Happy New Year, everyone!

From the stadiums in South Philly to the beaches in South Jersey, the local sports arenas were filled with amazing efforts by various teams and athletes.  Some made comebacks, others continued a pattern of excellence, and a few even made history as part of a series of incredible and inspiring performances in 2023.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure to witness and chronicle some of these achievements as a columnist for  I’m really looking forward to bringing you even more stories from the local sports landscape in 2024.

Before we turn the calendar to a new year, however, let's take a look back. Here's one man's opinion, in reverse order, of the top 10 local sports stories of 2023.

10. Saluting the flag: Several local high schools made history by participating in girls flag football last Spring.  Absegami, Cedar Creek, Middle Township and Ocean City were among the programs to field teams. More are expected this year, since the NJSIAA designated girls flag football as a pilot sport for at least the next two springs. The goal is for it to become a full-fledged varsity sport.

9. Brigantine wins South Jersey Lifeguard Championship: Jack Savell won the singles row and teamed with younger brother Joe to win the doubles race to help the Brigantine Beach Patrol win the 83rd South Jersey Lifeguard Championships in August. Brigantine won the team title for the first time in over 30 years; It was Brigantine's first win since 1992, when it shared the title with Avalon and Ocean City. Brigantine's last outright win came in 1979. Atlantic City Beach Patrol’s Charles Schreiner, 17 years old, won the swim this summer

8. New SJSSBL champ crowned: The Margate Hurricanes were used to winning championships as members of the Atlantic County Baseball League. They continued that pattern of success upon joining the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League last summer. The Hurricanes won the league title by beating the Northfield Cardinals in the Best-of-Three playoffs. The 10-team league is due to expand in 2024 with former ACBL member Lower Township Whalers joining.

7. Mainland player picks and chooses: Mainland Regional High School senior defensive back Jamie Tyson had the most interceptions in the entire state this fall. Tyson recorded 12 interceptions – which tied the South Jersey single-season record – and returned four of those picks for touchdowns. He helped the Mustangs win the Group III State championship.

6. Back to the Big Leagues: A pair of local baseball players – Atlantic City High School graduate Brett Kennedy and Millville Grad Buddy Kennedy (no relation) joined Millville standout Mike Trout in the Major Leagues this season. Brett Kennedy, a right-handed pitcher from Brigantine, made his first big-league appearance since 2018 when he pitched for the Cincinnati Reds on July 4. He wound up making five appearances for the Reds, recording a 6.50 ERA with 9 strikeouts in 18 innings. Buddy Kennedy appeared in 10 games for the St. Louis Cardinals and batted .157 (4-for-24) with a double and 4 walks.

5. Big-time Boxing returns to Atlantic City: Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom was the site of Atlantic City’s first world title fight in a year and a half last July. IBF welterweight champion Jaron Ennis defended his belt with a 10th-round TKO over Venezuela’s Roiman Villa. It was the first title fight held in Atlantic City since January 22, 2022 and the first at Boardwalk Hall since April of 2019.

4. Pacheco wins Super Bowl ring: Vineland High School grad Isiah Pacheco became the first player from a Cape-Atlantic League school to play in a Super Bowl since Ocean City High School’s Doug Colman in 1999. Pacheco helped the Chiefs beat the Eagles 38-35 in Super Bowl LVII last February 12th. Pacheco is exceling for the Chiefs again this season as one of five locals in the NFL. He was joined this season by Cowboys safety Markquese Bell (Bridgeton), Chargers Defensive Tackle Austin Johnson (St. Augustine Prep, Galloway Township), Packers Wide Receiver Bo Melton (Cedar Creek) and most recently, Panthers offensive lineman J.D. DiRenzo (St. Joseph of Hammonton).

3. ShopRite LPGA Classic draws big crowds again: The area’s top local sports event – the annual ShopRite LPGA Classic – once again featured an impressive rally. Ashleigh Buhai shot a final-round 65 to overcome a three-shot deficit to win the tournament at Seaview Golf Club in Galloway Township. The tournament returns to Seaview on June 3-9, 2024.

2. Phillies falls short in playoffs: The Phillies saw their bid for a second straight World Series appearance end with a stunning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series. The Phillies owned a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, but the DBacks rallied to win the final two games at Citizens Bank Park, including a 4-2 win in Game 7. The Phils are again expected to be contenders in 2024.

1. Fly, Eagles, Fly: The Eagles started the 2023 calendar year with a postseason run that ended with a 38-35 loss to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. They are ending the year looking capable of making another strong playoff run. Despite a three-game losing streak this month, the Birds have already clinched a playoff berth and have a great chance of winning the NFC East for a second straight season. The 49ers appear to be the favorites to win the conference, but the Eagles are also considered contenders behind Quarterback Jalen Hurts, Wide Receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, along with one of the best place-kickers in the NFL, Jake Elliott.

Checkout These South Jersey Craft Drinks To Pair With Your Christmas and New Year's Holidays

As you make plans for the Christmas and New Year's Holidays and you think about what adult drinks to purchase, why not support local businesses while you drink this holiday season?  Here are some options that you can find at Cape May County Craft Producers that you can bring to Christmas Dinner and New Year's Eve Parties.  Whether or not you share any with your family members, that is your prerogative.

Gallery Credit: Josh Hennig/Townsquare Media

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