South Jersey Impact Magazine August 2022

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SOUTH JERSEY IMPACT ] JULY 2022 ] PAGE 2 SOUTHIMPACTJERSEY General contact information: Phone: 856-336-2600 Publisher Dave O’Sullivan: Email: Social Media On Twitter Contributors: Ben Hale, Social Media & Web Development VOLUME 3, ISSUE 1/AUGUST 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ABOUT THE COVER

The bond between a father and a son is something special, and that’s a feeling Somers Point res ident Da’Shawn Hendricks nev er really had. When he was just 5 years old, his father was mur dered, and his mother incarcerat ed for playing a role in the killing. Fast-forward about a quarter of a century, and Hendricks now has the opportunity his own father never had. He’s raising three chil dren, the oldest of whom, Jaylen, is a fourth-grade basketball prodigy in the area. Hendricks himself is a talented basketball player, having won the MVP award this past season in the Jewish Community Center’s league in Margate. Hendricks wants for his son the future he didn’t have coming out of high school, and to that end he is making sure his son is doing everything right, from the class room to doing chores at home to being a good teammate on the various football and basketball teams Jaylen plays on. There are things in every person’s life that can derail them, and Da’Shawn had a lot of reasons to throw in the towel and give up on a lot of things because of the hand he was dealt as a child. But he’s chosen to rise above difficult circumstances, and be the best father he can be. Check out Page 8 of this digital editon to read more about his story.

highimprovementlatestforschoolswim team


“The primary difference with the new blocks are the side rails that allow swimmers to use their upper body to launch off the block, and also the wedges on the back — which just became legal in high school swimming in the past six years or so,” he added.

“Those are the blocks you see at GCIT (Gloucester County Institute of Technology, where state champi onships are held) and a few other places where you have high level state tournament meets. When you have them at your own pool, it’s a big benefit to get the experience and familiarity of using them.”

“The first time we asked about it was in the 20142015 season, and it was clear the money wasn’t there for it at that time, so we decided to wait and be pa tient. Last year, a couple of the braces underneath that hold the blocks started to break a little bit. We had another one where the anchors were starting to pull out. We asked about it again, and they gave us approval (to upgrade the blocks). We had been asking about it for a few years and were just biding our time until the funds were there. This time we put the re quest in and got approval pretty quickly,” Schneider explained. “The school district took care of the costs through their budget. I talked to our athletic director (Donnie Robbins) about it, he ran it up the chain and we were able to get approval for it.

Vineland High pool gets huge makeover

South Jersey Impact photo/Sully

Last fall, Vineland High School’s swimming program got the funding it needed from the school district to install brand new starting blocks that help make John Casadia Pool one of the premier swim venues in South Jersey.

There have been a number of upgrades going on at Vineland’s pool the past seven years. Prior to the 2014-2015 season the pool was drained and repaint ed, and through the years lights have been replaced and new filtration and dehumidification systems have beenButinstalled.theblocks are a huge upgrade — one that costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. The reason they are so expensive is because of the materials that are used to construct them. They have to be built to with stand an environment that is filled with humidity and moisture.“Theblocks were the original blocks from when the pool was built in 1974, and a lot of that other stuff was original and had been repaired a bunch of times.

High-tech starting blocks the

See MAKEOVER, Page 5


By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Staff Writer Vineland High School’s swimming program’s past is littered with championships, trophies, banners, accolades. The school has built one of the storied programs in South Jersey swimming and has one of the sport’s legendary coaches — John Casadia — to its credit. But having a bunch of banners hung up on the wall doesn’t guarantee any type of success in 2022, and current girls swimming coach Mike Schneider knows he and his staff, as well as the coaches for the boys team, have to keep putting all their effort in to contin ue Vineland’s proud tradition of churning out quality swim teams. To that end, Schneider and the other coaches have led a years-long effort to rejuvenate the school’s pool area to make it fit for one of South Jersey’s leading programs. The cherry on top came prior to last sea son, when shiny, brand-new starting blocks were in stalled.Now, to an average sports fan that might not seem like a big deal, but in the swimming world, it’s huge. The starting blocks are similar to the concept used by sprinters in the 100-meter dash. They give a swim mer a place to leap off into the water and get a great start in their race. The fancier versions have great traction and stability, as well as handles on the side for extra support as a swimmer leans over and pre pares to dive in.;;O’Sullivan:SouthJerseyImpactatonTwitter@sjimpact

The South Jersey swimming commu nity is a tight-knit group, and Schneider said he gave updates to fellow coaches throughout the Cape-Atlantic League as the process was playing out.

“When I was in the design process I shared some text messages with Mark Jameson of Egg Harbor Township. He and I are kind of swim junkies and I was like, ‘Mark, I think we’re going to get the big blocks.’ So hopefully we can get EHT in here on our schedule.

I’m pretty sure (Mainland coaches) Brian Booth and Mike Schiavo told their athletic director (Mike Gatley) about it when they got home from our pool this year,” Schneider said. “The reaction has been great (from other teams). People come in all the time and tell us how great the facility looks and that really means a lot to us. We take a lot of pride in that.”

“Having the support of the school district to make this kind of investment in your program and your athletes is really a great feeling. The girls were so excited.”

Each year there is only so much mon ey to go around in any school’s budget, so Schneider said he, his staff and his athletes just had to be patient — and persistent.“Iknow it takes a lot of preparation and funding, but the coaches were pretty persistent about getting the new blocks. They told us to just make do with what we had until they could put this all together. They were always pushing for it. They want us to have the best, and it’s good that (the blocks) are finally here. It was just in time for our senior year,” said Mainero, a 2022 graduate. “From my freshman year to now, our team was a lot smaller back then but to see all the new swimmers come in and the team grow in terms of more people, our pool getting im proved and the competition level being raised, it’s really been awesome to be on this upswing the past four years. For me, personally, ending my career on a high note, and I’m excited to see what the next group of girls can do.”

