel like you’re more flexible with spoken-word than just (written) poetry because you’re more in control of the way that people receive the poem.”

Bishop also dances and has acted in a number of theatrical productions in and out of school. She will attend The American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles next fall with a major in musical theater.

“That young lady’s going to be a star one day,” Laws said. “There’s so many things that she has going for her, but her spirit, I think, is like the most important thing. She’s probably one of the most caring and unique young people that I’ve met in a long time.”

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Water patrols see increase in water rescues over weekend due to rip currents

Officials are urging beachgoers to use extra caution and only swim near lifeguard stands while guards are on duty after area beach patrols spent the weekend responding to more than 100 calls of swimmers in distress.

The long weekend of rescues included two deaths and one swimmer who was still missing Monday night.

Most of the rescues were due to strong rip currents left in the wake of Tropical Storm Fay that hit the coast Friday, beach patrol officials said.

In Atlantic City, beach patrols conducted 165 water rescues Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, said Steve Downey, Atlantic City Beach Patrol chief.

“It’s been a heck of a summer so far,” Downey said. “The beach is the only place you can go. It’s as mobbed as it can be. We close at 6 p.m. Don’t get here at 6:30 with the family.”

While most rescues were due to the strong rip currents, Downey said, others were due to people “who just don’t listen to lifeguards.”

He said the most dangerous places to swim are near any obstructions in the water, like a pier or a jetty.

“We have 15 to 20 seconds to get them, that’s it,” he said. “The jetties are hollowed out, it’ll rip you right under. It’s like an expressway out to sea.”

On Thursday night, lifeguards removed a 77-year-old man from the water on Ohio Avenue who was later pronounced dead at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus. On Saturday, they removed the body of Jalan Xavier Alston, an 18-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, from the ocean near Albany Avenue. Alston went missing Friday night in Ventnor, off Victoria Avenue, after he helped two females reach the shore safely.

Patrols also rescued a Hispanic male who was about 400 feet offshore Sunday night near Tallahassee Avenue.

“We got him 10 seconds before he was about to go under,” Downey said. “He collapsed on the beach and was spitting out a ton of water. When that happens he was on his last breath, he was really lucky that we got him.”

Because of the swells, patrols had a tough time rescuing the man.

The active 2020 hurricane season has contributed to an increase in dangerous rip currents and rough conditions along the Jersey Shore.

Rip currents are caused by breaks in the sandbar and can occur when waves are at least two feet high, wave interval measurements at the buoys are eight seconds or slower and winds blowing perpendicular to the land. Tropical Storm Fay met all of those conditions.

A search continued on Monday for a 24-year-old man from Clementon, who went missing around 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the Great Egg Harbor Inlet between Ocean City and Longport.

First responders from Ocean City, Longport, Egg Harbor Township and the U.S. Coast Guard searched for the man, Jabed Ikbal. Officials said Ikbal entered the water to assist two other family members who were in trouble. The two made it safely to the beach, but Ikbal did not.

Officials said there were strong daily tidal currents in the water where Ikbal disappeared.

Ocean City Beach Patrol personnel could not be reached for further comment as of press time Monday.

The U.S. Coast Guard also conducted eight water searches since Thursday, according to Lt. JG Hernandez.

In the absence of a tropical storm, according to a National Weather Service report, the most common times for rip current fatalities are when air temperatures in Philadelphia are more than 3.1 degrees above average, Atlantic City water temperatures are above 60 degrees and at least 2.5 degrees above average. A moderate risk for rip currents by the NWS also accompanies the highest fatalities.

By July 3, the Atlantic City Beach Patrol surpassed 200 ocean rescues. Many of the rescues are happening when lifeguards are not on duty. Lifeguards are stationed on the beach between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.

The patrol also has an after-hours emergency response team that patrols the water on jetskis uptown and downtown between 6 and 8 p.m. Since July 1, Downey said there had been 11 rescues after 6 p.m.

The city has billboards on the cross ramps to the beach, in both English and Spanish, alerting swimmers of the hazards of rip currents and urging them to only swim when lifeguards are on duty.

“We’re getting as much signage up as we can,” he said. “But at some point you just have to use common sense.”

Joe Martucci, Press of Atlantic City meteorologist, contributed reporting.

Start-up charter airline signs deal with Atlantic City airport

A Miami-based start-up charter airline has signed a deal to operate out of Atlantic City International Airport, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the rug out from under the airline industry.

Global Crossing Airlines (GlobalX) is a newly formed charter airline seeking Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation certification, according to the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

On its website, company executives, in a presentation to investors, explain they are taking advantage of the slowdown among major airlines to lease Airbus A320s that are now sitting idle in the southwestern United States.

They also hope to be able to employ experienced pilots sidelined by the business slowdown.

“ACY is ideally located as a northern charter base of operations for GlobalX, near the major metropolitan centers of the northeastern U.S.,” the company said in its recent press release.

The company also said it intends to operate scheduled charters into ACY from Toronto, Montreal and cities of the United States, “to support the hotel and casino businesses in Atlantic City, beginning by summer 2021.”

SJTA, which owns and operates the airport, passed a resolution at its June meeting to allow SJTA Executive Director Stephen Dougherty to negotiate and enter into an airline use and lease agreement with GlobalX.

“This service will not begin until all required certifications are in place for Global Crossing Airlines,” according to the resolution.

Lauren H. Moore, executive director of the Atlantic County Economic Development Alliance, said Monday that his organization helped facilitate the deal, which could also eventually include GlobalX leasing 53,000 square feet of airport land to build a 24,000-square-foot maintenance hangar.

The maintenance operation would bring about 75 good-paying jobs to the region, Moore said.

“We are thrilled GlobalX has chosen ACY,” said Dougherty, in the company press release. “We look forward to working with GlobalX on developing a presence at the airport, within Atlantic County, and throughout the South Jersey region.”

An SJTA spokesman said Monday that all airlines who utilize ACY are required to pay airport use charges.

“There are no subsidies; however, if an air service incentive program is in place when Global X operates, and if they qualify for those incentives, than they would be entitled to receive incentives,” said SJTA spokesman Mark Amorosi.

“I am impressed by their business plan, but remain skeptical until I see the airline ... produce something,” said transportation analyst Anthony Marino, a former deputy director for the New Jersey Expressway Authority, the precursor to the SJTA.

The land for the hangar is the same property once considered for a similar deal with Elevate Jet, Moore said. That deal fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“The difference in this project is ... GlobalX has the ability to finance the hangar themselves,” Moore said.

Had the Elevate Jet deal gone through, the Atlantic County Improvement Authority would have built the hangar at an estimated cost of $5.75 million, then leased it to the company. County taxpayers would have backed the bonds to build it.

SJTA will hold its July meeting Wednesday at 9 a.m.

To listen and/or comment call 800-346-7359 with a public access code of 492851.