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VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press  

Pleasantville High School football players listen to coach Chris Sacco in their locker room before taking on Cedar Creek, at Pleasantville, Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)


Local
State, nation to see record-breaking travel over Thanksgiving holiday

Thanksgiving travel will continue to increase nationally and locally, with New Jersey expecting to see the highest number of travelers since 2005.

About 1.4 million New Jersey residents are expected to travel 50 miles or more, which is an increase of 2.7% from 2018, said Tracy Noble, manager of public and government affairs for AAA-Mid Atlantic.

Noble said there was a decrease in travelers before 2005 due to increased gas prices, “but once the economy started to change and gas prices retreated, we saw an increase in travel.”

An estimated 1.2 million, or 89% of New Jersey travelers, are expected to travel by car this Thanksgiving, Noble said, but airports are seeing the influx as well.

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The federal Transportation Security Administration expects nationwide air travel to see historic numbers, with more than 26.8 million passengers and crew members traveling through security screenings. Over the 2018 Thanksgiving holiday, TSA screened 25.6 million people, a 6% increase from 2017.

“The Thanksgiving week is busier for (Atlantic City International Airport) than other non-holiday weeks as more people are traveling to be with their family and friends,” said Mark Amorosi, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which owns the airport. “The peak travel days during this week are usually on Wednesday and Sunday. We advise all passengers to arrive at least two hours prior to their scheduled departure.”

Newark Liberty International Airport is also expected to see a record-breaking number of Thanksgiving travelers as the airport anticipates 10,000 more travelers a day than the average, according to a news release from the TSA.

TSA screens about 60,000 people a day at the Newark airport. Over the holiday it expects to screen about 70,000 passengers and crew members.

“TSA checkpoints at Newark will be fully staffed,” said Thomas Carter, TSA’s federal security director for New Jersey. “The officers assigned to the airports are very dedicated, and they will continue to deploy layers of security, both seen and unseen, to ensure the safety of the public.”

And even with gas prices increasing, it’s not deterring most travelers, according to GasBuddy, a tech company that provides real-time fuel prices.

Through an annual travel survey, GasBuddy found that 30% of Americans traveling by car over the holiday weekend say gas prices are impacting their travel plans. The national average gas price for Thanksgiving is projected to be at its highest since 2014 at $2.56 per gallon, a penny higher than last year.

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While Thanksgiving travel extends from the Wednesday before the holiday to the Sunday after, Wednesday will be the busiest travel day, with the most people traveling from mid-afternoon Wednesday into Thursday morning, Noble said.

Winds will be the most consequential part for some travelers. High-profile vehicles near the shore will sway in 20-30 mph sustained winds expected from Wednesday afternoon into Thursday, as gusts peak around 45 mph.

The strong winds may cause delays at local airports, so check with your carrier first. While there will be a few showers Wednesday, they will not last long enough or be heavy enough to cause any issues for travelers. Drivers may even want the windows down Wednesday.

Afternoon highs will be in the 60s in most places, with some shore spots in the 50s. Thanksgiving Day will start mild in the morning but turn back to late November weather quickly on northwesterly winds. It will feel like the 30s and 20s during the afternoon.

Press Meteorologist Joe Martucci's 7-Day Forecast


Education
Statewide group mobilizes South Jersey leaders to correct school segregation

PLEASANTVILLE — In New Jersey, where studies show 25% of school districts are extremely segregated, a statewide group is urging legislators to change policies to create more integrated districts.

Last week, school board members, county and state elected officials, faith leaders, local civil rights activists and interested residents from across the state filled the pews at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville for a forum on school segregation and equity in education hosted by Building One New Jersey.

“We know that there are man-made structures, public choices and policies that were enacted and can be dismantled and reversed. But it’s not going to happen if we do nothing about it,” said Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett, who organized the meeting with Galloway Township Councilman Frank Santos.

Building One New Jersey, previously known as the New Jersey Regional Coalition, has been organizing over the past decade to address segregation in schools, according to Executive Director Paul Scully. He said regional groups will be formed to gain support and input from local stakeholders and leaders.

According to a report released in May 2018 by Paul L. Tractenberg and Ryan W. Coughlan of the Center for Diversity and Equality in Education, the extreme segregation of New Jersey schools happens in both majority non-white and majority white communities. The report states that educational outcomes in these schools are significantly below state averages.

The report also notes that New Jersey has some very diverse districts that are proportional to the demographics of the state, such as Galloway and Egg Harbor townships, and that districts like these have increased over two decades. But so has the extreme isolation of black and Hispanic or white students.

Leaders at the event called out a recent petition by the Absecon School District to pull out of its high school sending relationship with Pleasantville as an attempt for a majority white district to de-regionalize from a majority black and Hispanic district.

