May 30, 2012

Honoring the CAL's top senior athletes

Sports Columnist

It started 12 years ago when Jason Kaye decided that honoring the top senior athletes in the Cape-Atlantic League might be a good way to draw attention to FantaSea’s Flagship Resort in the Atlantic City inlet.

An early marketing decision in 2000 turned into 11 years of recognition for 132 boys and 132 girls who were finalists for The Flagship Awards. The Flagship has ended its association with the awards in a business decision and another man who has devoted a lot of his life to youth sports – Dave Talarico of Schoppy’s – has taken over the program this year.

Kaye was a former network radio producer who graduated from George Washington University and eventually joined the family hospitality business. In addition to his efforts in creating The Flagship Awards, he was a volunteer basketball coach at Absegami and created The Champions of Youth program in association with the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City. It puts students together with adult mentors.

During the first 11 years of these awards, many special athletes have been rewarded for their contributions to CAL sports. Last year, Holy Spirit’s Sarah Marakos and Ocean City’s Miles Schoedler were the winners. Marakos has moved on to Tufts University, where she is working her way up in their strong women’s basketball program. Schoedler has qualified for the Big East championships as a runner at Georgetown.

The year before, Egg Harbor Township’s Tejay Johnson and Tara Wuko of Wildwood Catholic won The Flagship Awards. Both are currently at Rutgers – Johnson playing football and Wuko running track and cross country.

Oakcrest’s Nijgia Snapp and Millville’s Mike Trout won the 2009 awards. Snapp had a great freshmen year at Seton Hall, finishing second in the Big East, before the school dropped women’s track. She has since had two strong track seasons at the University of Tennessee. Trout – well you probably know where he is. On Monday night, he had a home run and single and made a great catch in the outfield as the Angels edged the Yankees. He is hitting well over .300 and is the Angels’ starting leftfielder.

In 2008, Tara Booker of Absegami and Hammonton’s Anthony Barone were selected. Booker has had a strong career at George Washington, though limited by injury. She is awaiting a ruling by the NCAA whether she can play another season. Barone had a successful football career as a wide receiver at Rowan.

There was a tie in 2007. Mary Wilks of Bridgeton and Casey Beyel of Ocean City shared the female award with Lower Cape May’s Matt Szczur as the top male. Wilks was an all star in soccer and track at Monmouth and has now returned to Bridgeton as a coach. Beyel is playing at Duke for one of the best lacrosse teams in the nation. And Szczur is working his way up through the Chicago Cubs organization after leading Villanova to a national championship in football and success in baseball.

Before that, there was Ocean City’s Renee Tomlin, who had a great running career at Georgetown, and Jack Corcoran of St. Joseph, who played football at Rutgers and has been under contract with the 49ers, Titans and Texans in the NFL. Kristina Brenner of Vineland had a great softball career at Rowan and became one of the Phillies ball girls. Davon Edwards of Middle Township was Rowan Football Player of the Year and later injured in a serious automobile accident.

A year before, Absegami had both winners. Kara Ayers went on to score over 1000 points at St. Francis College and has returned to the CAL as a coach. Ryan Goodman had strong seasons at North Carolina State playing football and wrestling. There was another tie in 2003. Shameka Speed of Bridgeton, who won 21 state championships in track during her high school career, and Adrienne Rochetti of Sacred Heart, a three-sport athlete, shared the female award. Ocean City’s John Richardson, who became an All-American runner at Kentucky, was the male winner.

Monica Johnson of Wildwood, South Jersey’s all-time leading basketball scorer, and Buena’s Vince Cifaloglio, a three-sport athlete, were the winners in 2002. And, in the first year, the versatile Danielle Frith of Hammonton and soccer star Chad Severs from Ocean City were the winners. Severs became an All-American at Penn State, plays pro soccer and has returned to the CAL as a coach.

Quite a lineup.

And those were just the winners, the 24 athletes selected as the best in their respective classes. There are some pretty impressive credentials among the 240 others who were finalists for The Flagship Award, as well.

On Monday (3-6pm) at the Music Pier in Ocean City, the 24 finalists for what is now The Schoppy Awards have been invited to the CAL Celebration. Dave Talarico himself is expected to be there to present the awards. The finalists’ names are listed in a separate story in this week’s sports section. All of them will be congratulated and honored for their great careers and, by the end of the afternoon, two more athletes will receive Schoppy Awards and join a pretty impressive list.

And it all started a dozen years ago with an effort by Jason Kaye.

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