By Matt Johnson
With its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, the Dominican Republic may be thought of as a tropical paradise, but it is also one of the poorest countries in the world as I learned how privileged and lucky we are in the United States when I was invited to go play baseball there with the University of Virginia last summer.
The people of the DR were some of the nicest I've ever met. But despite working quite hard, their country is plagued by extreme poverty. On average, the people there earn about $7,000 a year. Some people in our country can make that in a week or two, to a month. Everywhere there are reminders of their economical difficulty. People's businesses were also their homes. If not, they had shack-like buildings they called home. There was no air conditioning, heat, heated water or, in some cases, water at all.
"That's how 90 percent of the world lives and some people don't even realize it,” said camp director Sam Le'beau.
Known as the baseball capital of the world, the DR is responsible for a large percentage of professional players. According to Baseball America, it’s estimated that a tenth of the talent in Major League Baseball comes from the DR. More specifically from an area that isn't tremendously well known called Boca Chica. Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to visit that area thanks to UVA and assistant coach Matt Kirby. I had the opportunity to play in four games in August that week due to Tropical Storm Fred hitting Boca Chica hard and postponing play for two days.
To the people of the DR, watching teens play baseball is like us going to a New York Yankees’ game. People all across town would show up to our games on trucks, motorcycles, or any way they can get there to watch us play teams from the DR. Unlike in America, there are no age limits for the teams. In my first at bat, I faced a 20-year-old pitcher throwing 92 miles per hour already signed with a Major League team. Down there, players are able to sign a professional contract at age 16. The first team we played had three or four signed players between the ages of 17 and 22.
Due to the widespread poverty of the less-fortunate DR, playing baseball is seen as a way to come to America for education. Every day, kids wake up at 4:45 a.m. to work out at 5. They will be on the beach training for about two to three hours straight, play a game, then go back to the beach for a "cool-down" workout. From what I saw, they work harder than anyone I have ever seen here in the U.S.
A big part of the trip was trying to help out the people there. A lot of the time, the younger players between the ages of 7 to 16 would come up and ask for fielding mitts, cleats, bats, batting gloves, etc. I gave away a pair of batting gloves and could tell that I made a boy’s day after he gave me a big hug for them. That was something special for me knowing that I helped him out and how much he appreciated it.
The overall purpose of the trip was to play baseball and learn a new way of life and culture. Not only did it teach me baseball skills, but it really taught me to be grateful for what we all have here in the states. The next time the WiFi is down and you can't use your phone, remember that some people may not have a phone at all. They may not even have plumbing. The trip went really far in granting me a better sense of perspective and understanding how well-off most of us are when compared to the rest of the world.
By Zach Lichter
It’s hard to believe, but the 2020-21 winter sports season ended last week, five weeks into spring.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many of school traditions that make the year special. This year Wall High School’s basketball, competition cheer and bowling seasons were delayed until Jan. 11. The ice hockey and chess seasons started Dec. 14 but, on Jan. 13, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) shut down winter sports until Feb. 5 after multiple outbreaks across the state.
“I believe they wanted to allow for the post holiday ‘uptick’ in cases to die down before starting sports,” said Wall Athletic Director Mr. Thomas Ridoux. “Chess is being conducted virtually, therefore, that wasn't a safety concern. They decided not to move the ice hockey (again) due to the many contractual obligations that existed between schools and ice rinks."
Winter sports were already a challenge to make sure that the seasons ran smoothly and safely even before they began. Coming into the fall and winter, it was expected the number of COVID cases would increase.
“The biggest challenge is to maximize mask wearing and social distancing as much as possible, particularly for those who are not immediately involved in intense practice drills and gameplay,” Mr. Ridoux said. “The more we can do that, the less chance that someone who has COVID will spread it to other team members.”
The other challenge was not having spectators at the games. Initially the NJSIAA did not allow spectators to go to indoor events, which meant that many parents who had seniors on those winter sports teams wouldn’t be able to see their sons and daughters play for the last time. They were able to watch their children play on the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) website. Mr. Ridoux was able to get an NFHS camera installed in the North Gym for events that take place there.
