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Buena wrestler forced to cut dreadlocks to compete, state Division of Civil Rights investigating

Video of a referee ordering a Buena Regional High School wrestler to cut his hair before competing Wednesday has created a national controversy and a state investigation into the official’s actions.

A video shown on Twitter by SNJ Today News Sports Director Mike Frankel shows a woman, presumably a member of Buena’s athletic training staff, cutting off Andrew Johnson’s dreadlocks while coach George Maxwell and teammates look on.

According to Frankel’s Tweet, the impromptu haircut was ordered by referee Alan Maloney, who would not allow Johnson to compete with a cover over his hair. Maloney reportedly said he either had to have his hair cut or forfeit his match.

Johnson is black. Maloney is white.

“The wrestler’s coaches argued the referee’s decision for several minutes, until the referee started the injury time clock,” Frankel wrote on Twitter. “At this point, the wrestler removed the cap, and agreed to have his hair cut.”

After getting his hair cut, Johnson won a 4-2 decision in overtime at 120 pounds during Buena’s 41-24 victory against Oakcrest.

He received a standing ovation as he came off the mat and was congratulated by teammates and coaches.

“I’ve been doing this 11 years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this,” Absegami Athletic Director and Cape-Atlantic League President Steve Fortis said.

“We’ve had kids on our team who had to shave or cut their fingernails before matches, but they go back (to the locker room) and do it. We’ve also had kids with long hair, and we tell them beforehand that you have to get your hair cut before you can wrestle.”

State agencies investigating

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said they have been in contact with school officials over the incident and are awaiting official incident reports.

“The NJSIAA has provided initial information to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and will continue to send updates as they become available,” said Larry White, executive director of the association in a statement. “At this point, the NJSIAA is working to determine the exact nature of the incident and whether an infraction occurred.”

The state Division of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into the incident, said Leland Moore, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office.

The NJSIAA also asked the New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association not assign Maloney “to any event until this matter has been reviewed more thoroughly in order to avoid potential distractions for the competing wrestlers.”

Buena has also asked that Maloney not be assigned to any more of their matches, according to a statement from district Superintendent David C. Cappuccio.

“The staff and administration within the Buena Regional School District will continue to support and stand by all of our students and student-athletes,” Cappuccio said in the statement. “The district will take appropriate action as more details become available.”

Maloney, Maxwell and New Jersey Wrestling Officials Association president Bill Dickson did not respond to phone calls and emails Friday. Oakcrest Athletic Director Dave Bennett and Oakcrest coach Drew Muzslay also did not return phone calls seeking comment.

National reaction

Frankel’s video was later shown on TMZ.com, SI.com and other social media outlets, including musician Chance the Rapper’s Twitter feed. Commenters were outraged at what they regarded as an act of overt racism.

“For something like this to happen is outlandish,” said Olivia Caldwell, president of the Mainland-Pleasantville branch of the NAACP.

“I saw the video and you could tell by the look on that young man’s face at the end that he was not happy. I was pleased to see that it looked like his teammates and coach supported him, but what the referee did was demeaning. It was outrageous and ridiculous. In this day and age, it’s really taking a step back.”

This reportedly is not the first time Maloney has been involved in a racial incident.

Maloney was accused of uttering a racial slur at another referee in 2016 at a private gathering at a Wildwood condominium while they were officiating the War at the Shore youth tournament, according to the Courier-Post.

“It was two men, a group of guys, having fun and it was just a slip-up,” Maloney told the Courier-Post. “If you can’t see past that, then I don’t know what to say. I made a mistake, and I apologized for it. And it was accepted.” Both referees were initially suspended, according to the Courier-Post report, but the suspensions were never enforced.

Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, called on Maloney to be banned from officiating matches.

“This was without a doubt a clear act of racial discrimination. Alan Maloney, someone who shouldn’t have been allowed to work as a referee after previous condemned actions, should be banned immediately,” Armato said in a statement. “This is sure to be a traumatic experience that Johnson should have never encountered.”

According to the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, a wrestler’s hair “shall extend no lower than the top of an ordinary shirt collar in the back, shall not extend lower than earlobe level on the sides, and shall not extend below the eyebrows in the front.

