It’s business as usual on the athletic fields of the Red Raiders for the 2012-2013 athletic school year. Camps are in session and athletes are hustling. Coaches are red in the face, trying to build dynasties. Red Raider athletes are as undaunted and fierce as always, and looking forward to more accolades, more victories, and more championships.
But there’s one major change that the Red Raider athletic program faces for the 2012-2013 athletic seasons: The faces of the opposing teams may be a tad unfamiliar.
In April, a shakeup occurred in the Cape Atlantic athletic league. The five-person committee, made up of three athletic directors and two administrators, including Ocean City High School principal Matt Jamison, revamped the CAL to a two-tier conference in preparation for the 2012-2013 athletic calendar.
Formerly, the CAL consisted of three conferences based on school enrollment. The new realignment focuses on a school’s amount of earned NJSIAA power points.
Athletic programs are ranked from 1 to 18. The top nine schools are Absegami, Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township, Holy Spirit, Hammonton, Mainland, Millville, Oakcrest, and St. Joseph's, which comprise the American Conference. Bridgeton, Buena Regional, Cedar Creek, Lower Cape May Regional, Middle Township, Ocean City, Pleasantville, St. Augustine and Vineland make up the National Conference.
What does this mean for Ocean City? It means no games against Mainland, the team OC “loves to hate.” And the loss of that rivalry leads many to wonder what the Red Raiders are going to do without their archenemy.
While some athletic directors and coaches feel the re-alignment gives their athletes a great challenge, some are also concerned that five people made a decision that affected the fate of 18 schools, all which have varying opinions about the changes.
“I’m dictated a schedule and wasn’t given any input. From where I sit, losing Mainland is unfortunate," said Ocean City High School Athletic Director Chris Lentz. "It’s a great tradition and a good gate, (the total paid admissions receipts at a public event).”
Ryan Ladd, who was a member of the Ocean City boys’ soccer team from 2004-2008, is proud to have been a member of the undefeated state championship soccer team of 2005. He is sad to see the Mainland rivalry go.
“One of my favorite things about the Mainland rivalry was game day excitement. It was like no other game of the season. We had a countdown to the game we had circled since preseason. Mainland games were like state championship games, because we couldn’t bear to lose them.”
Gina Abarno, Ocean City alumni of the class of 1981, says it is a shame that the rivalry is over.
“As a former student at OCHS, there was no other rivalry which was as anticipated as that between the Raiders and the Mustangs, no matter what the sport. It unified us not only as a student body, but also as two communities. I met many Mainland students whom I would never have met had that rivalry not existed.”
Abarno admits that the Cape Atlantic League probably did what they had to do, but that it is a tradition she is sad to see go.
“While I am sure the CAL has their reasons for realigning the league, there is something to be said for tradition and nostalgia. It’s like ending the rivalry between the Eagles and the Giants," she said.
Craig Mensinger, varsity baseball coach and teacher at Ocean City High School, says that all hope for Mainland rivalry may not be lost, at least for the baseball team.
“There can still be room for Ocean City and Mainland to play each other in baseball, if there are available and agreed upon dates on the calendar.”
Even though the annual Thanksgiving game is Ocean City against Pleasantville, Mainland is still Ocean City's biggest rival. In the week leading up to game day, fans and boosters make special t-shirts, posters, and buttons. There are many who wonder where all of that rivalry energy will go.
Put it onto the fields and the courts, optimists say. Life goes on. So it would seem that until schedules are figured out, the Red Raiders-Mustangs rivalry will be put to rest.