This is the best time of year for local sports fans.

This week marks the start of a six-week stretch that features a variety of high school, college and professional events in the area.  High school basketball gets into full swing this week with the opening rounds of the state tournament.

On the boys side, look for Middle Township – which won the Cape-Atlantic League tournament for the first time since 1998 – to make a charge in South Jersey Group 2.

The defending-champion Panthers, coached by former Middle and Florida State standout LaMarr Greer, are the top seed in a loaded bracket that includes perennial powers Camden (No. 2 seed) and Haddonfield (4 seed), as well as No. 5 seed Lower Cape May Regional.

In Group 3, Mainland Regional and Ocean City are the top two seeds. They split their two earlier meetings this season, including a 55-50 Mustangs win in the CAL semifinals.

Wildwood, the No. 4 seed in South Jersey Group 1, has traditionally been a contender in its division. Defending Group 4 champion Egg Harbor Township is seeded 14th this year.

Sadly, Atlantic City will not get an opportunity to compete in the Group 4 tournament. The Vikings would have been a threat for a sectional title but were disqualified from the tournament after a controversial incident in early January.

Atlantic City had five players leave the bench during a brief altercation in a game against Mainland. No punches were thrown and no technical fouls were issued, but according to an NJSIAA rule, teams who have three players leave the bench during a game are automatically banned from the state tournament. The state denied the Vikings’ appeal.

In girls' basketball, CAL tournament winner Mainland is the top seed in Group 3 while Wildwood, Middle, and Wildwood Catholic are No. 2 seeds in Group 1, 2 and Non-Public B, respectively.

Middle and Ocean City are the defending champions. The Red Raiders are the 14th seed in Group 3 this year after beating Mainland in last year’s South Jersey final.

Most of the area’s top wrestlers are competing in the Region 8 tournament this week at Egg Harbor Township High School. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to the state individual championships at James Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

That group includes a pair of undefeated grapplers in Lower Cape May sophomore Chase Hansen at 132 pounds and Ocean City senior Nick Layton at 175.  Hansen (35-0) was named Outstanding Wrestler of the District 32 tournament and carries an 81-2 career record.

Girls wrestlers will compete in the South Region tournament this weekend at Pennsauken High School in hopes of earning berths in the state tourney at Boardwalk Hall.

Cedar Creek’s Riley Lerner, who last year became the first local girls wrestler to win a state title, is vying for a repeat title. She competes at 120 pounds. Ocean City’s Olivia Guy (107 pounds), Absegami’s Lamiah Berry (132), and Buena Regional’s Shea Aretz (132), are all contenders.

College basketball fans will be heading to the boardwalk for the fifth consecutive year on March 12-16 for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournaments for men’s and women’s basketball.

Quinnipiac is currently in first place in the men’s standings with an 11-3 conference record, followed by Fairfield (10-5), Niagara (10-5) and Marist (9-5).  Fairfield leads the women’s standings at 14-0.

Professional boxing hits the area on March 2 with a card at Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City.  Former IBF super-featherweight champion Tevin Farmer (32-5-1, 7 KOs) is scheduled to headline the show. Pleasantville welterweight Anthony Young (23-3, 8 KOs) is also slated to fight.

On March 30, the UFC returns to Atlantic City for the first time in six years with a card at Boardwalk Hall. The main event will pit flyweight contenders Erin Blanchfield (6-0) vs. Manon Fiorot (6-0).

UFC Fight Night will be the organization’s 10th event in Atlantic City and first since April 21, 2018, when lightweight Kevin Lee defeated Edson Barbosa via fifth-round TKO.


Besides those events, you can also count on seeing me later this month at the Atlantic City Boat Show at the Convention Center.

I visit it every year as an homage to my late father-in-law Charles Newton. Upon marrying his daughter, Karen, in 1982, I enjoyed several fishing trips off the coast of Cape May with him and his good friend the late John Bell aboard the “Shirley E.” which was named after my late mother-in-law.

We occasionally caught a keeper flounder, but always had fun regardless.

Since those trips in the mid-1980s, my only fishing experience was aboard “Krazy Salts” during the Mid-Atlantic a few years ago.

Actually, I did no fishing.  My role was to stay out of the way and drink shots of Fireball with the crew. But the experience of being 100 miles out in the Atlantic, was one I’ll never forget.

I grew up riding Steger’s rafts and bodysurfing in the waves in Cape May and still go almost every day in the summer and fall, but the water is different out there.

It’s a place where all the canyons are grand, where white and blue marlin play hide-and-seek with anglers in a deep blue ocean.

Poseidon has a heck of a playground.

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