| Asbury Park Press
Asbury Park protest: Scottie Lewis interview
Asbury Park protest: Scottie Lewis interview
It’s safe to say there’s never been a year when ripping the final page off the calendar will feel quite as satisfying, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting every aspect of life.
But while the impact on the sports world was immense, the games did eventually go on locally, producing memorable and some uplifting moments.
Here are the Asbury Park Press’ picks for the top 15 stories of the past year. Which was your favorite? Please check back later in the week when we will be asking for your imput in identifying the top sports story and rank the best moments at the Jersey Shore in 2020:
High school basketball: Manasquan wins first Shore Conference Tournament in 63 years but state tournaments not completed
After losing to Ranney in the 2019 Shore Conference Tournament boys basketball final, Manasquan would not be denied, blitzing Toms River North from the outset in a dominating 75-49 victory at Monmouth University. Sophomore guard Ben Roy poured in 31 points as the program won its first SCT title in 63 years.
Next was the state tournament but, by the second week of March, spectators were banned from attending games as the pandemic raged. The NJSIAA eventually pulled the plug on the postseason tournaments before the overall state championship games could be played. The spring sports season was also lost and the start of the fall campaign was delayed.
College football: Monmouth season canceled, historic Rutgers-Monmouth game lost
It was to be the most important season in Monmouth football history, with the Hawks, ranked No. 12 nationally among FCS teams at the end of the 2019 season, set to open with a long-anticipated game at Rutgers. But their first-ever trip to SHI Stadium to face the Scarlet Knights was shelved when the Big Ten went to a conference-only schedule. And when the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, where most Monmouth teams other than football compete, canceled the fall season, the school pulled the plug on all sports, with the Big South moving football to the spring.
Monmouth Park: Authentic’s Haskell win highlights shortened racing season
The start of the Monmouth Park meet was delayed two months due to the pandemic. But on July 18, two weeks after opening day, it was trainer Bob Baffert winning his record ninth Haskell with Authentic, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic to all but lock up Horse of the Year honors. In all, Monmouth Park had 44 days of racing through the end of October, down from the original 56-day calendar.
High school football: Wall defeats Donovan Catholic for unofficial Shore Conference crown
In a truncated high school football season with no division titles or state championships up for grabs, one of the positives that emerged was the ability to crown an unofficial Shore Conference champion using the NJSIAA-mandated four-team pods that local leagues assembled for the final two games of the season. In the Shore Conference super pod, featuring the top teams from Monmouth and Ocean Counties, it was top-ranked Wall scoring a fourth quarter touchdown before sealing an 18-15 victory over Donovan Catholic with a dramatic goal-line stand.
Greg Schiano wins his return game at Rutgers
It was the most anticipated season-opener since Rutgers played that first-ever college football game against Princeton back in 1869, as coach Greg Schiano returned to the Scarlet Knights’ sideline for the first time since leaving the program for the NFL after the 2011 season. When the Big Ten’s conference-only schedule got underway on Oct. 24, Rutgers, which had lost 21 straight conference games and hadn’t won a Big Ten road game since 2016, went to Michigan State and pulled off a stunning 38-27 victory in East Lansing, Michigan.
High school wrestling: Dean Peterson of St. John Vianney repeats as state champion
St. John Vianney junior Dean Peterson completed his second straight perfect season with a 1-0 victory over Brick Memorial’s Vincent Santaniello in the 120-pound final at the NJSIAA Championships in Atlantic City. It was Peterson’s 72nd consecutive win since losing in the 106-pound state final as a freshman. Peterson, who has committed to wrestle at Princeton, is the only St. John Vianney wrestler to ever win a state title.
Shavar Reynolds continues storybook rise: Seton Hall positioned for March Madness run, dreams dashed by pandemic
The former walk-on from Manchester has emerged as one of the Pirates best players. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard gave the hard-working son of a now-retired Navy chief a scholarship after Reynolds nearly dropped out of school because of the cost after his freshman year, and the rest is history. Reynolds and his teammates were poised to make a run in last year’s NCAA Tournament, where they were expected to be a No. 3 seed, before March Madness, as well as the Big East Tournament, were canceled by the pandemic.
