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Local
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With Roar to the Shore canceled, Wildwood businesses miss bikers' money

WILDWOOD — Along Pacific Avenue on Saturday afternoon, a handful of restaurants and shops had signs telling patrons that “colors” were not allowed inside.

The signs are generally a mark of the annual Roar to the Shore — an effort by business owners to keep customers from coming in wearing vests and jackets emblazoned with the logos and patches of motorcycle clubs to stem any potential conflicts with other organizations.

But there was no Roar to the Shore this year.

Officially, that is.

The event, which has brought in thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts over the past two decades, was canceled this year after organizers said the city denied them permits. But there were dozens of bikers at city restaurants and hotels, the most visible belonging to the Pagans Outlaw Motorcycle Club, a group state officials say is expanding in membership and criminality.

But, during a year of financial struggles for many small businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in South Jersey shore communities, several business owners said they missed the bikers and the money they spend in the city.

Anastasios Karros, co-owner of Boardwalk Bar and Grill, was working the counter at the business’ attached liquor store. He said the shoulder season between summer and winter is generally the time he gets to make money before the shore town goes quiet for the year, and annual conventions and events make up a big chunk of it.

“We’re not dire, but I don’t think we broke even,” Karros said of this season, adding several motorcyclists had come in Saturday to purchase alcohol, but it’s not close to what he would have made on a Roar weekend.

The Pagans are generally a fixture at Roar, as it’s a “mandatory run” for club members in the state. City police confirmed Thursday that the group was expected in the resort this weekend, even with the event canceled.

Officers patrolled Pacific Avenue in pairs on bikes, or monitored traffic from their cars. Vehicles from the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office and State Police were in the city, too.

Former Lower Township police officer and current owner of Atilis Gym Chris Lambert said he’s down 50% or more in business that he would generally have during a weekend event in the city.

“These guys have never had any problems,” Lambert said of the Pagans. “These guys are good people. They come in, they go to restaurants, they buy souvenirs. They generate money; they generate profit for all of our small businesses.”

Lambert joked that he has “more aggravation” during the state firefighter convention, another annual September event in the city that was canceled this year.

The city paid about $40,000 for police overtime at last year’s Roar to the Shore, according to previous reports. In a Facebook post, police listed 26 arrests during the event for charges ranging from possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose to possession of a controlled dangerous substance, but it was unclear whether all the charges listed were filed against Roar participants.

The Pagans are undergoing a resurgence, going from 10 chapters in the state in 2013 to 17 as of last year, according to state investigators. There are roughly 900 Pagans nationwide, including anywhere from 150 to 350 in New Jersey.

On Wednesday, a report from the State Commission of Investigation detailed incidents involving the group in recent years. Club members beat a landlord in the city after he tried to evict a woman connected to the group and beat a bar owner with a pool stick after he didn’t pay for protection the group offered, according to the report.


Education
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In-person, virtual and everything in between, making the most of learning during COVID-19

The school year has begun, and with it has come many, many changes and concessions to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how some students, teachers and parents are adapting to virtual classes, masks, deep cleaning and social distancing.

Harrison Gilbert, St. Joseph Regional School, fourth grader

Harrison was excited to return to school and see his friends and teacher. The Catholic school has full-time in-person instruction with students and staff wearing masks and face shields. Plexiglas has been installed around each student’s desk, and social-distancing stickers are placed on the floors in the hallways.

While he’s not a fan of wearing a mask, he understands the importance of it.

“I don’t really like it … but it makes me feel safe,” he said, adding the Plexiglas around his desk also gives him an added sense of safety.

Given that we have to wear masks everywhere we go, Gilbert said he’s used to wearing it. It doesn’t feel weird.

And what is he most excited to do once the pandemic is over and masks are no longer required?

“Play with my friends and don’t have to social distance,” he said.

Meagan Howard, St. Joseph Regional School sixth grader

Meagan misses being around her friends and teachers, “and just being here at St. Joe’s.”

Like Harrison, she’s used to wearing a mask and keeping a distance from others.

“I forget every now and then, but overall it’s very easy,” she said.

And aside from being back to school, she’s looking forward to learning about the solar system this year and other lessons related to science.

After the pandemic is over, she’s excited to “have a normal lunch again.”

“I really like sitting close to my friends and getting to pick where I sit (during lunch),” she said. “(Now) we’re just in our classrooms and our seats at our normal desks.”

Joe Rock, Pinelands Regional High School teacher

Rock is teaching four days in person and one day virtually. On Wednesday, the day he holds a virtual class, he had to adapt quickly.

“Dad, there’s water dripping from the light fixture,” Rock’s son informed him during the class. “There’s water all over the air hockey table.”

Rock, a marine science and biology teacher, quickly turned to his virtual class and said, “Alright guys, here’s what we’re going to do today, look over it, I’ll talk to you later.”