“Hair that does not conform to the rule shall be contained in a legal hair covering or the wrestler shall not compete. For hair coverings to be legal they must be worn under the headgear, or be part of the headgear, and be of a solid material that is not abrasive.”

It is not known whether Johnson’s hair cover was in compliance of the rules, but he wrestled twice last Saturday at the Robin Leff Tournament at Southern Regional.

In most cases, wrestlers are required to show hair covers during prematch weigh-ins. If they are found in violation of a rule governing grooming, it is usually dealt with beforehand.

Maloney, who is a member of the South Jersey Wrestling Hall of Fame, has long been regarded as one of the state’s top wrestling referees.

As of 2016, he had participated in 31 state individual championship tournaments and had worked the finals nine times.

In 2016, he was the lead official when Bergen Catholic High School’s Nick Suriano became the second undefeated, four-time state champion.


Features
Take a ride on Cape May Seashore Lines Santa Express

UPPER TOWNSHIP — As the red, white and blue train pulled up to the Tuckahoe Village depot, Santa shouted a loud “Merry Christmas,” waving to the awaiting passengers of the Cape May Seashore Lines Santa Express.

The Thursday afternoon train ride was filled with young children, and those young at heart, wanting to experience holiday nostalgia on the rails. Passenger cars were decorated with garland and lights, while carols and songs played over the train’s speaker system.

“He just loves trains,” said Jannette Lensch, of Millville. Her 2-year-old son Jordan sat in her lap, while her other son Jayden, 8, sang along to “Jingle Bells.”

As Santa and his helper elf walked down the aisle, faces lit up at the sight of the big man in red. During the train ride, Santa diligently listened to the wish lists of each boy and girl.

“My favorite part was when Santa sat with us,” said Madeline Gentile, 8, of the Minotola section of Buena Borough. Her mother, Vanessa Gentile, said their family has taken a ride on the Santa Express for the last three years, making it a Christmas tradition.

The Santa Express has been an annual event for the historic Cape May Seashore Lines for 22 years.

“It started as a one-car operation,” said operator and conductor Curt Hudson, “and has grown to a larger train and operating on weekends and certain weeknights between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

The train tows a number of retired Budd Rail diesel cars from the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. Weekday rides were added this year to accommodate school trips and younger riders.

“It’s great, the weekend events can get so crowded, so it’s nice that we can do this during the weekday,” said Jennifer Humm, of Camden County.

Traveling 30 miles between Cape May and Atlantic counties, the service offers the experience of riding in the restored transit line cars while enjoying holiday festivities.

“There are different things happening on different train rides. We try to have live entertainment, whether its singers or our accordion player,” Hudson said.

Hudson, who has been a part of the train crew himself, is part of the entertainment too, creating keepsakes out of train tickets.

A few quick clicks of his conductor’s hole punch and the image of an angel, a snowman or a Christmas tree appears.

“As many of us are, we are lifelong train enthusiasts,” Hudson said, “with the railroad operating (the Santa Express) becoming an extension, to be able to operate trains and spread the fun of Christmas and trains.”

Trains also evoke the feeling of holiday leisure and travel, from the large cities to the rural homestead, like the one depicted in a vintage holiday greetings poster from the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Line displayed in the passenger car.

Frank and Betty Louis’ love of history and trains brought them to the Santa Express on Thursday.

“It’s interesting to see how people lived back then,” Frank said.

The couple from Orange, Essex County, were excited to ride in the historic rail line after touring the Victorian homes in Cape May.

“There’s something timeless about trains,” Hudson said.

The Santa Express will continue until Sunday. For more information, visit capemayseashorelines.org.


News
NODA volunteers comfort the dying when there is no one else

On a snowy night last year, Roger McCurdy had just returned home from a school event for his son when he got an alert that a volunteer was needed at AtlantiCare to sit with a near-death patient.

Despite the late hour, McCurdy took a bus to the hospital from his home in Williamstown, Gloucester County, to be with the dying man. He wound up staying for about six hours into the early hours of the morning until the gentleman took his last breath.

