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New developments in South Jersey esports include high school teams, legal betting

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Last year, Mike Sweeder watched an esports competition on a nationally telecast sports network.

Just a few years ago, this would have seemed impossible, but a rapidly expanding esports landscape has made nationally televised events a regular occurrence now.

Sweeder, who serves as director of educational media technology at Egg Harbor Township High School, could have never imagined that the high school he works for would be developing an esports club less than a year after he saw that tournament on television.

“I had never known how big and fast esports was growing across the world,” Sweeder said, noting that his nephew explained to him that esports was now one of the most popular spectator sports in the world.

Now, that sport could be finding its way to high schools across South Jersey.

“Many people are talking to Atlantic County educators about creating esports designations,” said Anthony Gaud, president of INGAME Esports and G3 Esports.

“Within a few years, pretty much every school will have an esports team.”

Interest in high school esports has been steadily rising as a result of the newfound prominence of professional esports and the successful implementation of esports teams at universities.

“What’s happening in South Jersey isn’t just happening at the collegiate and pro level. High school students are actively seeking these opportunities out,” said Demetrios Roubos, director of information system and security administrator and esports coach at Stockton University.

Roubos said that area high schools like Egg Harbor Township have reached out to Stockton with questions about how to develop their own esports programs.

“Communications with local schools have included invitations to utilize the equipment and participate in scrimmages against Stockton team members,” said Scott Huston, chief information officer at Stockton and an esports advisor.

“We’ve seen how beneficial it’s been to our students, so we’d be happy if every local university and high school had their own program.”

Stockton University has found esports prestige quickly, helping to put the school, and South Jersey, on the map as a major player in esports.

In April, the school’s esports team won the Eastern College Athletic Conference “Fortnite” championship and placed second in the “League of Legends” championship.

“Stockton esports is defining what the gold standard of what college esports is,” Gaud said. “We’re still trying to figure out what that will be for Atlantic City.”

According to Huston, Atlantic City’s enthusiasm for esports and Stockton’s instant success in the field could lead to an interesting opportunity for both parties.

“There’s a very good possibility that Stockton’s Atlantic City campus gets its own facility. We’re looking at models that could potentially be put on the A.C. campus now,” Huston said. “This would be great for community partnerships with the city and would be another facility our students could take advantage of.”

Atlantic City has been making an effort to bring more esports programming to the area.

This past September, Boardwalk Hall partnered with INGAME Esports and Caesars Entertainment to hold the Ultimate Gaming Championship’s Halo Classic tournament, and in June the venue will host an Overwatch tournament.

“Esports is a natural fit through Atlantic City, one of the gaming capitals of the world,” Roubos said.

The city is still looking for the factor that could make esports truly take off in South Jersey. It might have found it when the state Division of Gaming Enforcement gave approval for sports betting on esports tournaments.

Esports gambling and betting could help differentiate South Jersey from other esports markets, especially as other states begin to host their own tournaments and events and field their own teams.

The first legal esports bets in New Jersey were placed on NoV. 8, with bettors placing wagers on a League of Legends tournament.

“This is a way for the casinos to tap into the millennial market. Casinos should view it as a transition to a new product,” Gaud said. “It could be the biggest thing that attracts new customers to the A.C. market.”

With South Jersey’s esports excitement infiltrating casinos, universities and high schools, it’s clear that the region is all in on the industry.

“South Jersey is set up very well to become an esports destination,” Huston said.

GALLERY: UGC Halo Classic in Atlantic City

GALLERY: UGC Halo Classic in Atlantic City

Longport's Brigid Harrison considers primary challenge to Van Drew

Longport’s Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University professor, is considering mounting a primary challenge to Congressman Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd.

“I’ve been impressed with the number and caliber of the people in the district that have asked me to run, and called to support me,” said Harrison, a professor of political science and law. “It obviously is something I have to consider seriously.”

Harrison said Van Drew’s “no” vote on proceeding with an impeachment inquiry has angered many in the Democratic Party.

“The decision not to support the procedural vote was very important, because I think the American people and the voters in the 2nd Congressional District want the information,” said Harrison, 54.

She said they needed the information they are getting from the impeachment inquiry to make an informed decision in the 2020 presidential election.

She expects to make a decision by the end of the year.

“It is difficult to swallow attempting to block that process,” Harrison said. “There has been such an overwhelming level of information that made it appropriate to conduct an investigation. Who knows what the results of that investigation may be? But it was appropriate for Congress to investigate.”

Van Drew said Monday the inquiry was proceeding without the vote.

“We were already doing an inquiry and examination,” Van Drew said. “We were certainly able to investigate, evaluate and report upon (what was found).”

He said the vote “got us down the rabbit hole even further.” He has said the focus on impeachment has kept Congress from solving problems and getting things done on health care, prescription drug costs, veterans services and more.

“I understand this is an important issue. I have lost sleep over it,” Van Drew said of the impeachment inquiry. “It’s not even a political thing — the district is about 50/50 — I really think I’m doing what is right.”

