Ocean City, NJ is More Than a High School Near the Boardwalk
For our third edition of South Jersey High School Athletics Spotlight series takes a closer look at Ocean City High School. Last Week, we brought you inside Absegami High School and the week before Mainland Regional Athletics. We will do similar profiles of other local High School Athletics here in South Jersey.
When the new Ocean City High School building was officially opened in 2004, they actually moved closed to the Ocean City boardwalk and OC beach, as they are the only High School in South Jersey with such a unique location. But being adjacent to the popular tourist attractions in Ocean City is not the biggest claim to fame for OCHS Athletics: they have won the Ed Byrnes Award, given to the top athletic program in the Cape Atlantic League 17 times in the last 30 years.
In just his third year on the job at Ocean City High School, Athletic Director Geoff Haines has seen a lot of success with the student-athletes at OCHS and he spoke to 973 ESPN about how the last few years have been quite a ride for him and the Ocean City High School community:
"In my short time (as Athletic Director), I have seen our first girls' soccer state title and the team going 45 straight games undefeated over three years - (We have seen) the Girls state championship basketball team, state runner up boys lacrosse, the first-ever baseball state championship team and the school as the winner of the Ed Byrnes CAL Award (top athletic program) each of my years here! The pride is eminent in our hallways with banners and records and seeing the student-athletes display their pride as well as the continued support of Raider Nation at games."
But in his time at the high school near the Ocean City beach, AD Haines has also worked to navigate through the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020-21 high school athletics season that was frustrating for so many people. We asked Haines about how close to "back to normal" is the environment at OCHS with the students and coaches back in the building:
"In some ways, yes and in some ways no: For fall sports, having no restrictions on fans and spectators has brought some normalcy to our fall sports season. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we have experienced (as most schools have) issues with having enough bus drivers available to transport the student-athletes. Many contests were postponed or even canceled due to this shortage. I think that Executive Order 251, as frustrating as it seems, has helped schools to be in session, with more students and thus more student-athletes (participating). Students wearing masks...have allowed us to have more (sports) follow their regular schedule and have (also) allowed the student-athletes to maintain a smoother season. Now, moving indoors for winter sports, that’s a whole different ball game."
One of those fall sports is the girls' soccer team that has seen tremendous success in recent years and their Head Coach Lisa Cuneo spoke to 973 ESPN about the 45 games unbeaten streak:
"We definitely just took it one game at a time. Back in 2019, we knew we would have a good team, we didn't have a large graduating class the year before so it was obviously always a dream to make it (to the state Championship) and as the season went on, it definitely became more of a reality. Last year we played a modified schedule but again just played our best each and every game with the hopes of winning the next game. That mindset carried over to this 2021 season as well. We had some holes to fill but our veterans and newcomers did a great job keeping the streak alive. It really wasn’t something we talked about too often but It was an impressive run and something we would love to go after again."
While boys athletics like football and basketball get the headline media coverage, the success of girls' sports at Ocean City High School has been a staple of "Raider Nation" with girls' soccer, girls' swimming, girls' basketball, and field hockey having all won championships in the last decade. Girls Head Soccer Coach Lisa Cuneo talked about the support for girls' high school sports from the Ocean City High School community:
"I feel like the recognition and support is fantastic. Ocean City and Upper Township are extremely active communities and the residents take pride in their school and recognize when their athletes are deserving of support and praise. The girls' athletic teams here have been so successful for so many years, it’s impossible to ignore that Ocean City High School girls sports deserve the recognition and respect just like anyone else."
Part of the recognition that needs to be mentioned is how we mentioned early, the girls' soccer team at Ocean City High School kept their winning streak alive in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the aftermath of the world we all live in today. Cuneo talked about what the 2020 season was like for the team:
"Last year just having a sports season was a commodity. There was so much uncertainty even getting into late summer what that fall season would even look like. Teams who didn't have to quarantine considered themselves very lucky. This season we still had those circumstances as a possibility but it was much more focused on getting back to winning games than just being thankful for having games."
There is a genuine sense of relief among everyone we talk to at Ocean City High School about having some normalcy this school year at the High School down the street from the world-famous Ocean City Boardwalk. OCHS Baseball Head Coach and History Teacher Andrew Bristol spoke to 973 ESPN about how close to "back to normal" things feel for the 2021-22 academic year:
"I am so glad to be back in the classroom in front of a full classroom all day long. It slowly feels like it always has (before the COVID-19 Pandemic). It is great to be able to go to games and watch our kids play on the fields this fall season."
Andrew Bristol is more than just the baseball coach and history teacher at OCHS, he's also the parent of student alumni having his sons Peyton and Parker a part of the Raiders Nation community. He spoke to 973 ESPN about the pride he has being a member of the school's athletics program:
"I take pride in being a part of our athletic department, I cheer hard for every team. I think I am more nervous watching our football team play than when I am coaching. I definitely get more excited when they score! It is an honor to represent our school and something we always preach to our players: To succeed on the baseball field means a great deal to everyone in the entire city. We are very proud to represent our entire community."
So as you can see, Ocean City High School is more than just a new building located near the boardwalk and beach, this is a school that has a lot of pride in their school and athletics. As Athletic Director Geoff Haines tells 973 ESPN, the goals long term are big at OCHS:
"(Our) goals are to continue to win Cape Atlantic League and division titles, South Jersey titles, and state titles. But we would love to see our student-athletes successful not only on the playing venues but also in the classroom with good grades and in the world as true citizens of the community and successful at the next level. If it is in sports, college education, trades, job, etc, I am excited by the commitment of our coaching staff to helping our student-athletes succeed both on and off of the fields. I always preach 'the little things' which are appreciated by our student-athlete: keeping them healthy and well both in mind and body and leading to successes here and in their futures!"