Volunteers such as McCurdy answer a call that perhaps not many others are able to do — they offer comfort and support to people in their last moments of life as members of No One Dies Alone, a national grassroots initiative adopted by hospitals all over the United States.

“My biggest fear is dying alone myself,” McCurdy said. “If I can be there for someone else, despite what may happen for me down the road, that’s what I want to do. When that gentleman passed, I got a letter from the nurses and staff on how much it meant to them that I was there.”

No One Dies Alone, or NODA, was started by Oregon nurse Sandra Clarke in 2001.

A dying patient several years before had asked her to stay with him, which Clarke intended to do after checking and caring for her other patients, she wrote in a hospital newsletter. By the time she returned, he had already passed.

She had the idea to form a community of volunteers who would come in and be with people who were alone and dying.

Lisa DiTroia, director of auxiliary and volunteer services at Shore Medical Center, said she heard about NODA while at a conference nearly 10 years ago and thought it needed to be brought to the Somers Point hospital.

The hospital launched its program in 2009.

“It takes a special person to sit with someone in their last moment,” she said. “Volunteers who have sat with someone say it’s a privilege to be there.”

Christine Droney, community liaison for AtlantiCare’s Advanced Illness Management Program, helped bring NODA to the city and mainland hospitals in 2017.

She said it not only benefits patients, but also family members who can’t be there and hospital staff that want to but are unable to stay.

AtlantiCare’s hospitals, which include a level 2 trauma center, see patients in critical conditions, some of whom are tourists with no family nearby, which is why they may end up alone, Droney said.

The region has large elderly and homeless populations as well, she said, which may lead to someone being alone in the hospital at the end of their life.

That’s where volunteers like McCurdy and Rose Ewing, of Absecon, come in.

“I’ve been a volunteer at hospitals and nursing homes for many years, and it made me so sad to see people die alone, all the time,” Ewing said. “When this program opened, I jumped right on board.”

The foundation of NODA is present at the hospitals, and each has its own volunteer eligibility requirements and program elements.

At Shore, DiTroia said people must volunteer in a different capacity for at least six months before entering NODA. The group of about 20 volunteers brings in anything they think will comfort patients and often read, sing or pray when holding vigil.

At AtlantiCare, Droney said they vet volunteers who can provide compassion to patients. There are about 70 volunteers — a mix of hospital staff and community members — who split time between the two hospitals.

Volunteers use NODA kits that include prayer books, an electronic candle, a handmade crocheted blanked, an iPad to play music or video and other items.

McCurdy volunteers when he can. He also works at AtlantiCare as an emergency room tech while going to school and raising his son.

Ewing, who used to work at AtlantiCare in billing, lost her husband just a few months before volunteering for NODA and said holding vigil for others actually helped her.

People may think it might be incredibly painful to sit with someone as they die, but Ewing said it is a privilege.

“I sat with a man whose elderly siblings could not come up, and later went to the funeral Mass, which was held at my church,” she said. “I told the family that he did not die alone, and they were so, so grateful. It can be a really beautiful experience.”


News
South Jersey appears to grab the wettest year on record

Atlantic City International Airport has recorded more than 66 inches of precipitation this year, breaking a 70-year record, according to unofficial data.

Official numbers, maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will likely not be available until Saturday.

However, unofficial data, which was taken from a tool maintained by NOAA, indicates the total precipitation Thursday through 11 a.m. Friday surpassed the 65.8 inches recorded in 1948.

From Thursday up until 7 p.m. Friday, the airport was drenched in 1.59 inches of rain. This brought flooded roadways and slow travel for parts of the region Friday morning.

When that is added to what has already fallen this year, a total of 66.17 inches of precipitation puts 2018 alone at the top spot for the wettest year since records started to be kept in 1943.

As for the state as a whole:

“We are solidly in second place, but need a few inches statewide to get close, which just may occur. Unless we really get clobbered with this event and then perhaps with some more precipitation before year’s end, it may be too close to call until late month preliminary statewide estimates start coming in,” said David A. Robinson, the New Jersey State Climatologist.

Contact: 609-272-7247 JMartucci@pressofac.com