Along with many of the challenges the NJSIAA had to face, it actually came up with some safe alternatives. In basketball, the officials were going to have a coin toss to see who would get the ball first instead of having a tip off. The officials were not going to come in contact with the ball during the course of the games. Participants in ice hockey wore gloves.
“The NJSIAA is limiting the amount of meets per team and this year we only have 3-4 meets opposed to 6-7 meets,” said Wall High School senior sprinter Michael Nolan. “This year there are only four racers if you are running a 55-meter sprint and five runners for 200 meters and 400 meters. Usually there are eight racers for a 55-meter sprint and 12 for a 200- and 400-meter run.”
Overall, it was not the winter sports season people envisioned. But they tired to make the most of the challenging school year.
“My biggest takeaway is that I was able to learn that you may have to work harder at times but the results will speak for themselves,” Nolan said. “This season we had to work harder mentally and physically which made everyone improve.”
By Chris Dailey
While the wait for winter sports to start has taken a little longer than expected, Wall High School can still bask in the warm glow of a fantastic fall season. In fact, it might be the winningest season Wall has ever had.
Winner: a person/thing that wins something. Examples of the word ‘winner’ include the Crimson Knights’ football and boys soccer teams. See also: Wall girls soccer and Wall field hockey.
Wall’s football team (7-0) finished as the top team in New Jersey, defeating Donovan Catholic 18-15 in the unofficial Shore Conference championship game. Led by junior Charlie Sasso, who was named the top defensive player in the state, the Knights trailed just once all season before edging the Griffins.
Wall’s boys soccer team (17-0) defeated Toms River East to capture the Central East D Group III championship.
Wall’s girls soccer (16-1) rode an undefeated streak into the Central East B championship game, coming up short to Rumson 3-2.
Similarly, Wall’s field hockey team (11-1) advanced all the way to the Central East B semifinals before Ocean Township ended its season by a final of 4-2.
FOOTBALL HAS A YEAR FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
In a year hit hard by COVID-19, with daily temperature checks and social distancing during early morning workouts behind Wall High School, the football team was led by a talented squad with many players returning from last year's defeat in the state final. Key players like senior quarterback Logan Peters, West Point commit Casey Larkin and Sasso helped lead the Knights to glory.
With an undefeated record that speaks for itself, the 2020 Wall football team will forever be remembered in the gym’s rafters.
Many are wondering though, is there an asterisk on the title?
Wall wasn’t able to go to states this year due to COVID. Instead, the Knights went all the way to the Shore Conference final, a game which they won thanks to a last second goal-line stop by sophomore Kesuin Sanders.
Many people may take exception against the 2020 Knights because there were no state playoffs, a true, what if? scenario for Coach Tony Grandinetti’s team.
On the flip side, Wall had undisputable talent this year. Rutgers’ lacrosse commit and Wall star Peters put on a show again. Right by his side was Larkin who ran for a total of 890 yards with five 100-plus games and 13 TDs. Overall, Larkin scored 30 total varsity TDs with the Knights.
The biggest thing about the 2020 Wall football team that was different from past years was togetherness, a bond unlike any other.
“This year's team was different from teams in the past because of the team chemistry” Coach Grandinetti said. “This team had a sense of togetherness unlike any team I have ever been a part of. I think part of it was the pandemic but another was the leadership we had on the team. Everyone had a job on this team and we all worked together to accomplish our goals.”
Overall, some may look at the team in a negative way, others may look at it as the best football team in Wall’s history. Whichever way that goes, the fact that this team will forever be remembered in the history books of Wall High School’s athletics is undeniable.
BOYS SOCCER TEAM FINISHES ITS BUSINESS
Wall’s boys soccer got T-shirts during the summer with the school logo and five stars above it, representing five championships the Knights won during their history.
The back of the shirt, however, is what stood out.
Unfinished business was the motto for Wall this year led by Coach Garry Linstra and seniors Phil Lyons, Nico Della Pietro, Jake Pepe, Sean Southwell and Christan Cosenza.
