Philip Caporale, a soccer coach at Our Lady of Mercy Academy, was killed early Sunday morning in Gloucester County when the SUV he was driving collided with a tractor-trailer.

The 31-year-old Vineland resident won 101 games as the Villagers' coach. Michele McGrath, athletic director at OLMA in Newfield, said she was stunned by his death. Caporale was hired at the small all-girls school between eight and 10 years ago, and was very much a part of the school’s community.

“Everybody is devastated by this tragedy,” she said Sunday night. “Emotions are very high.”

The accident occurred just before 5 a.m on Harding Highway near St. George Street in Franklin Township. Caporale was traveling east on the roadway when his Chevrolet Tracker crossed into the westbound lane. He struck the trailer portion of a westbound tractor-trailer and was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a news release from the Franklin Township Police Department.

Police said the tractor-trailer driven by 51-year-old Alfred LaPollo, of Monroe Township, Middlesex County, was owned by Samuel Coraluzzo Co. Inc, a Vineland-based petroleum transport company.

The school where Caporale coached has about 150 female students in grades nine through 12.

“Aside from coaching our girls soccer team, Phil was the type of person that got involved with every activity and event at the school. He was a sportsman. He attended all of our games,” McGrath added. “He loved Our Lady of Mercy. He liked the kids.”

Last fall, Caporale got his 100th career victory with the Villagers. McGrath said she helped celebrate that milestone by presenting him with a certificate at OLMA’s 50th anniversary gala a couple of weeks ago.

“It was wonderful,” McGrath said. “I was very glad that I was able to honor him at that time. ... He’s the type of person who was always smiling.”

Caporale was a diehard Philadelphia sports fan, McGrath said, and she remembered spotting him sitting in the background while she watched a Phillies game on TV last season.

“He’d talk to me about the Phillies, and he’d give his opinion on certain players. We’d battle back and forth,” McGrath, a fellow Phillies fan, recalled fondly.

But Caporale supported all of OLMA’s teams just as strongly, she said, noting that he attended a Villagers lacrosse game Friday.

“He’d come to our basketball games,” she said. “He loved our sports, and he loved our girls and supporting them.”

McGrath said she learned of Caporale’s death in a phone call from an OLMA official late Sunday morning.

“I just couldn’t get my head around that. It seemed surreal,” McGrath said. “It doesn’t seem real to me.”

And it comes at a time of year that is traditionally joyful. The school’s Senior Awards Night is Wednesday and graduation the following Tuesday, she said.

Harding Highway between Grubb Road and Lake Road was was closed for several hours Sunday.

The crash is under investigation by Franklin Township police.

The Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, State Police Fatal Accident and Incident Management Unit, state Department of Transportation, and local ambulance squads and fire departments also responded to the scene.

Contact Charles Schroeder:

609-272-7189

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

609-272-7239