Added teammate Angelina Mainero after a meet near the end of the season, “it feels like Christmas this year. It’s been awesome to come in here and get to use these blocks, and we’re really thankful they did this. In swimming, they make us feel important. We’ve had great support from the commu nity that comes out and watches, and the school administration and coaches. These blocks are awesome. You really fly off these things.”


After a while, it just becomes time to replace everything. A lot of stuff got done, and the blocks were kind of the last original pieces that needed to be replaced. We were really excited to finally get approval on it,” Schneider said. “Having the support of the school district to make this kind of investment in your program and your athletes is really a great feeling. The girls were so excited. We kind of kept it a secret from them for awhile. Paul Faranachio, who is our director of facilities in the whole district, is very quick to pass credit out to everybody in his department but he was the end of the line in terms of peo ple in central administration who need ed to support this. We needed him to believe in this project in order to run it up to the people he had to go through to get approval, and Paul had a big part of this. Our team decided to dedicate our poster to Paul. He wasn’t the director of facilities when the other projects were done a few years ago — there was an other guy named Wayne Weaver who was another big supporter of Vineland swimming in that position — but Paul was part of that team, and he and his department have been big supporters. The blocks were the final piece, so to speak.”“We’re all, of course, very thankful and it’s something we have complete ly taken advantage of. It’s a tool we’ve been able to use to help us get better, to help us practice our diving techniques and it’s also elevated our performance in the pool,” said Kendall Rivers, a member of last winter’s Vineland swim team. “It’s something we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams. Being on this team for four years, I’ve seen a lot of changes and this is one of the most important ones. I started swim ming in a summer league and we just had standard blocks. GCIT has blocks that are similar (to the ones we have now) and when I swam there I thought they were awesome. Finding out we were getting them was really excit ing. Facing all the adversity with covid, our administrators and coach es have really helped us get into the pool and really take advantage of this really nice pool we have.”

MAKEOVER, From Page 4

Mike Schneider, Vineland girls swimming coach

Schneider said now that most of the major projects have been completed, anything new in the next couple of years will be more cosmetic than any thing“Thiselse.was absolutely not a small in vestment. Everything that is installed around these indoor pool facilities is very expensive because you have to use materials that can withstand that kind of environment. All kinds of met als will rust in there. These blocks have a powder-coated frame that can protect them,” he said. “We’re always looking at a few things we’d like to get done, but nothing we’re really ready to push for yet. I’d like to continue adding any kind of homage to the history of our program. I’ve started to kick rocks a little bit on finding ways to display our individual state champions. But, in terms of major projects I think we’re pretty much finished.”

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In every man’s life, however, there comes a time when a decision must be made. The easy decision would have been to let the excuses take hold, let the temptations of the streets sink in, and just do what ever the hell he wanted. That kind of life probably would have led to either prison or death for young Da’Shawn.So,hedecided to take the hard road. He transferred to Charter Tech in Somers Point, graduated, and at age 18 and had a son, Jaylen, with his girlfriend, Matrice Henderson. Just 18 years old with a child? Da’Shawn had another decision to make: leave, like a lot of young men in that situation may have done, or stick around, grow up, mature, be come a man and start taking care of his family. He’s done just that, and he and Matrice now have two more beautiful children, a son, Jakhai, and daughter Janiya.


“When I had my son, I was young, too, but that really changed my life. It pushed me to go to college, to strive and do the things that I thought a young fa ther should do — I’m not at the point where I want to be, but (having a son) made me realize that I have to start doing a lot more positive things with my time,” Da’Shawn said. “I knew firsthand how it felt to grow up without a father because mine was murdered. I remember being at my basketball games and there would be nobody (from my family) there. Or if I was in a spelling bee or going on a field trip, nobody

South Jersey Impact photo/Sully Da’Shawn Hendricks, 29, of Somers Point, is a darn good basketball player, but he believes his 10-year-old son, Jaylen, has a chance to be even better.



“Da’Shawn was never disrespectful to me,” Berti no continued. “He was defiant and was never a real big friend to authority figures (as a teenager), but we had a mutual respect for each other. I joke with him now that he and I will always have a bond because I have a permanent scar on my left arm from when I took him down that day on the concrete.”

Somers Point dad wants his success story to be just the beginning for his son


Da’Shawn Hendricks never really knew the difference a father’s love could make in a young man’s life. He never got the chance to find out what that was like, because his father was murdered as he watched when Da’Shawn was just 5 yearsUnderstandably,old.

Da’Shawn had some trouble throughout his school years, especially during his time at Egg Harbor Township High School. He was angry, felt as though life had dealt him a losing hand. His father was dead, and his mother was in jail in the years that followed, having been an accomplice to theAndmurder.atone point, he nearly got shot by a police officer at the EHT campus.

Not settling for average

Patrolman Eddie Bertino of the Egg Harbor Town ship Police Department, who was a School Resource Officer at the time, recalls the incident and how he reacted.“Hehad gotten into an argument with (then Vice Principal) Patty Connor and decided he was going to leave school. I thought I had a pretty good rapport with Da’Shawn, so I said I’d go find him and try to bring him back to school,” Bertino recalls. “I made contact with him outside the school near the tennis courts and he started walking away from me without even acknowledging me, and he wouldn’t typically respond to me like that. The next thing I know, he reaches into his waistband and pulls out a hairbrush and was pointing it like a gun. Thank God it wasn’t a real gun because he would have had the drop on me. I would never have expected him to do something like that. I didn’t draw my gun, I waited for him to turn back around and then charged at him and tackled him, and as soon as I tackled him he gave up. I said, ‘Da’Shawn, what are you doing? You’re going to get yourself shot doing something like that!’ He got emotional and acknowledged that it was something stupid for him to do and that he was lucky I didn’t handle it in a different way.

