Millville, NJ Student-Athletes Still Thriving On and Off the Field
This is our fifth edition of the South Jersey High School Athletics Spotlight series and we take a closer look at Millville High School. Before Thanksgiving, we brought you inside Middle Township High School and previous weeks took a closer look at Ocean City High School along with 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.
Even though the local schools in this region are members of the Cape Atlantic League, what some people forget is that schools from Cumberland County are also a part of the High School Athletics field of competition. Millville Senior High School is located about 20 minutes west of the Cape May County Border and just minutes off Exit 24 on Route 55 North.
The oldest High School Football Rivalry Game in the state of New Jersey is the annual Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Millville Thunderbolts and the Vineland Fighting Clan. Millville High School Athletics Pride dates back to 1893 and the school has seen championships in Football along with Girl's Track in the last decade. Millville Athletic Director Dave LaGamba spoke to 973 ESPN about the pride with Thunderbolts' Athletics:
"First, we are very proud that (three-time American League MVP award winner) Mike Trout is from Millville and that he played sports and graduated from Millville High School. His success at the professional level is definitely something we embrace and is part of the reason Millville High School Athletics has such a great reputation. The recent success of our Football team and Girls Track team and the football rivalry with Vineland being one of the oldest rivalry games in the country, these are definitely (examples of) things that we embrace and they help to tell the story of why Millville High School has such a great history of athletics. I can give examples from each sport to help demonstrate why Millville Athletics has such a great history. However, through all the examples and through all the years, the biggest factor that makes Millville Athletics so special is the community."
The Millville community pride is one of the staples of Thunderbolt Athletics; Dave LaGamba gives details to 973 ESPN about what support the Athletic Department gets from the people of Millville and the surrounding region:
"The alumni that continue to come to support our athletic programs for years and decades to follow. The Millville Thunderbolt Club, which is a booster club for all of our athletic programs, has been around for decades and they continue to support our student-athletes in various ways, such as end-of-the-season banquets and annual scholarships for deserving seniors. Recently the Thunderbolt Club hosted its 21st Annual Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony; The event was heavily attended to honor former standout student-athletes. It’s events like these that serve as continuous reminders of how much pride the community has towards the various Millville athletic programs and student-athletes. I think it’s what separates Millville from many other communities."
One of the sports we mentioned earlier is Millville Football who are the South/Central Group Four Regional Champions for the 2021 High School Football season and they also won the South Jersey Group Five State Sectional Championship in 2016. Millville Head Football Coach Dennis Thomas spoke to 973 ESPN about coaching at Millville High School:
"It means a lot to coach both the football and track team (at Millville High School). Training and mentoring both teams is something that I cherish, not just because we are winning on the track and football fields but because many of our kids are moving on and having great careers in college, the workplace, and being productive citizens in their respective community. In my 7 years at Millville, we have had a 100% graduation rate in high school, generated over three million dollars in scholarship money, had over 45% of our seniors go to college, 8% enroll in the military, and the majority of them enter the work field. The goal is always winning in life, navigating on how to win on the field and the track fosters winning in life."
In spite of the 2020 COVID-19 Lockdowns and the Pandemic-related protocols in the aftermath, Millville is still thriving and putting its best foot forward. Millville Athletic Director Dave LaGamba spoke to 973 ESPN about how the High School and their Athletics have endured everything over the last 16 months:
"If anything I think the Covid pandemic has created a new “normal” for many people, especially those involved in high school athletics. Although this school year brought back some sense of being 'back to normal' compared to last year (examples - no daily temperature checks on athletes or coaches, having fans attend games without checking their temperature, an increase in student-athlete participation), there were still many things that served as constant reminders that Covid has changed the way things were done (examples - wearing masks on bus rides, events canceled due to covid concerns, shortage in bus drivers or officials resulting in events being canceled). Hopefully, as time goes by the 'new normal' that has been created will continue to get closer to resembling being 'back to normal'. Our student-athletes and coaches have done an amazing job handling all the changes the Covid pandemic caused."
Millville Head Football Coach Dennis Thomas spoke to 973 ESPN about his observations of how things are different during the 2021 Football season compared to 2020:
"The (Football) team and I feel as though it’s back to normal (this year). We’ve had record numbers as far as attendance goes, watching the film with the team is a significant bonus this year, and to have the opportunity to play meaningful post-season games is essential. Those are some of the things we value about this year as opposed to last (season)."
Moving forward, the COVID-19 Pandemic has not changed the goals and aspirations at Millville High School. The Thunderbolts Athletics community is still strong while the student-athletes are doing their best on and off the field. Athletic Director Dave LaGamba detailed the goals for Millville Athletics:
"Our overall mission is to provide a meaningful and educational experience for students through our athletic programs. Therefore, one of our short-term goals is to simply get student participation rates back to the level prior to the Covid pandemic. Although the Covid pandemic created an obstacle for high school athletics in New Jersey, I was proud to see our participation numbers bounce back this year. Our coaches are very proactive in working with the recreation leagues and city programs which I think helped our programs get through the pandemic. In regards to long-term goals, as an athletic department, we want to provide kids a quality experience so that one day they come back to get involved with our community and our Thunderbolt Club to support our programs."