He has repeatedly said it is up to voters to decide President Donald Trump’s fate, since there is a presidential election in a year, and that he has seen no evidence of treasonous or other behavior serious enough to warrant impeachment.

Harrison said anger is still fomenting over Van Drew’s “no” vote.

“People are looking for an alternative,” Harrison said.

She will refrain from commenting as an academic on the 2nd District election, she said.

But in a Nov. 24 opinion piece in the Star-Ledger, Harrison said Van Drew has “cast himself as a pariah within his party.”

She said in the editorial that he is harming every resident of New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District by making himself “persona non grata within his party and the House leadership.”

Van Drew called those statements by Harrison “completely inaccurate.”

He is the sponsor of one of the largest environmental bills in the House now, the Land and Water Conservation Fund bill, with hundreds of co-sponsors, he said.

“The folks she claims don’t want to be associated with me ... are co-sponsors on this bill,” Van Drew said.

He said he has also brought increased funding to the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township and the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport.

“I’m pushing hard. I’m not going to just be a freshman congressman sitting in the corner,” Van Drew said, also citing his work to convince the Department of the Interior to allow Stone Harbor, Avalon and North Wildwood to dredge beach replenishment sand from Hereford Inlet, saving the towns millions of dollars.

Three Republicans have announced they will run in the primary for the right to challenge Van Drew in 2020.

They include Brian T. Fitzherbert, 30, of Egg Harbor Township, an engineer and project manager in the defense and aerospace industry; David Richter, 53, who recently moved to Avalon from Princeton, the former CEO of Hill International in Philadelphia; and Robert Patterson, of Camden County and Ocean City, former senior advisor and acting associate commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration in the Office of Strategic and Digital Communications.

Patterson was defeated in the 1st Congressional District in 2106, running against Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden.

Northfield considering adding dog park

NORTHFIELD — A city councilwoman says her proposal to establish a dog park, possibly in Birch Grove Park, is getting positive feedback from residents.

The idea of a dog park was presented to the council by Councilwoman Susan Korngut earlier this month, but location and the costs to build a park have not been finalized.

The favored spot would be inside Birch Grove Park.

“I’m a dog person, and that’s why I thought of it,” Korngut said. “But other people have shown interest, and I want to give the people of Northfield what they want.”

To get resident input, she went door-to-door asking for feedback, which she said was mostly positive.

“I think it would get more people into Birch Grove Park,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to get to know your neighbors and socialize. And dogs are always better when they’re socialized.”

The city currently has an ordinance stating “no person(s) shall be permitted to bring any dog, cat or other domestic pet into the confines of Birch Grove Park.”

If a dog park were to come to Birch Grove, the ordinance must be amended.

To cover costs to build and maintain the park, she plans to implement a similar model used in Egg Harbor Township. The township’s dog park on Swift Drive is run by the nonprofit organization The Friends of the Egg Harbor Township Dog Park and requires membership to gain access.

Atlantic County members pay $40 a year and must get their dog licensed with the town and provide updated shot records.

Members are also given a key fob to access the park, which allows the nonprofit to track how many dogs are in the park at any given time. The fees collected from memberships go toward park maintenance.

Korngut plans to start a nonprofit and lease land from Northfield for a park.

“It wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime,” she said. “Public works would just empty the trash.”

Donna Burns, chairwoman for The Friends of the Egg Harbor Township Dog Park, said since the park opened in 2016 there have been no major incidents at the park. The nonprofit also holds seminars at the Egg Harbor Township library across the street about park safety and pet care.

To date, the Egg Harbor Township dog park has about 350 members, she said.

“The response has been overwhelming,” she said. “It benefits the community because it’s great for the dogs. One thing I learned is that when dogs are social they are better citizens for the town. They’re not aggressive and they learn how to communicate and play better with other dogs. A social dog is a better dog.”

Some Northfield residents believe Birch Grove should remain dog-free as they believe dog droppings and barking could cause a disturbance. But many are in favor of the idea.

Northfield resident, Dan Nugent, believes that a dog park would be a great place for residents to meet their neighbors.

“Aside from providing a great place for dogs to exercise, I think dog parks offer a place to build community among dog-owning residents in town,” he said. “Adding a dog park will make the town even more appealing to some potential residents. It’s an amenity that’s not offered everywhere but something it seems like certain people are looking for.”

He added that implementing a park in Birch Grove would also attract more people to use the park.

“The dog park could serve as a conduit to introduce new visitors to the great trails, fishing and other activities,” he said. “My hope would also be at some point the city would pilot a program to allow leashed dogs on the park trails.

The next steps for the proposed park include Korngut surveying the land at Birch Grove Park with the city’s engineer and agreeing on a suitable spot for a dog park, and then creating a nonprofit for the park.

Contact: 609-272-7239 CFairfield@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_CJ

Miss New Jersey works on Miss America performance with school assemblies

ATLANTIC CITY — On Friday afternoon, teachers and staff at the Texas Avenue school welcomed the reigning Miss New Jersey.

She was ushered into a small meeting room.