SOUTH JERSEY IMPACT ] AUGUST 2022 ] PAGE 9 would be there because my mother was incarcerated for her role in the murder of my father. There were a lot of things that led me to say, ‘hey, if I ever have my own kids, I wasn’t going anywhere, no matter my situation in life.’” These days, Jaylen is starting to grow up fast, and he’s quickly developed into one of the top youth ath letes in South Jersey. He’s an outstanding quarter back in football, but on the basketball court is where he really shines, just like his father, who this year was named the MVP of the Jewish Community Cen ter men’s league in Margate, where the Somers Point resident averaged better than 32 points per game.

Da’Shawn said holding Jaylen for the first time was a breakthrough moment in his life. “Once I held him for the first time, I was never leaving his side, and that led to us having two more kids. We’ve come a long way, and our kids are the most important thing,” he said. Da’Shawn is actively involved in Jaylen’s sporting life, coaching him in multiple sports, as well as in personal workouts pretty much on a daily basis. But it’s not over the top. He’s tough on Jaylen; he wants his son to understand that in sports — in school, in life — there are always going to be people looking to out-work you to get the position you want. But he’s not one of those dads who is trying to live vicari ously through his son. Da’Shawn has had his athletic success, and he said he wants his son to enjoy every aspect of his own athletic career. He also wants him to be humble. Jaylen may only be just entering double-digits in age, but he’s got plenty of chores to do around the house, and he’s ex pected to get all his school work done before any fun and“Jaylen,games.since the time he was 5 years old, wanted to play basketball. I pushed him to play football and baseball and he excels at those sports, too. In foot ball he plays quarterback and makes all-star teams, in baseball he makes all-star teams, but basketball — it’s been a blessing for us. And this kid works. He’s up at 5 a.m. doing push-ups and sit-ups; he gets in the gym and he’s working with right-handed layups, left-handed layups. I’ve never seen a kid who works harder than Jaylen. He has talent, but he’s nothing without that work ethic. He has the desire to be great and if you put a challenge in front of him and tell him ‘you’re not going to be where you want to be unless you reach this point’ he will try to break through that point, every single time,” Da’Shawn said. “I’ve always challenged Jaylen, whether it be in school, with sports or if it’s just me and him horsing around. I would always make things harder so that he couldn’t do it, and that made him want to do it even more. I pushed him early on, but once he realized that competing and winning was so fun, he wanted to get better. I told him that every day you’re not working, somebody is getting better than you. He doesn’t want anyone ever being better than him.”

South Jersey Impact photo/Sully Jaylen Hendricks might be a youth basketball superstar, but he still has chores to do around the house and must do all his schoolwork throughout the week if he wants to play any video games on the weekends.

Added T-John Casiello, a former standout bas ketball player at Wildwood Catholic High School, “Jaylen plays the game beyond his years. When I see him train, I see a kid that is focused and locked in on being the next great player from South Jersey. His footwork is excellent, he is a demonstrate-onceand-have-it type of player. I have also had the op portunity seeing him on court at the CYBL. He, as a fourth-grader, was able to keep his team in games and hit big shot after big shot to always give his team a chance even if they were overpowered in the 5/6 Division. Keep an eye on Jaylen. He is going to be special.”

Other people in the sports world have begun to take notice of young Jaylen.

Jaylen’s bedroom is quickly filling up with tro phies, plaques and MVP awards, but Da’Shawn said he’s vigilant about reminding young Jaylen about all the things he hasn’t accomplished yet, in an effort to keep him grounded and working harder than ever.

“I tell him all the time that he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. ‘You’re not getting paid to play this game, you haven’t gotten a scholarship that allows you to go to school for free — you haven’t accom plished anything yet, you’ve just continued to prog ress. Until you accomplish something at the highest level where you’re getting paid or someone is paying for you to go to school somewhere, you have a lot of work to do. I don’t care how many awards you win, how many trophies you get, how many champion ships you win — you’re supposed to do that with the work you put in.’ Our goal is to go to school for free,” Da’Shawn said. “Jaylen is serious. When it’s time for school, he’s serious about it. During the week he’s not allowed to play video games, it’s only school and workouts. During the week, we’re all business. He has to help out around the house, too. He has chores like taking out the trash. People might think that’s tough on a 10-year-old, but growing up in my grand ma’s house, we were expected to do things like that. I try to make sure he’s a responsible young man. Take care of business at home, be responsible outside the home, be respectful and, most importantly, be a good human being. When you are a good human being, good things happen.” That’s a statement Da’Shawn has tried to live by ever since Jaylen was born — that if you’re a good

“Jaylen is the best fourth-grade basketball player I have ever seen,” said John Franchini of Linwood. “He has an amazing non-dominant hand, which he developed through relentless work and practice. But my favorite thing about him is that he is never scared of the moment. He has a confidence in his game, and he makes his teammates better. He has a very high basketball IQ and he understands the game in a way that is well beyond his years.”

See HENDRICKS, Page 11 HENDRICKS, From Page 8

“I did my fair share of things when I was younger. I was in and out of a lot of juvenile detention centers and boys homes because I was angry,” Da’Shawn explained. “I felt that God didn’t deal me a fair hand. I remember having a conversation with officer Ber tino from Egg Harbor Township Police Department, and he told me straightup, ‘nobody in this world owes you anything. You can make something out of your life, and if you don’t you’re go ing to fall victim to what a lot of kids like you fall victim to.’ I respect Offi cer Bertino so much because he saved my life. I was at Egg Harbor Township High once and I was acting like I had a gun, and he could have shot me, but he didn’t do that. He saved my life in more than one way, and I’ll always be thankful for him. That was a real big turning point in my life. After that, I wanted to finish high school, I wanted to go to college and wanted to do the right thing.” “I am so proud of him. I think he learned his lesson — whether it was from our incident or just life in general — and he made a complete turnaround. It’s so awesome to see what he’s doing with the youth. If he says I made a pos itive impression on him, then, guess what? He’s paying it forward and mak ing a positive impression on so many kids. That means a lot,” Officer Bertino said. “I’ll be starting my 20th year in law enforcement on Sept. 1 and I can count on one hand how many kids that were troubled as a youth and now are doing really positive stuff as adults. The vast majority don’t make that turn around, so when I see how he’s done it, he beat the odds. He’s gone the route of wanting better for he and his three kids, and wanting to be a mentor and a role model. I’m proud to see his kids excelling in school, that’s awesome. I love hearing stuff like that.”