Those seniors, mixed in with a talented group of juniors including star goalkeeper Jojo Gisoldi, created yet another force to be reckoned with for the boys soccer team, who made it all the way to the state finals in 2019, losing in a penalty kick shootout.
2020, however, was different. The players were determined to make up for the loss in the prior year and they did just that.
On top of that, it was the first year in the history of Wall boys soccer in which the team went undefeated. Not even the teams of the ‘80s that featured eventual Olympians, national title-winning coaches and pro players could even do what the 2020 team did.
Nobody could come close to the Knights’ soccer team led by Pepe’s goals, Lyons’ dribbling and Gisoldi’s jaw-dropping saves.
The final match of the season was historic for Wall as it was on the brink of being the first undefeated boys soccer team.
The Knights were set to make the stat no more. And they did.
Pepe got a header to put Wall up 1-0, but then Toms River East equalized near the end of the game.
It felt like a punch in the stomach to Wall, but the team stepped up, determined to finish the business.
Gisoldi made a leaping save, defying gravity, leaving Isaac Newton in awe.
Then, the big break came. A foul in Toms River East’s box led to a penalty kick which was calmly converted by centerback Southwell.
“Winning, of course, is a great feeling,” said Gisoldi, “but doing something that’s never been done before is surreal. We joked about going undefeated during preseason not thinking that it would realistically happen, but seeing how far we got from then to now is crazy.”
At the end of the day, the 2020 Wall boys soccer team will forever go down in history as one of the best to ever step on the pitch and the facts are there to show for it.
In fact, the fall of 2020 was as close to a perfect sports season Wall High School has ever had.
By Chris Dailey
People’s mouths and noses have disappeared, schools had to shut and go virtual, and sports have had to stop all in thanks to the coronavirus.
It all started on a Wednesday night in March when the NBA decided to shut down. Soon every league, including the Shore Conference, home of the Wall High School Crimson Knights, followed the NBA’s footsteps.
But now, the wait is over. The quarantine is over. Sports are back.
Some of the returning sports include the football team who are coming off an improbable state championship runner-up season and both the boys and girls soccer teams.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, fall sports have been quite different from previous years. 2020 will also go down as the only year where there weren’t hundreds of fans crowding the bleachers on a Friday night to watch under the lights football. Only a maximum of 500 people can attend sporting events because of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order, the majority of those 500 being staff, the school band and cheerleaders, and family members of the team.
“Fortunately, most of our sports have less than that number at games, so fans can attend those as long as they practice 6-foot social distancing and wear face masks,” said Mr. Wall High School Athletic Director Thomas Ridoux. “[Football] Spectators will also need a wristband to gain admission to the game. Each participant for Wall football, band, and cheer will receive two wristbands that they can give to family or friends. As a result, no tickets will be sold this season.”
With only 500 people being allowed in, many fans have reverted to constant updates from students who are in the band and others they may know at the game.
Although everything looks smooth on paper, it was a very long and tedious process to do workouts in the summer.
As the NJSIAA and Wall have been in close contact with one another regarding the public safety of the student-athletes, many precautions have been taken during these summer workouts. This includes a mandatory daily pre-practice COVID questionnaire.
Ms. Melissa Frees, head coach of the Wall girls cross country team, was eager for the season to start. She said she still has to be smart on how she manages her team workouts in order to follow guidelines and maintain social distancing.
“We are lucky enough to coach a sport that is very individual and does not require physical contact between athletes or any sharing of equipment,” Coach Frees said. “The athletes can run and keep a nice distance between each other to follow social distancing. One thing we do take an extra step with is spreading the athletes apart during drills/stretching and when traveling to different locations while utilizing the school buses. The athletes are encouraged to bring their own water bottles to practice and meet as well.”
While Coach Frees works on improving her team for the season, many athletes have also been trying to mentally get ready for what will be the craziest seasons of their athletic careers.
Junior Jojo Gisoldi, the varsity goalkeeper for the Wall boys soccer team, has worked very hard to stay in shape throughout the offseason. He said he has also been very cautious about the virus. Gisoldi has been following rules handed to him on what to do and what not to do during these times.