Jade Glab, 20, of Belmar, Monmouth County, unloaded her multiple bags containing everything she needed for her visit: her crown, the glittering sash, along with and a Bluetooth amplifier speaker and MacBook laptop.

For the six months since winning the state pageant, Glab has developed “Junk Free Kids,” an assembly program for early elementary school-aged kids that promotes her social impact initiative “Healthy Children, Strong America.”

The 45-minute assembly includes Glab telling her own story about being diagnosed with high cholesterol at the age of 10, identifying nutritious snacking options and plenty of music, including the “Healthy ABC’s” rap.

“I like to say I’m Jade, that’s my first title. Then Miss New Jersey is the second one and I’m the self-proclaimed ‘veggie wrapper’, with a W,” she said.

With less than a month to go until the Miss America 2020 Competition, talking to an audience is just one of the ways Glab is preparing for the national stage. In the last two years, Miss America has eliminated the two main fashion staples of the competition — swimsuit and evening wear — in favor of promoting a modern, socially conscious Miss America.

Miss America changes competition format once again

With swimsuits out and evening gowns seemingly not far behind, an outfit of choice will become the standard for the Miss America Competition, which is going through yet another change in competition structure.

The current competition, which recently moved from its hometown of Atlantic City to Connecticut and from September to Dec. 19, will consist mostly of on-stage interviewing and summarizing the candidates’ social impact initiative, along with a 90-second talent performance.

“With the Miss America Organization, we’ve had to write essays about our intent in life, our purpose, and I’ve been able to write about all the (teaching programs) I came up with last year,” she said. “Miss America is a 365-day-a-year job, and the best way to earn that job, the best way to practice, is being the best state titleholder that we can.”

While being on stage has always been a passion for Glab, she has worked to combine that talent with her ambitions for entrepreneurship.

“The biggest thing I’ve been doing is school visits,” Glab said.

Her roles as Miss New Jersey helped her develop her “Junk Free Kids” curriculum, which has a fun performance angle, as well as an educational message and basis to grow a brand on.

“I’m going to be attending the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, so I decided let’s take a business approach to this, let’s take a marketing approach.”

Her focus is on hitting the talking points of her platform — a key element to preparing for this competition under the new Miss America 2.0 rules.

Picking Adidas sneakers over pageant high heels was necessary for Glab, who planned to not only teach about healthy eating, but dance with the kids, busting out moves like the Floss, the Hype Dance and more.

“Kids just want to move during assemblies. They have ants in their pants and they want to move around. So I incorporated that into a part of my learning,” Glab said.

The rest of the assembly includes a game of freeze dance, reading a book about healthy food and questions from students. Despite a tightly packed program, when technical difficulties occur with her PowerPoint slideshow, Glab can always fall back on her talent: singing.

She first sang “O mio babbino caro,” the Italian aria she won Miss New Jersey’s talent competition with, then started a “Let it Go” sing-along from the popular Disney movie “Frozen.”

Even though the Miss America Organization has made a strong effort to modernize, in the eyes of many, there’s still a element of glamour that goes along with wearing the crown.

“Princess! Princess!” yelled a young kindergartner who ran from the teacher’s aide to hug Glab in the hallway. For Glab, the royal assumption is just part-and-parcel with being a titleholder.

“Maybe when I’m Miss America, I can be the Papaya Princess,” she said, bringing the topic back around to her social impact initiative.

Glab has her eyes set on being Miss America and adapting everything she’s worked on as Miss New Jersey for a national platform. She deferred her transfer to Georgetown University to the spring semester, that is, unless she wins Miss America.

“I’m looking forward to representing as a state titleholder at Georgetown. Like Miss New Jersey can be at HoyaThon, the school’s dance marathon for Children’s Miracle Network.”

Glab wouldn’t be the only titleholder at D.C. University. Miss America 2018 Cara Mund currently attends Georgetown’s law school.

After the assembly, the teachers and staff got a chance for a one-on-one with Glab, getting pictures and remembering Miss America’s heyday in Atlantic City.

Vice Principal Bohdan Christian, who grew up just feet away from Boardwalk Hall, explained to Glab his memories of seeing the television equipment loaded in by the back entrances of the hall.

“It’s so exciting to have her here,” said Texas Avenue School teacher Angeliki Andreatos-Hughes, who helped bring the assembly to the school, “we had Miss America (Nia Franklin) here right after she won. We all really enjoy having the Miss America girls come here.”

With the pageant just a few weeks away, there’s very little left for Glab to prepare for. Last weekend, the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation held her send-off party, a fundraiser to help with travel and expenses to get to the national pageant.

For Glab, who previously held the Miss Central Jersey Beaches local title, said it’s bittersweet to not be in Atlantic City this year, but the trip to Connecticut may be more convenient for family living in North Jersey and New York.

“As much as I love Atlantic City, I was crowned in Atlantic City, knowing my family will have easier transportation is thrilling to me,” Glab said.

This year’s Miss America 2020 Competition has moved to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut, and the final night of competition will be broadcast on Dec. 19 on NBC.

GALLERY: Miss New Jersey visits Texas Avenue School