From Page 9




Contact Dave;;O’Sullivan:SouthJerseyImpactatonTwitter@sjimpact

person doing good things, all that will come back to you in time. Officer Ber tino made a choice on that day at EHT High. He didn’t pull his trigger, and in showing restraint he ended up saving Da’Shawn’s life.

“Jaylen is serious. When it’s time for school, he’s serious about it. During the week he’s not allowed to play video games, it’s only school and workouts. During the week, we’re all business. He has to help out around the house, too. He has chores like taking out the trash.

Da’Shawn Hendricks Somers Point dad (on 10-year-old son Jaylen)

Da’Shawn is closing in on 30 years old — a birthday he never expected to see — and he’s begun to be more open with Jaylen about the boy’s grandfa ther, why he’s not around anymore, and what he’d be telling Jaylen if he was here“He’stoday.really learned a lot more about my father the last year or so. My fa ther’s birthday is March 9, and this year we were in a tournament in Ab secon that day and I took him to the grave site and had a conversation with him. I’m big with God and I said, ‘just sit there and have a conversation with him, and you’ll feel something.’ And he sat there for an hour before the game, then went out that night and scored 26 points and helped get us to the cham pionship game,” Da’Shawn said. “He told me, ‘that’s for Pop-Pop.’ He’s young, he doesn’t really understand what happened. He just tells me that he feels bad for me because my dad died. I say, ‘Jaylen, don’t feel bad for me.

I’m happy that you’re here. Everything in life happens for a reason, and if that didn’t happen, maybe you’re not here.’ He knows I saw something that is trag ic, but I try to use it as motivation. If my father was here, he’d be pushing Jaylen, too.” Like any proud father, Da’Shawn said he’s thrilled with what Jaylen has been able to accomplish in his 10 short years, in sports and in school. And he’s hoping the guidance he provides now will pay off with a great future for his son.“I’m not perfect, but I try to be a role model for Jaylen and my other son and daughter, to show them that ev ery day is a grind and everything is a challenge, but as long as you put your best foot forward in whatever you are doing, you can sleep at night knowing you did the best that you could do,” he said. “Jaylen is a prime example of that. I believe that kid will be success ful in something, whether it be sports or something else. He has a great work ethic and he doesn’t want to settle for being average. I always felt like I nev er wanted to be average, but my big gest problem is I get to a certain point and think I’ve accomplished enough, but Jaylen is not that. He wants to be the best in everything. If somebody is ranked 1A and he’s 1B, he’s mad be cause he wants to be 1A.”

People might think that’s tough on a 10-year-old, but growing up in my grandma’s house, we were expected to do things like that. I try to make sure he’s a responsible young man.”

See ST. JOSEPH, Page 13


“The opportunity kind of came out of nowhere. They had some issues with leadership, probably because of everything that has happened the last few years, with the diocese pulling out of the school,” explained Cappuccio, who is heading into his second year of running the academy. “The Board ap proached me about this last October, and I was attracted to the blank slate. I saw St. Joseph Academy as an oppor tunity to further my career as the Head of School, but also I just saw this blank canvas where a beautiful picture could be painted. That was ultimately my at traction to the job. It’s a very passion ate community about their school and I always respected what a handful of folks did to save and reopen St. Joseph Academy as an independent school.”

Cappuccio said it hasn’t been easy to build the academy coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the Di ocese pulling out from its role of pro viding financial support.

The school has been thriving lately under the leadership of new Head of School Steve Cappuccio, who spent much of his educational career at rival St. Augustine Prep in Richland. Cap puccio, a Hammonton native, went to St. Joseph from kindergarten until 10th grade before transferring to St. Augus tine Prep. He then worked at Prep for 18 years before coming back home to help guide St. Joseph Academy into its promising future.

Acouple of years ago, there were questions as to whether or not St. Joseph, a proud Catholic school located in Hammonton that started in the early 1940s, would be able to survive financial struggles that were affecting the Roman Catholic Di ocese of Camden. Like many other Catholic elementa ry and high schools throughout the re gion, St. Joseph eventually did close, but in the past two years it has come back strong under a new moniker — St. Joseph Academy. As recently as 2015, the school had more than 300 students, but now there are a little more than 200. Still, with everything the academy has gone through — from surviving a global pandemic to basically starting a brand new high school from scratch, to finding enough financial support through donors and alumni — this cer tainly can be deemed a success story.


“That wasn’t easy. A lot of the infra structure was gone, a lot of the physical materials in the school were taken out. It was kind of a scramble — all in the midst of Covid. Some private schools got a boost in enrollment during the pandemic because most private schools switched to full-time learning, where as a lot of public schools went hybrid. St. Joe Academy didn’t get that situa tion because nobody knew if the school was going to stay open or not. I wasn’t here at that time but it must have been a very difficult situation,” he said. “I’m sure it was tough for the diocese to leave a school that had been part of their system for 80-plus years. And, of course, in this community there are folks who have some deep ties to this school. Their grandparents went there, their parents, now their children and grandchildren.”St.Josephcertainly has a long tradi tion of success, both in the classroom and in athletics. The Wildcats have one of the premier football programs in the state, and even with so few kids in the school they have managed to be ranked in the top five in the state heading into the 2022 season by MaxPreps, a web site that covers high school sports re gionally and nationwide. Much of that success is due to legendary coach Paul Sacco, who has been at the helm for more than 40 years and has won more

APLACESnew day dawning

St. Joseph in Hammonton closed a few years ago but has been reborn as St. Joseph Academy, and the school’s future is bright

South Jersey Impact photo/Sully

Dainton said a lot of students were apprehensive about what would hap pen to the school when the Catholic Diocese of Camden pulled their sup port in 2019, but she and Cruz believe the school is set up for success under its current leadership.