“As of right now, training is no different than it was previously,” Gisoldi said. “The main difference is we have to check in before practice. During the summer, it was a lot more odd as we had to maintain social distancing and everything was crazier.”
Wall’s hybrid schedule and cautious approach have helped as high school sports returned.
Despite all the uncertainty, people who said they couldn’t and confusion, Wall has managed to put the students first.
For many athletes, this is their final year of playing the sports they love and Wall has made sure to keep the best interest of those athletes in mind with all of the decisions they have made to this point and will continue to do so.
For now, sports are back on and Wall looks to have yet another strong fall season after having an amazing season in 2019.
By Ryan Sy
Both the Wall High School girls and boys soccer teams won sectional titles during the 2019-20 season, marking the first time both won sectional crowns in the same campaign.
It was the third Central Group II sectional title in the last four years for the girls. The Central Group III title is the first for the boys team since 2004. The girls team finished with a record of 16-6 while the boys team finished with a record of 17-4-2.
“We really started to bond together after a few weeks,” said senior Izabella Aravich. “Once this happened, we truly began to play as a team on the field. We started off the season 1-3, after that it was like we turned on a switch and just kept winning.”
The girls won the sectional title by a narrow margin, emerging victorious 2-1 in double overtime. The difference in the game was a MacKenize Tranberg goal. The senior’s shot sneaked under the crossbar and into the back of the net.
The road to the title, however, was not easy in the beginning. The team began the season with a three-game losing streak. That makes this title even more impressive considering the sluggish start to the season.
The boys team, on the other hand, won their sectional title game in overtime with the game-winning goal coming from the foot of junior Nico DellaPietro. This goal was a difficult shot to make since it came on a bounce.
“Our team was so successful because we played as one unit and everyone trusted each other on the field,” said senior Thomas Perry. “We had one of the best defenses in the state and our team could play with anyone.”
The boys defensive unit posted 15 shutouts in the 23 games the boys played.
Both teams will need to fill the void of the departing seniors. The girls team is losing eight seniors and the boys team is losing 14 seniors.
In the finals, both the girls and boys fought hard in losing efforts. Both games went into double overtime. The boy’s game, however, did not end after double overtime and went into a penalty shootout. Even though each team’s season did not end the way the players and coaches wanted to, both teams played a hard and successful season and have made their mark in the Wall High School history books.
By Chris Dailey
Special correspondent to The Crimson Courier
It was a cold Friday night as the Wall High School football team hosted the Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs for the Central Jersey Group III Championship Fri., Nov. 22. A huge crowd filled the bleachers, everyone ready for the whistle to blow and the game to start.
In the second half, Rumson needed one point to tie the game and force a potential overtime, but the Bulldogs’ kicker hit the right upright and the Crimson Knights secured a 14-13 win and the Central Jersey Group III Championship.
This wasn’t Wall and Rumson’s first tangle this season as they met in the second game back on Sept. 13, which resulted in a 14-3 win for the Knights. That was a win that saw Wall surge into a state championship contender. Against that same team, coached by Wall High School science teacher Jerry Schulte no less, they had the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.
Despite the Bulldogs slowing the Wall run game, they couldn’t find a way to contain the Knights through the air. Junior quarterback Logan Peters found classmate Casey Larkin for two huge touchdowns in the first half, one being a 43-yard effort down the field.
“We set him up on the outside because we thought he might have a one on one and, if he has a one on one, I am going to find him,” Peters said about Larkin. “He then made a crazy catch in the back corner, you can’t ask for much more than that as a quarterback.”
Meanwhile, the Rumson offense couldn’t put the final piece of the puzzle together. It connected on several quick passing plays that saw them gain multiple first downs, but they headed to the locker room at the end of the first half trailing Wall 14-0.
That didn’t last long after Rumson quarterback Collin Coles and his offense connected for several first downs to start the second half, moving all the way down the field in a seven-minute drive that saw Patrick Crawley deliver a 2-yard rush and help the Bulldogs get their first points of the night.
