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Community comes together to keep Wildwood Crest tradition alive in 2020

WILDWOOD CREST — A beloved tradition looked likely to be put on hold for 2020, like so many others, but a group of families refused to let it go.

“The whole community came together to make sure this project continued,” said Madden Fuscellaro, an eighth grader at the Crest Memorial School.

Each year on Sept. 10, students at the school plant more than 1,200 American flags on every corner in the community. The flags are placed at dusk, so when residents wake on the morning of Sept. 11, the patriotic display is in place throughout town, according to Madden’s mother, Toni Fuscellaro.

Borough Commissioner Joyce Gould started Flags for Freedom in 2002, the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. For the tiny seashore community, the loss was palpable and personal: Andrew Alameno grew up in Wildwood Crest. He died while at work as a stock trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

About 10 years ago, Gould turned the project over to Jeannine Yecco, the technology teacher at the school. Both agreed the project was a better fit for the school. Social Studies teacher Lisa Travascio took over the project, connecting it to lessons on the attacks, Yecco said.

Each year, the teachers turned to local businesses for financial help.

“This year, however, we thought that local businesses have suffered enough, and we did not want to ask them for anything given the dire economic consequences of COVID-19. Moreover, our school is not holding any afterschool activities for the foreseeable future,” Yecco wrote in an email. “Add to that the fact that asking students to go out in the evening necessitates the ‘buddy system,’ and the result is the realization that Flags for Freedom is yet another COVID casualty.”

On Aug. 28, Yecco posted to the school’s Facebook page that Flags for Freedom would not take place this year. She encouraged community members to buy their own flags. And while the event may not be held the way it had been traditionally, it will still happen.

“The response from parents and community members has been nothing short of amazing,” said Yecco. “Not only have several individuals come forward to foot the bill for the flags, but families of students of all ages, even some families who no longer have students in the school, are up to claim the streets they want to handle.”

Madden Fuscellaro offered to spearhead the project this year. She said hearing about Sept. 11 from Susan Haury, a teacher at Crest Memorial School, had a strong effect on him. Haury is the sister of Alameno. Madden thought of his own brothers, Crew and Rider, and how he would feel if something were to happen to either of them. The attacks took place before he or his brothers were born, but because of his teacher, he feels strongly about observing the day.

“It was just so hard for her. It’s really important that we remember what happened,” Madden said.

He has also participated in an essay contest, with his essay chosen to be read during the 2019 Sept. 11 memorial service.

Wildwood Crest plans to hold its 9/11 memorial service at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Miami and New Jersey avenues, adjacent to Sunset Lake. Community and religious leaders are set to speak, as are local first responders. Those attending are encouraged to wear masks and observe social distancing guidelines, according to a statement from the borough.

Toni Fuscellaro, a member of the Crest Board of Education, said having lost a native son, the community takes its observation of Sept. 11 seriously and plans it carefully. She grew up in Wildwood Crest and lived in North Jersey in 2001, while attending law school at Seton Hall University. Her husband, Seth, worked in New York. She describes seeing her neighbors who worked in lower Manhattan return home covered in dust and soot from the towers, sometimes the next day. Her husband was heading into work, but never reached the city.

“He was listening to Howard Stern and had to turn around,” she said.

She said Crest families, hers included, wanted to make sure the flags were in place this year and every year to come.

“The whole community came together to make sure that this project continued,” she said. Instead of students with buddies putting the flags in place, she said it will now be families working together to avoid the chance of spreading the coronavirus.

“It really became a family project this year. I have a feeling it’s going to stay that way,” she said.

South Jersey plans memorials, services in remembrance of 9/11

St. Joseph Academy football has no home field advantage

HAMMONTON — The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs most high school sports in the state, may have cleared the way for competition this fall, but St. Joseph Academy has some unintended hurdles to clear before its teams can take the field next month.

The Diocese of Camden announced in April the closure of St. Joseph, citing financial concerns and declining enrollment. Support by alumni and the community allowed the school to remain open under a new name. St. Joseph Academy is not associated with the diocese.

But St. Joseph still has an issue.

The diocese will not allow the school to access its athletic fields on Wood Street, which now are just overgrown weeds and grass.

“That’s a question for them,” St. Joseph athletic director Anne Marie Mercado said when asked why the diocese, which owns the fields, would not let them return to or rent the property. “I have no idea why.”

Mike Walsh, director of communications for the diocese, said it has not stood in the way of St. Joseph Academy reopening.

“When notified by community members in Hammonton that they would attempt to open a new school called Saint Joseph Academy, the diocese took no position on the matter and no attempts were ever made to create barriers to opening the school,” Walsh said in a statement. “Any decisions related to the property of the former Saint Joseph High School, Saint Joseph Elementary School and associated properties will be made to pay off the enormous debts that both former schools continue to carry.”

The Wildcats football team is currently practicing on the field next to the school building on Vine Street, which the school is leasing from the Hammonton Board of Education.

