This is our fourth edition of the South Jersey High School Athletics Spotlight series and we take a closer look at Middle Township High School.  Last week, we brought you inside Ocean City High School and previous weeks took a closer look at Absegami High School and Mainland Regional Athletics.  We will do similar profiles of other local High School Athletics here in South Jersey in the coming weeks.

While Middle Township High School has a smaller student population compared to other regional public schools like Ocean City High School and Mainland Regional, their facilities and community support is on par with the other schools in the Cape Atlantic League.  Located adjacent to the Garden State Parkway, Middle Township High School is connected to the Performing Arts Center in Cape May Court House. It's a few minutes' walk from "The PAC" to the Basketball Gym where the Boys and Girls Basketball teams play.

Located in the heart of Cape May County, Middle Township Athletic Facilities and Fields are just a few minutes off the Garden State Parkway and in the world before the COVID-19 Lockdowns, this was a great asset for the School.  Middle Township Assistant Principle of Athletics Dr. Sharon Rementers spoke to 973 ESPN about how the school is trying to get back to normal as much as possible compared to last year:

"Last year geography was said to be a factor with (playing) games, thus (Middle Township played) Cape Atlantic League schools only in our areas. But this year we played everyone we could and tried to operate as normal (and) as best we could. We owed it to the kids to give them the best we could and I believe they appreciated the efforts. The fans were back, the parents were there, the student sections were back. The fall season was a success; The kids and coaches just wanted to play and they did just that."

As it should be, Middle Township High School understands High School Sports is about the students first and Athletics are something to enrich the Student's experience in their development from Teenagers to Young Adults. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 Lockdowns in 2020, it is a delicate balance for High Schools to give their students the best experience with Athletics while also keeping up with all the COVID-19 Protocols that must be enforced by state law. Dr. Rementers talked about how Middle Township plans on striking this delicate balance for the Winter Sports season:

"Our job as Athletic Directors first and foremost is to provide a safe environment for the athletes and fans. Winter in a normal year brings upon different challenges in general anyway and tack on COVID concerns, the stress mounts. However, at Middle Township we are operating as normal the best we can. Fortunately, we plan to stream most winter sporting events so if you are not comfortable coming into the building (with a mask on) then you have the luxury of watching the game in the comfort of your own home."

This Winter Sports season at Middle Township will have many eyes on Basketball; The Boys' Basketball team is starting a new era with former Panthers Star Player LaMarr Greer taking over for one of the winningest coaches in South Jersey history, Tom Feraco.  Dr. Rementer tells 973 ESPN about new Head Boys' Basketball Coach Greer:

"LaMarr is not only an amazing person but he is completely invested in the program, the Student-Athletes, and the community. When you have a coach of his level it's an obvious decision. I can't wait to see his successes this year and beyond."

While LaMarr Greer steps into the void of one of the most famous High School Coaches in Cape May County, on the Girls' Basketball sidelines walks another great coach who is still winning games each and every year: John Leahy. Coach Leahy won his 300th game just a couple of months before the COVID-19 Lockdowns in 2020 and he spoke to 973 ESPN about the milestone:

"The 300 win mark is a program accomplishment in my opinion. I have been very fortunate to have an outstanding group of assistant coaches through the years and have coached some great kids. We have tried to establish a winning culture and when you have success as a team, the individual accolades usually follow. I have a tremendous support system and I'm very proud of the program we have built at Middle Township."

Like other High Schools, Middle Township had many challenges during the 2020-21 Academic Year, and for sports like Girls' Basketball, having some normalcy this current school year is important for everyone says head Girls' Basketball Coach John Leahy:

"Having the students back in school has definitely been nice and given everyone a sense of normalcy. Basketball season was very tough last year because there was so much uncertainty going into the season in terms of COVID-19 (Protocols like) Quarantine, Social Distancing, etc. I'm hopeful this year will be better since people have been vaccinated and we are all more knowledgeable and know what to expect."

For anyone who has ever attended a Basketball game at Middle Township High School, you can see that the support for the Girls' Basketball team is real and not just an afterthought. Coach Leahy spoke to 973 ESPN about the support from the Middle Township Athletics Community:

"There's no question that in recent years, female athletics have gotten way more notoriety across the board at all levels. I feel like the Middle Township community has always been supportive of female athletics; But I always tell the girls that if they want people to come to the games, we have to keep winning. More wins usually translates to bigger crowds."

Coaching longevity is not just a part of Middle Township Basketball programs but is also a staple of the Panthers Football Program with Head Coach Frank Riggitano. He has been at Middle Township High School as either teacher, coach, or administrator since 1986 and when the 2021 Panthers Football team started 3-0 this year, it was the first time they started a season 3-0 since 1992, and Coach Riggitano coached that team too! Frank Riggitano spoke to 973 ESPN about the differences between coaching Middle Township in the 1990s compared to this era of High School Sports:

"Today’s athletes are a product of their environment. Unfortunately, I feel that so many things have been constructed to put emphasis on individual accomplishments both in sports and society. Gone are the days where people do things for the common good. This year’s group of football players has been very different and that has been a major contributor to the team’s success (this season). This team is not a “Me First” group and reminds me so much of the teams I coached in the early 1990’s. Those teams didn’t question what offense or defense you ran unlike parents, players, and even assistant coaches in today’s sports world. I have been very fortunate with this year’s coaching staff and some assistant coaches in the past. But I have also had those who thought they knew more than everyone else. When I started coaching 36 years ago, I listened and learned; That’s not the case with many younger coaches today. Television and social media apps have made this job more difficult. Some parents and players just don’t understand how hard it is and the commitment it takes to play college football at any level, not just Division 1. It is a full-time job and requires so much time and effort, it always has."

The 2021 Middle Township Football season came to an end in the Central Group 2 Quarterfinal Round of the NJSIAA Playoffs with a loss to Haddonfield after an impressive 6-1 season. Head Football Coach Riggitano talked about how this season was closer to normal than what everyone dealt with in Fall of 2020:

"We did have a few COVID-19 situations this fall which caused us to lose players for some time. However, for the most part, things were as normal as they could be. We tried to maintain some of the policies that were put in place from the year before. The hardest thing was making adjustments for inside activities like weight lifting and film sessions. Those things took twice the time because we had to limit the size of the gatherings, but the kids understood why and it actually made the staff be more thorough with details. We only have four coaches besides myself, so one on one instruction is very difficult."

Coming out of the COVID-19 Lockdowns we all had questions and different levels of uncertainty about how quickly life can get "back to normal" but Middle Township High School is another example of how when you have your priorities in the right order, you can continue to do more than just make the best of things. As Dr. Sharon Rementers explains to 973 ESPN, the investment in the Student-Athletes goes beyond the coaches and the school's administration is also invested in giving the young athletes the best at Middle Township:

"Working for Middle Township has been such a rewarding experience. I am absolutely invested in the school, putting the kids first, their experiences, and their successes. I enjoy putting events on that they will remember for years to come. I already have a few events planned for this (school) year which is exciting. Long term goals (at Middle Township I hope includes) talks about a future turf field at Middle Township become reality, the possibility of a larger state of the art fitness center, and (we are) looking to recognize a few former athletes who accomplished big things at Middle and beyond."

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