Rumson then forced Wall to punt and that resulted in yet another touchdown drive for the Bulldogs before the missed point after attempt.
“It’s the goal that we sent out to be in the beginning of the year and every week we took a step forward to accomplish that goal,” said Wall head coach Tony Gradinetti, who was certainly happy with his team knowing that they were headed to Rutgers University to play in the regional state championship game. “I’m really excited and proud of everyone.”
“It’s crazy, I’m just going to enjoy the moment and have fun with my boys,” Peters said about going to the regional state championship game against South Jersey Group III champ Woodrow Wilson High School, Wall’s final game of the season and one of the most important games in the history of Crimson Knights’ football.
By Chris Dailey
Special correspondent to The Crimson Courier
The football bleachers filled up in a flash as Wall High School got ready to take on St. John Vianney on Fri., Oct. 18, for Homecoming. Pink shirts flooded the stands for the annual pink-out game as the Crimson Knights ran onto the field before a dominant 41-14 victory.
Wall opened up the game with a squib kick that showed an aggressive game plan. Coming off a huge 34-7 win against Brick, the Knights were looking to extend an undefeated season.
“Everyone doubted us before the game, but we stepped up and started making some plays,” said Wall junior quarterback Logan Peters, whose performance saw him add to his offensive statistics for 11 total touchdowns to that point on the season.
After quickly stopping the St. John Vianney offense, Peters and the Wall offense showed what they could do. He found a hole and took off for a 43-yard run, setting the tone for what was to come.
Wall dominated on offense while Peters along with junior running back Casey Larkin and sophomore wideout Matt Dollive all scrambled for multiple first downs. The Knights lit up the scoreboard and senior Matt DeSarno did his part with 5-yard touchdown run.
After a scoreless second quarter, the third quarter saw Wall outscore St. John Vianney 13-0, including a 51-yard touchdown run by DeSarno and an interception by the athletic Peters.
Wall attempted another squib kick that proved to be successful. That set up a Larkin touchdown. The student section was loud and rowdy from the opening whistle all the way to the end, acting as the 12th man for the Knights. They had outscored their opponents by a margin of 224-68 through their contest with St. John Vianney.
Despite many saying they couldn’t do it, Wall remained undefeated into the NJSIAA playoffs.
“I think we played great as a team,” Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti said. “I always talk about the three phases: offense, defense, and special teams, all three units showed up tonight and it was a great team victory.”
Coach Grandinetti has been turning the program around since he stepped into the head coaching role in 2017. He has developed a core of young players that has helped Wall maintain a top spot in the Shore Conference.
Two notable examples are Dollive and classmate Charlie Sasso, who are performing like seniors. Dollive helped move the chains when Wall needed a first down and was a vital piece of the offense. Sasso ripped apart the St. John Vianney offensive line.
Wall hosts Lacey in the Central Jersey Group III semifinals Fri., Nov. 15, when the Knights hope to extend their season past the Thanksgiving showdown against Manasquan, which will also be played at home, Nov. 28.
By Ryan Sy
The Wall High School Crimson Knights basketball team concluded its outstanding season at Brick Memorial High School against the Moorestown Quakers in the New Jersey boys Group III semifinal on Thurs., March 7. They completed the season with a 21-9 record.
Two days prior, Wall won the Central Jersey sectional championship to advance. Wall went further than most expected because the team only had two seniors on it and lost its top scorer and head coach from the previous season, guard Steve Geis and head coach Mr. Matt Kukoda.
“It was a pleasure to wear Wall across my chest these past four years and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids to go to battle with everyday. I love these guys,” senior Trey Dombroski said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this season.”
Wall lost the game by the score of 64-44. The Knights led at halftime and Moorestown got hot in the second half when Wall fell out of its rhythm shooting the basketball.
“You can’t take away that Moorestown shoot 55 percent from 3-point range,” Wall’s head coach Mr. Robert Klatt said. “I entered the seniors at the end of the game to give the fans a chance to show their appreciation for them.”