Cappuccio said he believes St. Jo seph Academy’s best days are ahead, but like with any big venture, it will take time for some things to come to fruition.“Ilearned sometimes what works and what doesn’t work,” he said of his time at St. Augustine Prep. “I learned that you should never be afraid to try something new and different. At St. Augustine, I think we always tried new and different things. I think the big gest thing I learned is to try to know your mission, and live your mission. My best lesson and what I will try to bring to St. Joe is to have a clear under standing of who we are and try to live that every day. We’ll get there. It’s like anything else. I look at this like a startup, or a new business. You’re going to have areas of growth and you’ll have some bumps along the way.”

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ST. JOSEPH, From Page 12

than 300 games and a host of sectional titles.The future of St. Joseph Academy seems bright, especially if you talk to some of the students who attend the school and are passionate about how much it has meant in their lives.

“We didn’t know that much as stu dents. A lot of kids were confused,” Dainton explained. “They hoped the school would remain open. It worked out for the best, thankfully. Hopefully this school will be bigger in the future and have more diverse programs. I think this will become a bigger school that is able to do more things.”

“I love this community. I moved away for a little bit, but came back and this is what I’ve known. It’s been re ally nice (going to high school here). Everybody is friends, you know every body. I love walking down the hallway and knowing everybody. It’s just a real ly small community that supports each other really well,” said Tony Cruz, a 2022 graduate. “The people who are here really want to be here. They love this school, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have stuck around. I feel like every person who works here loves the school, and I think the students do, too. We just love this place and we want to keep it going for future generations.”

“My parents wanted me to come to a smaller environment because I was a very shy kid. They found out about St. Joseph mostly from softball, and that’s how I found out about it. It’s been a re ally good experience. I’ve made a lot of friends and there are a lot of things I’ve been involved in that I never thought I would do. I love the close-knit envi ronment. Everyone knows each other,” said Katie Dainton, a Mays Landing resident and one of the stars of the softball team. “I never expected to be going to school with kids from places like Washington Township. It’s cool to meet people from other areas because they have had different experiences than I have, and I get to learn what it’s been like for them growing up.”

One constant for St. Joseph has been football coach Paul Sacco, who has been coaching the Wildcats for more than 40 years and has more than 300 wins to his credit.

just the kids, the vibe, the small-school setting. Everything is family oriented and everyone is looking out for your kid. That’s one of the positives about being here, everyone is there for each other,” said Anne Marie Mercado, the former athletic director who is moving into a new position as Dean of Student Life. “The feedback I get from teachers and the things we’re trying to strive for, and the things we’re creating and doing in the classroom — we’re revamping our curriculum and overall it’s just been a lot of positive things. The ener gy, the vibe — I love the staff, we’re all on the same page, and Mr. Cappuccio coming in has been awesome.”;;O’Sullivan:SouthJerseyImpactatonTwitter@sjimpact

“I love this community. ... It’s been really nice (going to high school here). Everybody is friends, you know everybody. I love walking down the hallway and knowing everybody. It’s just a really small community that supports each other really well.”

“I think a lot more kids are going to be here (in the next five years) and I think that will help a lot of things, in cluding sports. We’re building a turf field and sports complex, and that’s really going to help us,” Cruz said. “I think we’re really going to grow and expand our numbers. You’re coming here for the community, the kids, the teachers — everybody here really cares about you and want you to succeed in life. Everyone here wants you to do the best you “Whencan.”Icame here, it was awesome,

Tony Cruz, 2022 graduate


Anne Marie Mercado

“These last two years — and with covid putting a monkey wrench into it all — these kids, the adversity they face, the resiliency it teaches them and they growth they see from it; not having a home football field and those kids being on the road every weekend, basketball having limited dates at Hammonton Middle School.

Former St. Joseph Academy Athletic Director and current Dean of Student Life

“Being at a small school where I’m also teaching, I’m with the kids every day and see them out in their sports. I get to build relationships with the kids and see what we need and where we need to Beinggrow.”anathletic director of a small private school isn’t necessarily a glam orous job. There are all kinds of things Mercado has needed to do through out the years, including field and

See MERCADO, Page 17

Mercado has a long history with ath letics, as she was a three-sport star at Cumberland Regional High School, playing field hockey, basketball and softball, before going on to play field hockey at Boston College. She even tually also played softball during her college athletic career, got a masters degree in administration and briefly played for Team U.S.A. in field hock ey.Her career also included a stop at the Y.A.L.E. School in Northfield, and she’s also coached field hockey at Ocean City and Schalick high schools. Her athletic genes certainly were passed on to her sons, who all have been standout athletes at St. Joseph Academy. Brock now plays baseball at UNC-Asheville and Cohl, a 2022 graduate, is taking his talents to Boston College. Ty is still a part of St. Joseph Academy, and father, Dan, is a New Jersey State Trooper.