Turns out water from his refrigerator leaked all night and through the basement ceiling.

“So that was the start of virtual day,” he said. “And then the puppy was barking during the last period.”

Rock prefers in-person instruction but said he doesn’t mind virtual learning.

“But it’s hard to connect with the kids because it’s on the screen,” he said. “Teaching isn’t about the transfer of knowledge, it’s about the connections. It’s more of an art than it is a science.”

He’s making the most of the hybrid schedule. At one point, with all eyes on him, he felt like he was hosting a television show.

“Like I was Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right,’” he joked. “I said to one class, ‘Listen, we’ve got plenty of tickets to Thursday’s show.’”

Alexa Sepulveda, H.Russell Swift Elementary School teacher

Sepulveda has different signs she holds up for her Egg Harbor Township kindergarten students to remind them to click the mute button. The school district started the year with all-remote learning and plans to begin a hybrid model in late October.

“Despite being virtual, we had such a fun first day,” she said. “I wanted to start our day with sharing, so we kicked off our morning by sharing names and a fun thing about ourselves. The kids loved it.”

It did take the students a little while to warm up, but once they felt comfortable, they were excited to share everything with the class.

“I have signs that I hold up to mute and unmute (their microphones) just so they have visual cues, but for the most part they got it,” she said. “I think the problem was they were so excited to share things that they were forgetting to unmute before they talk.”

And while virtual learning went well, she missed the excitement of the first day.

“You can feel it through the computer screen, but it’s just a little bit different,” she said.

Allison Umphlett, Egg Harbor Township High School freshman

Like she would for a regular school day, Umphlett gets up at 6:15 a.m. and gets dressed as if she were headed to the bus. Instead, she stays in her bedroom and logs into class from there.

She has a schedule for virtual learning. Most of her instruction is done in the morning, then she goes for a run and eats lunch before finishing up assignments in the afternoon.

The first day of virtual learning wasn’t too challenging, she said, as the teachers were very clear about what to expect. While she’s disappointed she missed out on the first day of high school in person, she believes she’ll eventually get that experience once the school transitions into a hybrid model.

She misses in-person instruction because of the interaction with people and the overall high school experience.

“I personally want to go back because I’d like to see all of my friends,” she said. “And I like to see and get to know the teachers face to face.”

Adeline Umphlett, Egg Harbor Township High School junior

Adeline feels virtual learning is safer for everyone right now.

“But when we do go to hybrid, I feel like it would be preferred because everyone’s mental health right now is down in the dumps,” said Adeline, Allison’s sister.

Instruction is easier in person as well, she added, explaining that subjects such as math would be easier to learn face to face.

“But I feel like the videos (the teachers) are putting up are really good,” she said.

While she’s unsure how virtual learning will go, she’s hopeful instruction will go smoothly until they can all meet in person again.

Like her sister, she misses interacting with her friends and teachers.

“I feel like learning that way was one of the things that kept us going throughout the school year,” she said. “But the teachers are doing a lot to make us feel like we’re in the classroom.”

Amber Umphlett, mother of two high school students

The mother of Allison and Adeline, Amber trusts her daughters are sticking to their school schedules.

“We had some practice in the spring, and we learned very quickly that a schedule is very important,” she said. “We even prepped a lunch menu, and we’ll pack it the night before as if they’re going to school. All they have to do is get it out of the refrigerator and eat it.”

She works both in-office and virtually, but when she’s at work she and the girls have an accountability system where they check in with each other.

“I’m a tough cookie, and my girls know that I check in with their teachers,” she said. “I let them know that my girls are under the understanding that if they don’t log on and they miss class that I’m the principal now. I can do in-home detention.”

As a parent, she said it’s important to have open lines of communication with her children, no matter what age, to check in with them about their school work.

She had mixed emotions about her daughters starting the school year virtually. For social and emotional reasons, she wished they would have returned to in-person instruction.

“But with everything happening, if this is what the district feels, I feel that they know what’s best,” she said. “We look at it a lot as the glass half full instead of half empty.”

Shannon Crawford, Saint Joseph’s second-grade teacher

While Crawford is teaching in person, she has some students getting their instruction online.

“It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s going fine,” she said. “And they’re all trying to get to know each other and deal with the new normal. We’re doing it, and it’s definitely able to be done.”

In the spring, when all schools went virtual, she missed the connection she made with her students in person.

“I’m a hugger,” she said. “It’s still difficult because I can’t hug them, so I’m missing the same thing.”

While she was a little apprehensive about returning to school full time, she feels safe with all of the safety guidelines in place.

“The kids are wearing masks and the shields, so I feel like we’re covered,” she said. “I don’t feel uncomfortable, which I was kind of afraid might happen, but I’m good.”

There have been no issues with kids keeping their masks and shields on, she said, adding it’s harder for her to teach with everything on her head.