Wall graduates two senior this season, Dombroski and Cam Johnson.
The Knights’ leading scorer, junior Quinn Calabrese, was held to just five points after his 27-point effort in the CJ Group III championship game. Wall’s leading scorer was sophomore Patrick Lacey with 15 points and freshman Colin Ackerman posted 14 points in the effort as well.
The game was not the way the team wanted to end, but this season was one that was historic and one to build upon this great effort into next season with four out of the five starters returning for the 2019-20 season, albeit with higher expectations.
By: Ryan Sy
The sign “sold out!” read outside of the door minutes after tip off in the Group III Sectional Championship game with thousands inside of the Wall High School gymnasium to watch a game that ended up being decided in the last few minutes.
For the first time since 1973, the Wall boys basketball team clinched the Central Jersey Group III title in a 53-47 win against Burlington Township on Tues., March 5, in the Wall High School gym for the first time in its history.
“The key to winning was our rebounding. We limited them to very few second-chance shots,” Wall High School Basketball Coach Mr. Robert Klatt said. “I think the turning point of the game was when (junior) Quinn Calabrese got a layup on a fast break then (junior) Michael Caputo took the charge.”
That proved to be a very important part of the game because it changed the momentum. After the charge, the Burlington point guard, senior Marcus Moore, started to argue with his coach about what play to run. This proved to be a point in the game where the pressure started to mount along with the noise of the Wall High School student section creating for a discombobulated last few minutes for Burlington. And the frustration of falling apart in last few minutes boiled over when a Burlington player knocked over Calabrese with 5 seconds left in the game and a technical foul was called.
Wall was able to set the tone in the first half getting out to a 26-19 advantage at halftime. In the third quarter, however, Wall was trailing by one point.
The team rallied to win the game in the fourth behind the thousands of fan within the stands of the Wall High School.
“We accomplished two of our goals in winning the section and the division, which was awesome,” sophomore Patrick Lacey said. “As a team we’re trying to improve on all parts of our game and just get better for next year so we can be the best version of ourselves.”
This Knights’ team will forever be remembered for this season and will forever hang on the banners in the Wall High School gymnasium.
By Ryan Sy
A Wall High School football player has been named to the All-American roster.
Crimson Knights’ senior long snapper Joe Shimko signed a letter of intent with the University of North Carolina State. The All-American roster is a highly elite group of high school football players who are considered the best of their respective positions.
“Being on the All-American roster is amazing,” Shimko said. “Just knowing that I’m a part of the best 100 players in the country is a dream come true. I was putting in many hours every day in the weight room to gain the weight I needed to gain to get interest from colleges and, after lifting and practicing, I would still snap at home. I snapped 375 balls every day just to get my muscle memory and then after that I took off and got to where I am today.”
The long snapper snaps the football either to the punter or the kicker depending on the the situation. Usually within the 20-yard line on the opponent's side of the football field, the team with the ball will attempt a field goal. A long snapper snaps the ball to the place holder so he can hold it for the kicker to attempt to kick it through the field goal post.
Another common situation is the offense has reached 4th down which is the last down to get past the necessary yards to gain a 1st down. If failed, then the opponent will get the ball where the offense left off. Most teams will punt in that situation, depending on field position and yards to gain. The long snapper will snap the ball to the punter, who is about 10-15 yards away from the line of scrimmage. The snap is crucial so that the punter is able to secure it and kick down field without being rushed or worrying about a bad snap.
This position is not the most well known, but is still important. It is also very difficult, especially with pressure on the line in certain game situations.
“It means a lot to have someone like Joe teaching me the the techniques of snapping and he motivates me to try to be like him,” said Wall sophomore Ryan Legere, the second-string long snapper for the Knights, who will look to fill into the role of long snapper next season. “He has taught me almost everything I know about snapping up to this point.”
Being named to the All-American team is an amazing achievement for Shimko and the Wall football program to be recognized for his outstanding play on the football field. It also shines the light on football coaching and player development for producing another top-tier player who is looking to play on Sundays in the NFL after college.