On Monday, Ocean City High School and Mainland Regional High School will renew their rivalry once again, this time in boys' and girls' hoops. But if you listen to the players and coaches, there are differences in how they each perceive the rivalry.
The schools, located just 7 miles apart, feature a sports tradition that is forged in the annals of the Cape-Atlantic League. Both schools have won state championships in multiple sports and usually have to go through one another to achieve those results.
The fans, students and coaches are well known to each other and usually play with and against each other during the summers. The fans are friends that grew up together and the coaches are also friendly with one another. So the perception of the rivalry takes on a different sound, depending on whom you talk to.
Ocean City junior Chris Turner has a multifaceted perspective on the rivalry with the Mustangs as he plays both football and basketball and has seen the intensity firsthand.
“You always want to play harder against them,” he said. “You never have a problem getting up for them especially in football with the success they (Mainland) have had lately. In basketball though, you have to tone it down to a certain extent. You can’t go so hard that you commit fouls and take yourself out of the game.”
Sophomore basketball player Julia Duggan has a different perspective from the girls’ side of things.
“It’s always a tougher game than normal,” she said. “It’s actually harder because you know them so well off the court and then on the court you just try and make it another game. It’s not as intense as maybe the boys’ games but you still want to win.”
For the coaches, they use it as a teaching opportunity but they take it to a whole new level and that’s where the differences come in. They take it more to heart than the players.
“The kids think about it less than we do,” said Ocean City Lady Red Raiders coach Paul Baruffi. “I know (Mainland coach) Sue (Repetti) very well and we’re good friends, but if we lose to Mainland I’m a wreck for a couple of days after. The kids just want to play and the fans and family think about it more than they do.”
Ocean City head boys' coach Jon Bruno echoed that sentiment.
“This game is always cliché city,” he said. “Use any cliché you want and it fits. If you have to win one game, let this be it, etc. I’m a rivalry guy anyway and I think it’s good for the area because it keeps interest up at any school. Atlantic City-Holy Spirit, Millville-Vineland, Ocean City-Mainland, these are special games. Rivalry games show the kids that if you can play at a high level for them (Mainland), then you can play like that on a consistent level.
"The kids get to see that they can play at that level, but the trick is to get them to do it all the time. It’s actually easier to coach a game like this because you don’t have to worry about them being up for the game so that’s one less thing to focus on. It’s just a different dynamic.”
Anyway you perceive the games, no matter what the sport, Ocean City-Mainland will draw a crowd. The fans, family and supporters will reminisce about games, players and coaches and they all have the games marked on their calendars. It’s an event not to be missed.
As John Bruno mentioned, games against traditional rivals are good for the sport—any sport—and the schools. It’s what keeps interest alive in the communities and bonds them for a common cause.
Long live rivalries.