The Rev. Willie Dwayne Francois III, senior pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church, said the solution to the problem of student segregation cannot be solved by breaking up extremely segregated minority districts, but has to include techniques to create equity.

“If New Jersey is going to be a state of fairness, a state of equity, we have to find ways of not just (putting) people of the different colors in the same room, we have to find a way to share power,” Francois said.

Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, a member of the New Jersey School Equity Council and a school board member in Essex County, said she has helped to dismantle policies in her own school district that were stopping minority students from achieving academic success but said there will always be resistance.

“This work is going to take all levels of government and leadership to make this happen, but it’s going to take you all to make this happen,” she said.

State Sen. Chris Brown, R-2nd, was the only state elected official to attend and speak during the meeting, offering his support. Senate President Steven Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Assemblymen John Armato and Vince Mazzeo, both D-Atlantic, sent representatives.

EHT school board debuts amended transgender student policy

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — With a state law requiring the district to take action and members of the community expressing concerns, the township Board of Education created a compromise in its latest version of the district’s proposed policy for transgender students that was debuted at Tuesday’s workshop meeting.

Also present was civil rights professor and attorney John C. Brittain, who spoke about a lawsuit filed in May 2018 by the Latino Action Network against the state over segregation in schools.

“You can’t win school segregation suits in the courts alone, you only can win with action in the streets. So I’m here to mobilize you,” Brittain said. “We need your action to help show the court that the people care.”

Brittain pushed for regionalization as a way to combat segregation.

“Diversity is spreading throughout this country,” he said. “We must keep up with time. We must keep up with change.”

2018 NJ School Segregation report
GALLERY: Pennsylvania Avenue School held a Thanksgiving Turkey Basket donation event for school families

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Marchers in Saturday’s rally will move down New Road from Woodland Avenue to the Pleasantville High School football field.


Local
'That’s too much panic for fireworks'
Witnesses recall the Pleasantville football game shooting in their own words
Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 

Pleasantville High School Football Field. Nov.22, 2019 Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer

On Nov. 15, three people were shot in what officials called a targeted attack during the third quarter of the Pleasantville-Camden Central Jersey Group II high school football playoff game. What follows are accounts of the evening from people who attended the game.

Friday afternoon

It’s 3 p.m., four hours before the game, and Chris Sacco, Pleasantville head coach gathers in the high school's cafeteria for a pregame meal of chicken and pasta. The players hang out, trying to relax. At 5:45 p.m., his special teams players head out to the field, followed by the full team at 6 p.m. The game is an hour away, but already there’s a different feeling in the air. A program that had struggled for years had its biggest crowd in decades.

SACCO: When we came out, the coaches all said how big the crowd was. We’ve never seen our side completely full. The kids were really locked in.

Ernest Howard, 17, Pleasantville linebacker and tight end: They told us it was like 2,500 people there. It was just like a live night.

Retired Pleasantville Battalion Chief Neal Loch, 51, arrives five minutes before kickoff with Jonathan Diego, a Pleasantville alumnus. Loch takes his usual spot in front of the high school band.

LOCH: We just kind of hang out.

Up in the press box behind Pleasantville’s home bleachers, Press of Atlantic City sports writer David Weinberg sets up his laptop next to Nick Kosko and Steve Parker, who are broadcasting the game for 97.3 ESPN. Weinberg leans out the open press box window and snaps a photo of the crowd, which he posts on Twitter.

Game time

With a trip to the sectional final on the line, fans wave maroon-and-gray pompoms as Stephen Townsend, the PA announcer and athletic director at Pleasantville, urges the record crowd to make some noise for their team. Pleasantville firefighter Julio Sanchez, 41, sits on the right side of the bleachers with fellow firefighter Ernie Alexander, and takes a video of the crowd that he posts on social media.

Edward Lea / staff photographer  

Pleasantville’s Kashawn Jamison, No. 3, runs up the middle against Camden’s Nazir Dale, No. 21, during the first part of the Central Jersey Group II semfinals in football at Pleasantville High School, which was halted by a shooting in the bleachers Friday.

The first half ends with Camden leading 6-0 in a defensive battle.

SACCO: We were down 6-0 at halftime, but we were thinking we’d be able to wear them down in the second half.

SANCHEZ: It was exciting to see the kids in that position for the first time in a really long time. It was a really good game up until that point.

As Sacco addresses his team in the locker room, Loch and Diego walk up to the press box to be interviewed by Kosko and Parker.

LOCH: After we came down from halftime, I ran down to the port-o-potty, the exact furthest point from where we were standing. I come back 10 minutes later, I told (Diego) we didn’t realize how thick the crowd was. It was four people thick; what’s normally a two-minute walk took me 10 minutes.

