January 4, 2012

Joe Fussner - CAL SportsPerson of the Year

Sports Columnist

Through the years we have had the pleasure of recognizing some special people as Cape-Atlantic League Sportspersons of the Year.

The spotlight has generally been turned on them for their success on the field or court. That group has included Oakcrest basketball coach Dave Lewis, Hammonton football coach Pete Lancetta, Pleasantville basketball coach Ken Leary, St. Joseph football coach Paul Sacco, Absegami wrestling coach Gene Barber, Ocean City basketball coach Dixie Howell, St. Augustine basketball coach Paul Rodio, Mainland football coach Bob Coffey, Middle Township basketball coach Tom Feraco, Wildwood girls basketball coach Dave Troiano, Sacred Heart basketball coach Jim Mogan, Ocean City football coach Gary Degenhardt and Bridgeton track coach Bob Cwik. They are all coaches whose programs have brought great pride to the CAL.

Administrators have been given the nod - people like Joe Clements, Paul LeFever, Nuncie Sacco, Harry Ackerman and Mike Gatley.

Sometimes it was for behind-the-scenes contributions – Boo Pergament and Father Ed Lyons, creators of the Seagull Classic; Bob and Rick Traa, for their sponsorship of the McDonald’s Game of the Week on cable television; Ernie Troiano, for his efforts creating and directing the Boardwalk Basketball Classic; and both Jason Kaye of FantaSea Flagship Resort and Dave Talarico of Schoppy’s Inc. for the significant support they’ve given to CAL sports.

The honor is not necessarily given for accomplishments during a specific year. Often it is for a lifetime of achievement. That is the case this year. In fact, this year’s top sportsperson is not even part of the CAL right now and hasn’t been for almost 15 years.

Joe Fussner is currently the women’s basketball coach at Richard Stockton College. His team is currently 8-1, including a win over the No. 8 ranked team in the country. He is three wins away from 300 for his career at Stockton. That milestone could be reached on Monday.

And there were a few moments when some were not sure Fussner would be on the sidelines this season. He needed urgent surgery just weeks before the season and is still working himself back up to 100 percent. But he has been there coaching his team.

During his CAL coaching career, Fussner’s Atlantic City High School boys teams were 145-24, winning six league titles and capturing the championship of the prestigious Seagull Classic at St. Joseph’s University. His .858 winning percentage is the greatest in CAL history of any boys coach with at least five years of coaching.

And his girls teams at ACHS were even better – 167-18 (.903) – including seven CAL titles, four South Jersey championships and two state crowns. His teams won a combined 13 league titles in 13 seasons.

Away from basketball, Fussner has also been a longtime high school baseball and softball umpire and has been involved in Little League Baseball for decades, currently serving as District 16 administrator.

For his decades of success and dedication to area sports, inside and outside the Cape-Atlantic League, Joe Fussner has earned the tribute as 2011 SportsPerson of the Year.


With the calendar year over, it is always a good time to look back on the top CAL sports stories. Here are the 10 sports stories that seemed to generate the most interest among Cape-Atlantic League fans in 2011:

1. The tragic deaths of Mainland football players Casey Brenner, Nick Conner, Edgar Bozzi and Dean Khoury.
2. St. Augustine’s state championship in basketball, led by Isaiah Morton, who finished as the second highest scorer in CAL history.
3. Millville’s Mike Trout’s quick rise into the major leagues and the other pro baseball successes of Matt Szczur (Lower Cape May) and Darren Ford (Vineland).
4. St. Joseph and Holy Spirit taking over The College of New Jersey during the football season’s final weekend and easily winning NJSIAA championships.
5. Dennis Horner earning a spot on the New Jersey Nets roster, joining Chris Ford as CAL grads to play in the NBA.
6. The switch from Holy Spirit head football coach to St. Augustine assistant by Charlie Roman, joining new Prep head coach Mark Reardon, also a Spirit graduate.
7. All-time CAL records set by Millville’s Alquann Jones (season rushing yards), Mainland’s Jim Cooper (career field goals) and Holy Spirit’s Tom Worthington (career extra points) during the fall.
8. Middle Township and St. Augustine winning first-time state championships – Middle in golf and the Prep in baseball.
9. The retirement of veteran coaches Fran St. John (Wildwood Catholic basketball), Rick Baruffi (Vineland basketball), Les Heggan (St. Augustine soccer), Gary Hegh (Mainland baseball) and Keith Gorman (Holy Spirit baseball).
10. Mike Gatley, the 2010 SportsPerson of the Year and president of the CAL, moving as athletics director from Hammonton to his alma mater, Mainland.

Here’s hoping 2012 will bring Cape-Atlantic League fans another year filled with memories.

Read more of Tom Williams' columns