But the team does not have a field to host its opponents when the shortened season starts. The Wildcats are scheduled to host Holy Spirit on Oct. 2.

The field hockey team also does not have a field to play on this season.

St. Joseph is waiting for approval to play both football and field hockey games at the Hammonton Middle School fields, Mercado said.

“If not, then it’s a shortened season, so we will just play them all away,” Mercado said. “With the time frame we are getting to get the school ready, we just don’t have enough time to establish our own fields. But that’s coming in the future.”

Adjacent to the practice football field at the Vine Street school are two softball fields, which have large outfields and could be used for field hockey games.

The boys and girls soccer teams are practicing at the Boyer Avenue Recreational Park. Both teams will play their games there this fall.

“The hard part is for the kids,” Mercado said. “They have been through the closing of the school, an emotional roller coaster, the pandemic, and having sports and socializing ripped from them. They have been through so much.

“But they are Wildcats. They are fighters. We will get through this.”

The most frustrating part? The fields aren’t even being used.

“I just don’t understand,” said longtime St. Joseph football coach Paul Sacco, who added the school attempted to purchase the fields and the now-empty elementary school on Third Street, which has a full-sized gym that the basketball teams use and will affect them this winter.

The diocese denied the offer, he said.

“It’s one thing if the gym and fields were sold. But they are just sitting there collecting weeds and dust. If it’s about money, why are you not renting them out or leasing them?” Sacco asked. “Why would you deny our kids that opportunity to get that field back and play?“

The football team does have access to its weight room on Vine Street.

Sacco, the winningest high school football coach in South Jersey, who led the Wildcats to 20 state titles since the Non-Public playoffs began in 1993, also recently wrote a lengthy note to The Press of Atlantic City and other media outlets on the issue. He called out diocesan leadership, claiming they were determined to shut down the school and his team because they have been “against the football program and me directly.”

“I cannot think of any plausible reason for its animosity towards me and this program,” Sacco wrote. “I have always tried to teach the boys more than football.”

Walsh disagreed with Sacco’s assessment.

“Coach Paul Sacco’s love for his football team and the Saint Joseph High School community is well known,” Walsh said. “The diocese has never had any desire to close Saint Joseph High School or any of the dozens of schools that have been closed in the diocese over the last 20 years.”

The diocese spent millions of dollars supporting Saint Joseph for decades, Walsh said, only to see its enrollment decline by nearly half from 387 in 1999-2000 to 206 in 2019-20.

Sacco just wants a place for his kids to play, even if it’s not the nicest field. Mercado agreed.

“It really makes no sense why we can’t use them if we are willing to pay for them,” Mercado said. “But there is also a solution to every problem. It’s about finding it and going with it.”

GALLERY: St. Joe road to the state finals

CRDA funds boost Atlantic City 9/11 ceremony

ATLANTIC CITY — For the past 10 years, the Saracini-O’Neill AC911 Memorial organization has been dedicated to preserving the memory of the 2,977 people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The memorial was a joint effort among the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the city and Bob Pantalena, the founder of the Saracini-O’Neill AC911 organization, but the all-volunteer group has kept the annual ceremony alive during the past decade.

In July, the CRDA voted to spend $17,005 to sustain the memorial and support the ceremony.

The first ceremony that will see the impact of some of the CRDA money starts at 10 a.m. Friday at the Saracini-O’Neill Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial at Jackson Avenue and the Boardwalk.

“My intent was to have that (the $17,005) cover us until we could raise enough money to sustain ourselves,” Pantalena said. “For eight years, I spent money out of my pocket, supplemented by my friends. I reluctantly agreed with a friend to apply to CRDA for funding.”

The $17,005 grant has to be spent within a year’s time, so the money will directly impact this year’s and next year’s ceremonies, Pantalena said.

Pantalena’s organization also creates a field of 1,000 flags for Patriot Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and the day of the Atlantic City Airshow. The flags need to be replenished because of wind and rain. At least 40 flags are planted at the 9/11 memorial itself, Pantalena said.

The organization loans out a 30-foot-by-60-foot polyester flag and a 15-foot-by-25-foot tattered flag. Some of the money will be used by the organization to buy more flags, Pantalena said.

During Friday’s ceremony, four South Jersey Sept. 11 victims will be honored:

• Victor Saracini, 51, who grew up in the Ducktown section of Atlantic City and graduated from Atlantic City High School. He captained United Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. He lived in Yardley, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Ellen, and his two daughters.

• John P. O’Neill, 49, grew up in Atlantic City and graduated from Holy Spirit High School in Absecon. A former FBI counter-terrorism expert, he headed the investigations into the bombing of the USS Cole and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A few weeks before the attacks, O’Neill took over as director of security at the World Trade Center.

• Patricia Cody, 46, moved to Brigantine with her husband, Tom, six months before the attacks. Cody kept a vacation home in Brigantine for years. A managing director at Marsh and McLennan Insurers, she was attending a meeting on Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center.