Anne Marie Mercado’s time as the athletic director at St. Joseph Academy led to a lot of success for the Wildcats

ton has always had a strong ath letic program, spearheaded by the school’s football team, which has won more than 300 games under current coach Paul Sacco, a legendary figure in South Jersey high school football. But in recent years some other pro grams have really done well, too, in cluding field hockey, softball and boys basketball. The field hockey team won 17 games last year and the softball team, skippered by Les Olson, won 19 games this past spring and in 2021 had one of its best seasons ever, racking up 27 wins to go along with a sectional championship.Theboysbasketball team, under coach Paul Rodio — whose father, also named Paul, is one of the state’s win ningest coaches at St. Augustine Prep — won 19 games a year ago and made the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament semifinals, and in the covid-shortened 2020 season the Wildcats went 12-2. The school has a new athletic direc tor, Tim Fingerhut, in place as it enters the 2022-2023 school year, but a lot of the recent success was formulated by Anne Marie Mercado, who spent six years in the athletic director posi tion and saw three sons go through the school as football and baseball players. She’s moving on to a new position in the school, Dean of Student Life, as the academy continues to improve and ex pand after nearly closing down a few years ago when the Catholic Diocese of Camden dropped the school as an affiliation.“Wehave a great support staff, from our Board of Trustees to Mr. (Steve) Cappuccio, our staff is wonderful. We’re all on the same page and we all work hard together. I think we all have the same common goals in mind in terms of what we want to achieve as a school, from academics to athletics. On the athletic side, we’re focused on player development and creating op portunities to play at the next level,” Mercado said. “Les has done a great job with the softball program. I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities he gives the girls. Last year, we had two girls sign for Division I. Our base ball coach, Nick Core, has done a great job with the boys.”

Carrying on a great athletic tradition

St. Joseph Academy in Hammon

“I try to let them just be students, but it’s good because they have a relation ship with the kids and that allows me to have a better relationship with some of the kids,” Mercado said of her sons.



People don’t realize the adversity these kids face, but at the same time they build character and grow stronger.”

South Jersey Impact photo/Sully Mercado’s middle son, Cohl, was an outstanding baseball player at St. Joseph Academy and will be following in his mother’s footsteps as an athlete at Boston College.

Contact Dave;;O’Sullivan:SouthJerseyImpactatonTwitter@sjimpact

Having three athletic boys has meant the Mercado family has been on the go for pretty much the last 20 years. Anne Marie said life is very hectic, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “For me, my hobbies are my kids. It was meant for me to have three boys and be able to watch them play sports. In the summer, I travel with them and get to watch them play baseball. They enjoy it, my husband and I enjoy it,” Mercado said. “It is a total team ef fort, from my husband and I down to our three kids. ‘OK, where is your uniform? Throw it in the wash. Whose clothes are in the dryer? Who is pick ing up dinner tonight?’ We have to work together. But, I don’t know life any differently. I think growing up playing sports and being on the run all the time, and my mom and dad doing all those things for me, kind of makes it natural.”Thoseorganizational skills built up over two decades of raising a family certainly served her well during her time as athletic director. “The number one thing you need in this job is organization,” she said. “And communication; being able communicate with fellow ADs, and my coaches in terms of what our ex pectations are and where they need to be. And you have to be able to develop plans with the coaches to achieve those expectations. For me, it can get crazy so I need that organization. Am I trying to reschedule games right now or am I going to work on lesson plans? Am I texting other ADs back? I just have to use my time wisely.” Mercado, an Upper Township res ident, said the students of St. Joseph Academy mirror her work ethic. The Wildcats’ athletes don’t make excus es, they just get to work. The school nearly closed a few years ago, it lost the use of the football field the Wild cats were using in the center of town and the football team had to play all of its games on the road one season, the basketball teams have been with out a full-sized gym. One thing after another has threatened to derail the St. Joseph Academy sports programs, but the Wildcats just keep surviving — and thriving. The school got some huge financial donations from alumni and a new artificial turf field is being built. There are even plans to continue to add sports, such as lacrosse, in the coming school

“Theseyear.last two years — and with covid putting a monkey wrench into it all — these kids, the adversity they face, the resiliency it teaches them and they growth they see from it; not having a home football field and those kids being on the road every week end, basketball having limited dates at Hammonton Middle School. People don’t realize the adversity these kids face, but at the same time they build character and grow stronger,” Mercado said. “With the obstacles we face, they realize there are bigger things in life and with hard work and that ‘Gotta Be lieve’ mentality, we can get through all of it. It has been challenging, but our kids and coaches rise to the occasion. Nothing holds us back. I think (the challenges we face) give us that grit.”

Mercado said St. Joseph Academy, as small as it is with only about 200 students, will always be the underdog, and it reminds her of another underdog story the school draws strength from, especially being only about a half hour from Philadelphia.

SOUTH JERSEY IMPACT ] AUGUST 2022 ] PAGE 17 gym cleanup, fund raising, trying to reschedule games on rainy days — if you can think of it, chances are, Mer cado has done it the past six years. She also tries to stay on top of what kids are doing academically and staying in contact with a host of college coaches to try to help get her students recruited.

“I love the kids. Game Day is my favorite day because you can see all the hard work they have put in. That’s the icing on the cake, watch ing all the hard work you’ve put in behind the scenes — nobody has to know about that, it’s for the kids and for the school. Anything I can do to help, I want to be available,” she said. “I think the most important thing is player development and let ting kids know there are opportuni ties out there, whether it be Division I, DII, DIII or juco (junior college). I try to stay on top of all the athletes academically to figure out where they are, what their goals are. It’s good to get to know each kid on a personal level so you can help them along.”

MERCADO, From Page 16

“It kind of reminds me of that Rocky IV movie where he goes to Russia, he has nothing to train with and the Rus sian guy has all that technology and equipment to help him succeed,” she explained. “Rocky is out running in a foot of snow, he has log on his back — our situation reminds me of that. It teaches us that hard work and drive that we need. That’s kind of my analo gy of it.”

After nearly two decades, Steve Cappuccio is back where he belongs, in Hammonton

See CAPPUCCIO, Page 19

Steve Cappuccio

South Jersey Impact photos/Sully Steve Cappuccio was born and bred in Hammonton, so it’s a natural fit that he’s Head of School for St. Joseph Academy, which opened in 2020 to replace the former St. Joseph High School.