BlueClaws season canceled, change name from Lakewood to Jersey Shore
Since the inaugural season in 2001, the Lakewood BlueClaws had established themselves as part of the fabric of the Jersey Shore. But FirstEnergy Park was empty last summer, along with every minor league stadium in the country, as the pandemic shut down baseball below the major league level. In October, the team’s name was changed to Jersey Shore BlueClaws, which the team said was done to better represent its place within the Monmouth and Ocean Countiy community.
Last Dance baseball tournament’s inspiring summer run
It started out as a way to get high school baseball players back on the diamond over the summer after the spring sports season was canceled. And what grew into a 220-team statewide event turned into an inspiring blueprint for what was possible as league’s struggled to restart during the pandemic. There were a few hiccups along the way during the event’s 18-day run in July, but most games were played. In the end, it was the team from Jackson Memorial reaching the championship game and finishing as runner-up to Cranford.
Ranney basketball coach Tahj Holden’s son Max, 3, dies after cancer fight March 25
During the Ranney School’s incredible two-year run that culminated with the Panthers winning the 2019 NJSIAA NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title, it was was Max Holden, the young son of Ranney head coach Tahj Holden, who provided the inspiration. Max Holden was diagnosed in early March of 2018 with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that mainly affects infants and young children. Ranney players donned Max Strong t-shirts and the MaxStrong non-profit foundation was set up to aid others with pediatric cancer. Max Holden lost his two-year battle on March 24.
U.S. Olympic bobsledder from Toms River dies by suicide May 10
Pavel “Paul” Jovanovic, a football standout at Toms River East, began an odyssey that would take him to the 2006 Winter Olympics by pushing a bobsled on a track down the Seaside Heights boardwalk in a 1995 tryout. Jovanovic committed suicide on May 3, 2020, with the sport of bobsledding now confronting mounting evidence of brain injuries caused by sliding sports.
Scottie Lewis, area basketball players protest killing of George Floyd
Former Ranney star Scottie Lewis, now a sophomore at the University of Florida, stepped into the social justice arena following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Lewis used his PeaceByU activist group to organize a peaceful protest in Asbury Park on June 5, which began with police officers and protestors kneeling and praying together. Joining Lewis on the march were Rutgers players Ron Harper Jr., Akwasi Yeboah and Luke Nathan, and Mater Dei Prep alum and Princeton senior Elijah Barnes.
Maggie Haney, Jersey Shore-based coach of Olympic gymnasts, suspended
The sport of gymnastics has been plagued by scandal in recent years, with the conviction of former national team doctor Larry Nassar on abuse charges putting high-level gymnastics under a microscope. It trickled down to the Jersey Shore this summer when former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Maggie Haney, based in Marlboro, was suspended by USA Gymnastics for eight years in April for physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Haney, who coached Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez and world champion Riley McCusker, has since had the suspension reduced to five years.
Top New Jersey horse trainers head list of 27 indicted for doping
Jorge Navarro, the top trainer at Monmouth Park for six straight years, and Jason Servis, an Oceanport regular who won the 2019 Haskell with Maximum Security, were the most identifiable figures among a group of 27 people indicted on March 9 after a year’s long FBI investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs in horse racing. It was the latest blow to the racing industry, which has had its safety record scrutinized since a spike in horse deaths at Santa Anita in early 2019.
Settlement in case of ex-Neptune player who died of heatstroke in Kansas
It was two years to the day after former Neptune football player Braeden Bradforth died of heatstroke during a conditioning session at Garden City (Kansas) Community College that the school announced a settlement on Aug. 1. For the previous 24 months, Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, had spearheaded the fight for answers and accountability for those responsible at the Kansas school, which had repeatedly denied blame in Bradforth’s death.
Be sure to check back later this week, when we will be asking readers to vote on what they think was the top Jersey Shore sports story of 2020.