• Andrew Alameno, 37, of Wildwood Crest, worked on the 104th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center as a money-market trader for Cantor Fitzgerald.

In addition to commemorating those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, the ceremony will honor “heroes among us,” Pantalena said:

• Francis Joseph Kelly, who came to Atlantic City at age 19 to live and work with his aunt, Marie Murphy, owner of Murphy Vending in Atlantic City. Kelly was killed in action at 24 on the USS Buck when it was ambushed by German U-boat 616 on Oct. 9, 1943.

• Robert Patrick Shellem, 18, was from the Venice Park neighborhood of Atlantic City and was born, raised and educated in the resort. He died on April 28, 1968, at 19 in the vicinity of Quang Nam in Vietnam when he pushed two team members out of the way of a live grenade but was killed by it.

• George Peter Nestor graduated from Atlantic City Trade School in 1937. He spent 28 years in the Army and ended his career as a major. He was an Atlantic City firefighter. He died at age 90 on Nov. 22, 2006.

• Francis X. McCormac, who has lived for the past 16 years in Ocean City, is 99. He landed at Omaha Beach seven days after D-Day in June 1944 in France. He spent time in Germany and participated in the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 in Belgium.

• Ernest J. Tarsitano was born and raised in the inlet neighborhood of Atlantic City. He joined the Ventnor City Fire Department in 1985 and currently lives in Galloway Township. Tarsitano, who was a retired firefighter at the time, saved the life of 72-year-old Roderick Cormier, who was semiconscious in a burning Galloway motel room, in 2018.

PHOTOS from Ocean City's Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony

breaking top story
Sweeney wants Orsted wind energy pact suspended as state embarks on more projects

As the state moved Wednesday to expand its offshore wind program, Senate President Steve Sweeney and two assemblymen asked the Board of Public Utilities to suspend its approval of Orsted’s project off Atlantic City, saying the company has not kept promises about economic development in their district.

It happened the same day the BPU voted to open the application window for the state’s second solicitation of offshore wind capacity, in which it will award between 1,200 and 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind energy.

In a letter to BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso, Sweeney and Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, all D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, also requested an “investigation into potential misrepresentations that Orsted made in its application to the NJ Board of Public Utilities.”

An Orsted spokesperson said the company was surprised by the letter.

“We are still in the early stages of building the state’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm,” said Lauren Burm, head of public affairs, communications and sustainability for Orsted’s offshore programs. “The process from start to finish is about seven years, and we are well on our way toward carefully and mindfully delivering on our $695 million in-state spend commitment.”

The Ocean Wind project, which is planned for 15 miles southeast of Atlantic City, is the only offshore wind project currently approved by the state.

Also Wednesday, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the BPU approved agreements to make about $4.5 million available to support workforce development for the offshore wind industry, and $1.25 million to support early-stage, New Jersey-based clean-tech companies.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said Sweeney and the assemblymen could delay and hurt offshore wind energy in the state.

“We don’t believe that their concerns are valid given the need for renewable energy and the jobs that it will create off our coast,” Tittel said. “Even if there is some merit to their argument, they shouldn’t be using it to delay or stop offshore wind.”

Gov. Phil Murphy has set a goal of 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy in New Jersey by 2035, enough to power 3.2 million homes.

Orsted’s Ocean Wind project was chosen in 2019 by the BPU to receive ratepayer subsidies to develop the state’s first offshore wind farm, to generate 1,100 megawatts of power at full capacity.

It was picked, in part, because Orsted promised to create 15,000 jobs over its 25-year lifespan, power 500,000 homes and provide $1.17 billion in net economic benefits to New Jersey through jobs and siting of supply chain businesses.

Burzichelli said Wednesday evening the three legislators are concerned about “a lack of progress and the inability for them (Orsted) to get agreements in place for what will be the basis of jobs in New Jersey.”

He said they are particularly concerned that Orsted’s promised agreement with a German firm to locate a factory for manufacturing monopole foundations in Salem County has not materialized. Monopoles are the foundations for the large wind turbines.

Construction is expected to begin soon and be completed by 2024, but the company is still awaiting federal approval.

Burm said the company is “disappointed by this unexpected turn of events, but we remain focused on the jobs, economic development and environmental benefits of offshore wind in New Jersey. We are committed to delivering on all of our commitments in our bid to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.”

In total, the Ocean Wind project will cost ratepayers $1.6 billion over 20 years, according to Kelly Mooij, deputy director of the BPU’s Division of Clean Energy.

That breaks down to a $1.46 increase on New Jersey residential customers’ monthly bills, the BPU has said.

State Senate president Steve Sweeney presents former New Jersey Governor Jim Florio with the Hughes Center’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award during the Thursday night ceremony. (Nov 14, 2019)

Bob Pantalena, who is founder and co-director of the Saracini-O’Neill Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial Ceremony. Pantalena’s “Happy Places” are his bedroom, den/office, living room and the Vassar Square gym Monday Jan 13, 2020. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City