Cappuccio certainly did take over a blank slate at St. Joseph Academy. In the beginning, there wasn’t even a slate, as the new academy was short on space, desks, supplies, you name it. The administration had to start from scratch after the Catholic Diocese pulled out in 2019. But that hasn’t discouraged anyone involved in St. Joseph Academy, and Cappuccio believes the groundwork is being laid for big things to come in the“Programatically,future. we’re going to revamp almost our entire curriculum. We’re moving to what is called a ‘skills-based’ curriculum, which is a little different than what a lot of folks are doing. You have this inter section of how much content do you teach vs. is the skill you’re trying to teach them more important? I’m a believer — and my philosophy on education — is that the skill is something that needs to stay with the student the rest of their life. Education skills, interper sonal skills, critical writing, reading comprehension.


“This was the hardest decision of my life because I love St. Augustine. To leave something you love and something you loved as a kid and spent more than 20 years of your life — the bonds of that brotherhood are strong. Part of me says that when you’re in a lead ership position and you’re at a place too long, you don’t have the ability to see over the wall anymore. I thought this was the next step in my progression as a school leader. It’s something I’ve always want ed to do, and it just so happened to be less than five minutes away from my home,” he said. “What really attracted me was I walked into this building and saw the chance to build something. St. Augustine is such an established school, and it was wonderful to be part of that school. It was great to see that school grow. I graduated with 40 boys and now there are more than 650 students there. (St. Augustine Prep) will always be near and dear to my heart, seeing the campus go through all those changes.”

Hammonton is one of those magical towns, a little slice of Americana right here in the middle of South Jersey. Many families in town can trace their lineage in the area back to the time before automobiles were even invented. It has a quaint downtown, great schools and is surrounded by blueberry farms, earning the moniker “The Blueber ry Capital of the World.” It’s an ideal place to live, work and play, and Steve Cappuccio couldn’t be happier that he is finally back home.The Head of School for St. Joseph Academy — which was launched in 2020 to replace the former St. Joseph High School when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden pulled its funding — grew up at tending St. Joseph schools, and even though he spent nearly two decades working in education at parochial rival St. Augustine Prep in Richland, his heart has always been in Hammonton. Cappuccio was brought on in the fall of 2021 to lead the all-new St. Joseph Academy into what many hope will be an exciting future for the school, which has about 200 students and is located right in the heart of Hammonton. He has strong ties to the school, as not only did he spend from kindergarten until 10th grade at St. Joseph, all his siblings and both of his parents attended St. Joe’s. Still, he said it wasn’t easy to leave St. Augustine Prep, one of the premier all-boys college preparatory schools in the Mid-Atlantic region.


CAPPUCCIO, From Page 18


All those skills they’ll need for college and beyond as they enter the workplace. To me, content is just a vehicle for kids to have those skills and master them.

That’s one component of our curriculum,” Cappuccio said. “We’re also going to experiment with a different style of scheduling than most schools. We’re going to add some new athletic programs, and I’m excited about that, and we’ll have some auxiliary programs as well that will help bolster student life. We’re pretty excited about what’s coming. “One of the questions I get asked is, ‘are you just going to make this just like St. Augustine Prep?’ I say, ‘this is not St. Augustine Prep.’ I’ll take some of what I learned there, but we’re going to tailor pro grams that have to make sense for St. Joe Academy,” he added. “You can’t take everything St. Augustine was doing because it’s an all-boys school, and it’s also a different tuition price point. So, we have to do things that make us a good, solid program but that also meet the needs of our students and faculty. We just want to make St. Joe’s the best version of itself.” Cappuccio said he believes St. Joseph Academy will be successful because of the passion of the peo ple involved, from the administration to the students, and even the parents. “The school community in general can be summed up in one word — passionate. And that goes from the Board on down. The community as a whole is a passionate community, and the teachers fall into suit with that as well. We can work with that,” Cappuccio said. “The parents have been very supportive. This is a very passionate community. They are passionate about their school, passionate about their sports. The kids have also been great. After the first week, I went home and my wife asked, ‘so, what do you think?’ And I said, ‘the kids are great.’ She said, ‘well, you’ll be alright then.’ That’s why we do what we do — to work with kids and try to get them ready for life.”

Contact Dave;;O’Sullivan:SouthJerseyImpactatonTwitter@sjimpact

While there are big plans in the future for St. Jo seph Academy, Cappuccio said the focus right now is continuing to build a solid foundation so that the school will be in position to implement the changes necessary to be competitive in the years to come.

“This group of Board members and the people who saved this school started from square one. I ad mire them for that. In regards to where that leaves us now — there are a lot of changes I want to bring to this school, but changes take time. You can’t make a 180-degree turn that quickly. My biggest thing is making sure the foundation is solid. I think of St. Jo seph Academy like building a house or a skyscraper for the future. Our job right now is foundational. We have to make sure the foundation is intact before we build this beautiful house that is going to be St. Jo seph Academy. But, change is hard and sometimes I’m looked at like I have three heads,” Cappuccio said. “If your mindset is that you are student driven, and you’re going to make decisions that are best for the students — if every decision you make is based on what is best for the students, if you think that way, it’s hard to be wrong. That’s where we’re at right now. There have been some bumps along the way, but it’s going well so far. I’m enjoying my time here. I want to give St. Joseph Academy students as many opportunities as possible to be great.”

Back where he belongs

Chris Sacco returns to his alma mater as the Blue Devils’ new AD

South Jersey Impact photos/Sully Chris Sacco, former head football coach at Pleasantville and Absegami high schools, recently took over as the new athletic director at his alma mater, Hammonton High.

Chris Sacco is about as Hammonton as blue berry pie. The 37-year-old was born and bred in the quaint town on the western edge of At lantic County, and his was the first graduating class in the new Hammonton High School on Old Forks Road.He’s been a lifer in town and now — professionally — he’s come back home to stay as the new athlet ic director of Hammonton High. He takes over for Marni Parks, who left earlier this summer to take the AD job at Wall Township High School in Monmouth County. It’s a dream job for Sacco, who for the past several years has been a counselor and head football coach, first at Pleasantville High and most recently at Absegami.Infact,Sacco said he had no plans to leave Absega mi, but an opportunity to run the athletic department at his alma mater and hometown school was simply too good to pass up.