“They’re fine, they are doing a really great job,” she said of her class. “They’re doing better than me. It’s me that has to adjust.”

GALLERY: Wildwood Catholic Academy first day of school

Missamerica
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With 100th anniversary approaching, uncertainty surrounds Miss America

In a perfect world run by most of its supporters, Miss America 2021 would be crowned this weekend in Atlantic City, and the competition would begin celebrating its 100th anniversary.

But unlike the pristine image the pageant likes to portray, all isn’t perfect with this American institution.

For the first year since 2005, there won’t be a new winner crowned due to the cancellation of the competition because of the coronavirus. The organization did not announce a date or location for 2021 and has not made public a location or a date for 2022’s event.

And while the organization says there are plans to celebrate its 100th year, nothing has been officially announced, including any events planned for the birthplace of the pageant — Atlantic City.

“I’m sorry to laugh, but from what I’ve heard, there is not a plan,” said Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles. “I’m very, very disappointed that we are on the brink of a 100th anniversary and there has been nothing to commemorate it in any way.”

On Sept. 8, the Miss America Organization put out a news release celebrating the 99th anniversary of when Margaret Gorman was crowned the first official Miss America in 1921.

“It is truly remarkable to see the Miss America Organization into its 100th year,” said Shantel Krebs, interim CEO and chair of the Board of Trustees, in the release. “Miss America is one of our nation’s most cherished traditions, and as we work toward our centennial celebration, we encourage America to stay tuned. We have a lot of excitement in store for 2021!”

Krebs did not return phone calls or texts for comment for this story. But David Holtzman, executive director and president of Miss New Jersey, said there’s no doubt in his mind big things are coming.

“They are making some positive changes,” said Holtzman, who added the Miss New Jersey competition will be held June 18, 2021, at Resorts Casino Hotel. “I haven’t heard anything finalized yet. We have a lot of time before next year.”

Holtzman said the current Miss America Board of Trustees, led by Krebs and which also includes Absecon resident Barbara J. Moore, is really listening to each of the state pageants for input. That was one of the major complaints about the MAO under previous CEO Regina Hopper and former board Chair Gretchen Carlson.

“They are not going forward and doing anything they want,” Holtzman said. “We are all part of that decision process. That’s really refreshing to see.”

Holtzman hinted that MAO may have something planned before the end of the year to commemorate the anniversary, but “there are just so many questions out there with the pandemic.”

And there’s no doubt COVID-19 has affected Miss America like just about every other nonprofit. But Charles is disappointed the organization hasn’t used the pandemic as an opportunity to do more for women.

“We don’t know what she (current titleholder Camille Schrier) has been doing. Where she is. What she has done with the platform,” Charles said. “Since the world and issues have changed, has she modified her platform to help people in need? Everyone needs something right now.

“Why hasn’t the Miss America Organization done anything to update themselves in reality? ... What are they doing to empathize with people in need right now?”

MAO still provides more scholarship money to women than any other nonprofit in the country, according to Hilary Levey Friedman, a professor and sociologist at Brown University. Schrier received $77,000 in scholarships, according to MAO.

Friedman published a book in July titled “Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America,” and she says the scholarships are one of the reasons Miss America is still relevant.

“I think there are very few popular culture events in the U.S. that are 100 years old ... so it obviously has staying power,” said Friedman, whose mother, Pamela Anne Eldred, was Miss America 1970. “It’s nowhere near as popular as it used to be. I don’t think it has relevance with broader American society. But it has a lot of relevance to the people who participate, both as competitors and volunteers.”

But Charles still has doubts about the future. She said the only recent official correspondence she has received from MAO is a solicitation for donations.

“In a time of COVID-19 and millions of people with unemployment and with the economy in such a dire situation, to ask for money for a pageant seems to be extremely negligent in understanding where we are today as a country,” said the 57-year-old Mays Landing native who now lives in Philadelphia.

Moore said the organization is financially sound.

“We are moving forward as an organization, and you can’t move forward without having funding. I think that’s tell-tale,” said the financial planner and treasurer of the Board of Trustees.

Holtzman agrees, saying he has nothing but positive feelings about the future of the organization.

“A lot of new stuff is going to happen next year. There’s nothing that I see anyone having a problem with,” he said, alluding to changes in recent years to the swimsuit and evening wear portions of the competition. “They are really taking advantage of this extra time. And they probably needed that.”

While the future home of Miss America is still to be determined, Moore said, “there’s always a possibility” the competition could return home.

“I truly, truly feel that this pageant is important to Atlantic City and to so many people’s lives that were volunteers,” the Absecon resident said. “Personally, would I love for it to come home to its foundation? Of course, I would. It’s good for the Atlantic City economy, and it’s good for all the supporters of the organization that love tradition.”

GALLERY: A collection of historical Miss America photos