sandy football

Football players at Ventnor Pirates practice at Titus Field

Edward Lea

The Brigantine Rams lost thousands of dollars in football uniforms and equipment to Hurricane Sandy. They have yet to find parts of the scoreboard destroyed by the storm.

Losses for the Atlantic City Dolphins neared $30,000.

And Ventnor's team in the Atlantic County Junior Football League, the Pirates, found that their home just off the bay in the Titus Field complex - which usually makes for a great setting for football games - turned out to be a very bad spot for all of the team's equipment during October's hurricane.

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As the ACJFL is about to start its 2013 season Sept. 7, the teams are coming back slowly from their losses in the flood, but they are coming back. Fundrasiers, donations and hard work are making sure of that.

But it hasn't been easy.

Troy Jackson, the head coach of the Atlantic City Dolphins, puts his organization's losses near $30,000 in uniforms, helmets and pads, and kitchen appliances - many of the league's teams have busy snack-bar operations, because they field four teams each in age groups for kids from 5 to 14. So those four games each Sunday can add up to one long, hungry day for many cheerleading and football families.

Jackson said things have gotten worse for the Dolphins in the 10 months since the storm. The team's field is in the city's Venice Park section, and the main bridge to the neighborhood was closed by structural problems in June. So now the second floor of the Dolphins' clubhouse has been taken over as the neighborhood's emergency firehouse, Jackson said.

Over yet another bridge, the Brigantine Rams probably lost about $15,000 worth of uniforms and equipment, said Mike Morgan, the head coach. And that wasn't all.

"We had a lot of damage to the field, and a $22,000 scoreboard was just obliterated," Morgan said. "We only found about a third of the scoreboard. We still don't know what happened to the other two-thirds."

Morgan said his team's field is fairly high after being elevated a few times in the Rams' 55-year history. "But the (storage) sheds sit down, and they got a foot and a half of water," he said.

Meanwhile in Ventnor, A.J. Russo, the Pirates' varsity coach, estimates the hurricane cost the team more than $30,000.

"We lost about 60 sets of shoulder pads and 40 helmets," he said. "We also lost cheerleading uniforms, football jerseys and pants. ... And in the refreshment stand" - at the far end of the field from the bay - "we lost all the appliances, refrigerators, freezers and deep fryers. It all went in the flood."

Bart Beck, a Pirates assistant coach and the president of the ACJFL, said most of the damaged football gear was in a storage shed that the team shares with Ventnor's Public Works and Recreation departments. The Pirates' crowded cage got more than 2 feet of water, said Beck, who knew the team was in deep trouble days before anybody opened the shed's door. During the storm, a friend sent a picture of the Titus Field complex to Beck's phone - and the picture showed no difference between the football field and the bay beside it.

"Everything was covered with water," Beck said. "It all looked like part of the bay."

The football leaders in the three island towns know they could have fared even worse in the hurricane, but some of their teams were still playing football late last October because they had qualified for the league's playoffs. That meant many of the players on those teams still had their uniforms and pads at home, so that gear didn't all get flooded at once when the water rushed into the storage buildings.

Still, that good luck didn't solve or save everything, because lots of players' homes got flooded, too, and the football equipment could have been damaged there. Morgan, who works for Brigantine's Public Works Department, remembers driving a front-end loader around the town to clear debris in the weeks after the storm. The trash heap at one home looked familiar, because it included a pair of Rams' football pants.

"I had some equipment in my garage," said Jackson, the Dolphins' coach. "There were brand-new footballs that were floating. All my paperwork, all my films, the history of the team - all that stuff was underwater."

Beck, in Ventnor, said the main enemy of the football equipment was the same thing that forced thousands of residents to throw out everything that got caught in Sandy's flooding - and to rip out first-floor walls and rugs and more and put it out for the trashman.

"By the time we got in here, there was mold starting in the shoulder pads. And mold gets into the lining" of the pads and helmets, he said, standing in the storage shed, where the water got high enough to knock over a rack loaded down with dozens of sets of shoulder pads.

Football gear is expensive to replace, especially for high-quality, high-safety equipment.

"Shoulder pads can be $40 or $80," Jackson said. "But you want to put the best equipment on kids. With all this concussion stuff going on now, you need good helmets. Our varsity helmets cost $200."

Help for the teams' recovery has come from various sources.

Russo, the Ventnor coach, said his team got a big assist from Jaws Youth Playbook, a foundation sponsored by Ron Jaworski, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. The foundation donated $30,000 to the Pirates, which the organization spent rebuilding its snack bar and replacing all of the destroyed equipment, plus on new storage sheds, a scoreboard and replacing the lost football equipment.

Other contributions have included $2,500 each from Nights in Ventnor Go Green, the annual boat parade through the town's back bays; $2,500 from Chuck's 3-on-3, a traditional Ventnor basketball tournament held every August; and $3,000 from Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Russo said.

In Brigantine, the team has also held fundraisers, and more are coming, Morgan said, including a "door-to-door drive" to raise money for the Rams.

With this year's games scheduled to start soon, the Dolphins are also scrambling to get what they need for the organization's 250 kids, counting players and cheerleaders.

After the hurricane's flooding, "We're all in the same boat," Jackson said.

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