See SACCO, Page 21

“Even when I was coaching in other areas, like Pleas antville and Absegami, I’ve always lived in Hammon ton. I’ve been a part of this community for 37 years. It means a lot to me, personally. Anytime you have an emotional interest in your job beyond just going to work, it carries a lot more weight. I’ve always been very adamant that Hammonton always has very good athlet ics, there are great facilities here at the high school and I think the town has done a great job trying to upgrade facilities for the feeder programs. I think this communi ty has a lot to offer, and being a part of it the past three decades, it’s important for me to do whatever I can to try


Hammonton 2003 grad

SOUTH JERSEY IMPACT ] AUGUST 2022 ] PAGE 20 Chris Sacco / Hammonton High / Athletic Director MEET YOUR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR

“I went back to get my supervisor certificate for this position,” he added. “I could have been a coun seling supervisor, but this was the role — because of being so involved with sports throughout my life — I feel like with my background and knowledge, and my relationships with people, that we can continue to grow these programs. This is the job that I wanted, I just never knew when it was going to be available.”

Sacco grew up playing all kinds of sports in Hammonton, including football, and remembers fondly how he and his high school teammates helped the coaches move all the equipment from the old building to the new high school back in the early 2000s. He said he believes his ties to the town will play a big role in his success as the new AD for the high school.

“This kind of happened last minute. We were rolling at Absegami with our offseason (football) program, and it was the first time since I had been there that we had a full offseason due to the covid restrictions. So, we were feeling really good about the progression of the football program and where it was going, but then this opportunity came up,” Sacco said. “This is where I grew up, we’re part of the community here, so I figured why not interview and see what happens? And it ended up working out. But it was hard; it was a tough decision to leave Absegami because we were in the middle of building something, but I always said that if this job ever came open I would have to at least try for it because (athletic director) positions don’t come open very often. Sometimes it might be 15 or 20 years before a job comes open.

Sacco had a very successful career as a high school counselor and football coach at Pleasantville and then Absegami before taking on the role of athletic director at Hammonton.

He does have some big shoes to fill, however. Parks did an outstanding job with the athletic program, and she fol lowed up Mike Gatley, who now is the athletic director at Mainland Regional High in Linwood and formerly was the president of the Cape-Atlantic League. “Marni did a very good job, and prior to her was Mike Gatley, so the foun dation has been laid,” he said. “What I went over during the interview pro cess was, from an organizational stand point, the desire to continue to build up the feeder programs and have our high school athletes do more with them; we want to look at any sports we might want to add that we don’t have that maybe other schools have. And what kinds of things we can do to get out in front and make sure our student-ath letes have everything they need to be successful. That was part of the conver sation. What can we do to continually enhance this athletic department? We want to bring the technology aspect of things up to date, and there are a lot of ways we can promote our student-ath letes so we want to start hitting on all of those.”

SOUTH JERSEY IMPACT ] AUGUST 2022 ] PAGE 21 to grow these high school programs,” he said. “I used to work on the farm. I’d go to (football) weightlifting sessions then go back to work on the farm. It’s defi nitely a blue-collar town and I think the athletes have always taken that ap proach that they are going to come in and work hard. We’re not always the biggest, strongest or fastest, but there is something that these programs have on the inside that is hard to replicate. These kids grow up together and stay together, which I think is a huge benefit when you get to high school. You care more about your teammates and you play harder for them. You see that on the field, and the programs here have been very good.” Sacco took over during the second week of August, so it’s been a full sprint to try to get caught up to speed on everything an athletic director needs to handle throughout the school year. But the good thing is he’s not trying to build something from the ground up. The Blue Devils have some outstand ing sports programs and are competi tive in every sport, and the facilities are some of the nicest in South Jersey. The school just installed an artificial turf field right behind the gym to be used by the field hockey and soccer teams, and there is all kinds of land behind the school for sub-varsity fields in sports such as soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball.“Idon’t necessarily have to build anything from the ground up, there are a lot of people who have been here and know what’s going on,” Sacco said. “There are a lot of people who have been helping to run this ship for a while and my goal is to just continue to steer it in the right direction and see how else we can promote our student-athletes. We want to get more exposure to our athletes, and I really want to see all of our programs compete at a high level.”;;O’Sullivan:SouthJerseyImpactatonTwitter@sjimpact SACCO, From Page 20

Sacco said it was a difficult decision to leave Absegami, but that his family — including his three young children — is happy he’s going to be home more often and only works five minutes from home now. “It was hard, but we’ve had things personally the past couple of years that have transpired that change your thought process a little bit,” he said. “I know this move going forward is the best, and I can always get back into coaching (at the youth level). Foot ball, in some aspects, will always be there, and these kinds of jobs aren’t always available, so you have to make a choice. It was bittersweet because my wife knows how much I love foot ball, but it’s not about me anymore. We have little kids and it’s nice to be closer to them. My wife is a speech therapist in the Hammonton School District, so we’re both happy.” This fall will start Sacco’s first full year as an athletic director, and it may take some time before he can fully tear himself away from the football field. As a coach for so many years, he still has that yearning to get on the field, whistle in hand.

“I stopped out at practice the other day for a few minutes, and it’s dif ferent now being on the other side of things,” Sacco said. “That coach is al ways going to be in me. I know on Fri day nights I’m going to be excited for them, but it’s going to be different for me. In my mind, I’ll probably be going crazy. But our coaches know what they are doing so I’m not going to be the kind of guy who interferes. I was nev er a micro-manager as a football coach and I’m not going to be that guy now.”

Contact Dave

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