POP-POP-POP

On fourth down and with 4 minutes and 58 seconds to go in the third quarter, Pleasantville punts. The punt hits the ground and rolls out of bounds, and the special teams leave the field. Suddenly, bedlam erupts with the sound of gunfire, people screaming and others scattering from the home team's bleachers.

KOSKO: I hear these shots ring out in my left ear. And in that split second I had two thoughts in my head, thinking that either these are firecrackers or this is the worst-case scenario and these are gunshots.

LOCH: We hear the pop, pop, pop, pop. We looked at each other rather calmly. Everybody is moving at us. We immediately take off towards the shooting. We were hoping it was fireworks, but that’s too much panic for fireworks.

SACCO: The shots came directly behind me, and I knew what it was right away. I just grabbed the players who were close to me and yelled for them to get down or run.

nhuba-pressofac / AHMAD AUSTIN / Staff Writer 

Pleasantville police search the bleachers where the shots were fired during a game Friday night at the high school.

After hearing the shots, Sacco ran up to the stands to find his family. At first he couldn't locate two of his children. 

SACCO: To be honest, that was the scariest part for me. Then we found out that my cousins had taken them to be safe. We all got to the gym, and there were about 200 people in there, the locker rooms and the coaches' offices, taking shelter.

HOWARD: We ran inside and got in the gym, got in the locker room, and everybody just started calling their loved ones. And unfortunately my mom didn’t answer at first. So I called my sister and my sister said she was looking for my little brother. So that’s when I started losing my mind and I was about to run outside and go find him myself.

In the press box, Townsend, Weinberg, Kosko and Parker hide under the table until they are given the all clear.  

WEINBERG: Screams filled the air as fans stormed out of the bleachers. Officials dropped to their stomachs. Camden players headed to the parking lot on the opposite side of the field.

After the shots are fired, people start running for cover and calling 911. Howard and his teammates take off running toward the school and break through the fence because they are unable to jump over it. While others run from the shooting, Loch and Diego take off toward the home stands.

911 call: “We need help like right now.”

DIEGO: By the time we got there, the gunshots were probably 30 seconds to a minute already over.

After arriving in the stands, Diego and Loch start to treat those who had been shot. Loch treats Micah Tennant, a 10-year-old boy from Atlantic City.

DIEGO: There were people in the stands that were not cooperating with the police and that were very antagonistic toward the police.

Nina Mitchell, an off-duty detective with the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, had stopped by the game as the shooting unfolded. When she arrives, the scene is chaos.

LAUREN CARROLL / Multimedia Reporter  

Nina Mitchell, a detective with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, arrived at the Pleasantville High School football field moments before gunfire broke out in the stands. As spectators fled, she used her nurse and first responder training to assist. (Nov. 19, 2019)

MITCHELL: Just kids screaming help, crying, yelling. I saw people carrying people, pulling people by their arms.

WEINBERG: A woman was crying next to (a victim) while emergency medical personnel tended to him before loading him into an ambulance. A minute later, a man was being carried out of the stands on a stretcher and was receiving medical attention until another ambulance arrived. I couldn't stop shaking.

As EMTs work on the victims, the alleged shooter, Alvin Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, runs from the scene. JonMarshall Robinson, an on-duty Pleasantville police officer, notices something different about Wyatt as he flees. 

LAUREN CARROLL / Multimedia Reporter/  

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Pleasantville police officer JonMarshall Robinson said during a Tuesday press conference. Robsinson was on patrol duty the night of Nov. 15, and stopped by the Pleasantville High School football field to watch some of Friday night’s play off game. As gunfire broke out in the stands, Robinson immediately responded, apprehending one suspect near. (Nov 19, 2019)

ROBINSON: He was just running faster than everybody else, wasn’t looking back. It didn’t look like he was running for safety when I approached him. Once he saw that I was an officer and I had my weapon out, he really complied. He was like, "What’s going on? What’s going on?" I was like, "You tell me. I got a description, and you matched it."

Edward Lea / Staff photographer  

Pleasantville Mayor Jesse L. Tweedle Sr. and police Chief Sean Riggin address media Nov. 15 after a shooting at the Pleasantville-Camden football game at Pleasantville High School.

'I STAYED AWAKE FOR A LONG TIME'

Diego stays at the field until 10 p.m., while in the locker room, Howard and his teammates sit silently. 

HOWARD: There wasn’t really conversation with anybody. Everybody was just crying, angry, just frustrated that we got this far and something like this can happen at this … wonderful night that we were about to have.

SACCO: When I got home, I stayed awake for a long time, just trying to process everything and breathe.

Just after 10 p.m., four people are arrested in connection with the case after an off-duty police officer follows them from the game into Atlantic City. Micah Tennant dies Nov. 20, hours before Camden and Pleasantville finish their game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Camden wins 22-0.

PHOTOS from Pleasantville vs. Camden at Philadelphia Eagles stadium