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dweinberg-at-pressofac-dot-com / DAVID WEINBERG/Staff Writer  

Eagles running back/returner Darren Sproles relied on his family in deciding to return to the Eagles this season

South Jersey residents divided over impeachment hearings, but most find them hard to follow

ATLANTIC CITY — When he has a customer in his chair, barber Abdullah Anderson tries to keep political conversation to a minimum.

It can, and often will, unravel.

The shop he co-owns, Omar and Abdullah's Hair Bazaar on Atlantic Avenue, had an all-out "Trump battle" on Thursday between a supporter of President Donald Trump and a Trump critic.

"They were just going back and forth," he said. "And both had some good points."

, those conversations are more frequent in the Trump years, it seems, and even more so as impeachment hearings heat up.

Friday marked the second day of public hearings in Washington, D.C., as Democrat representatives continued to lay out their case that the president committed impeachable offenses in his dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, including allegedly withholding aid in exchange for an investigation into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate.

The TV in the barbershop was tuned to SportsCenter on Friday as former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch answered questions in the Capitol. Across South Jersey, supporters and critics alike expressed a push and pull between feeling invested in the outcome and confused by the process, its inherent complexities and partisan line-drawing.

Anderson, 49, said Trump has clearly done a litany of strange and wrong things in his term, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign left him confused.

This time is no different, he said.

Why can't they just remove him, Anderson wanted to know, and why can't the whistleblower appear and lay out exactly what they know?

"It's hard following it. ... You think you know what's really going on," Anderson said. "But there's so many micro-mechanisms working in the paperwork of the Constitution that stops (them) from doing certain things."

Peter Constantino, a 20-year-old computer science student at Rowan University, sat at the counter at the Harley Dawn Diner in Folsom drinking a coffee Friday morning before class. He's no supporter of Trump or either political party but said the impeachment proceedings give him the impression the Democrats are reaching and "looking for an opening." 

"It's almost impossible to not follow it. ... Part of me just kind of wants things to be over," Constantino said. "As far as the Democrats who want him impeached, that's been their entire goal since Trump became president."

And the president's reaction — live-tweeting throughout — makes him feel like Trump doesn't understand the gravity of the situation, Constantino said.

"I kind of wished he (took) it more seriously. It feels kind of immature. ... Even if you think you're completely innocent and nothing's wrong ... this is serious," Constantino said. "This is the highest position in the United States, and he just doesn't care that people are trying to remove him from that seat."

Those who find the impeachment investigation a "nothingburger" are just as quick to share their take, like Warren Swaiton, 68, who was sitting at the counter of Steve's Cafe 47 in Cape May Court House late Friday morning.

Swaiton has lived through three impeachment attempts. Richard Nixon was a clear crook, he said, and Bill Clinton was railroaded.

But there's no "smoking gun" in Trump's case, he said. Swaiton isn't glued to the TV; he just checks for highlights.

"I haven't been following too much because there hasn't been nothing noteworthy, nothing that we don't know already," Swaiton said.

His wife is a moderate Democrat, he said, and they often battle over political points. He followed the Mueller investigation until it came to a close in the spring, with a report that said the investigators did not have evidence that Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, but did not take a definitive stance on whether he obstructed their investigation.

"Then it turned out to be nothing, so this one here, why should I follow it? It's gonna be another nothing," Swaiton said. "I wish our government would do something, do what they're supposed to be doing."

SEEN at the 2019 Hughes Center Honors

Gunshots clear Pleasantville-Camden football game, at least 2 hurt

PLEASANTVILLE — At least two people were wounded after someone fired a gun during Friday’s Pleasantville-Camden Central Jersey Group II high school football playoff game.

The gunman fired about a half dozen shots from the Pleasantville bleachers in the third quarter, sending spectators ducking for cover while players from both teams sprinted off the field.

“As soon as we heard the shots, we made sure the players got off the field safely,” Greyhounds assistant coach Chris Mancuso said.

Police Chief Sean Riggin said there were two victims, one juvenile and one adult, but did not release their names. He also declined to say whether a suspect was in custody.

"We have two victims who were seriously injured," Riggin said. "They are alive at this moment, and we are doing everything to make sure that they and their families are getting the medical care that they need."

A spokeswoman for the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office said the office is investigating but would have no further comment at this time.

According to former Pleasantville athletic director Derek Carrington, who was watching from the other end of the bleachers, the gunman ran out of the stands and across the field toward the parking lot.

Camden was leading Pleasantville 6-0 with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter when the gunfire erupted.

An unidentified male juvenile was carried into an ambulance on a stretcher while people screamed and cried.

An unidentified adult male was also carried out of the stands on a stretcher and was being attended to on the field by emergency medical personnel before being taken away in another ambulance.

Attorney Jonathan Diego and retired Pleasantville Fire Department Battalion Chief Neal Loch were standing at the opposite end of the bleachers when the shots were fired.

"I saw the crowd running one way and my instincts kicked in and I ran the other way (toward the shots) to try and help (the juvenile victim)," Loch said.

Longtime fans and former players estimated Friday’s crowd was the largest to attend a Pleasantville football game in at least 20 years.

"My friend (Diego) and I had just finished a radio interview and we were saying how great it was that such a big crowd was here," Loch said. "Then this had to happen."

Hundreds of fans raced with the players toward the school and tried to scale the fences. Derek Carrington and his brother David helped them get to safety.

“We must have helped 15-20 people get over the fence,” Derek Carrington said. “One woman came up to me and asked me to ‘please help her son.’ I just can’t believe something like this happened.”

After the stands were cleared, a Pleasantville police officer guarded the bleachers while carrying a rifle.

Fans hurried out of the stands and into the parking lot, leaving blankets, coats and maroon-and-silver pompoms in the bleachers. A sneaker and a boot were on the track just behind the Greyhounds bench.

After the area was cleared, police cordoned off a section of the bleachers with yellow tape and combed in and under the stands for clues.

“This whole situation is such a shame. I guarantee you the cheerleaders and players are going to be traumatized by this,” Derek Carrington said.

Staff Writer Ahmad Austin contributed to this report.

Ousted ambassador ‘shocked’ at Trump; he assails her anew

WASHINGTON — In chilling detail, ousted U.S. Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch described to Trump impeachment investigators Friday how she felt threatened upon learning that President Donald Trump had promised Ukraine’s leader she was “going to go through some things.”

Unwilling to stay silent during Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump focused even greater national attention on the House hearing by becoming a participant. He tweeted fresh criticism of her, saying things “turned bad” everywhere she served before he fired her — a comment that quickly was displayed on a video screen in the hearing room.

Rather than distract from the career diplomat’s testimony, Trump’s interference could provide more evidence against him in the probe. Democrat Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s attacks were “part of a pattern to obstruct justice” and could be part of an article of impeachment.

Asked about the potential effect of a presidential threat on other officials or witnesses, Yovanovitch replied, “Well, it’s very intimidating.”

When she saw in print what the president had said about her, she said, a friend told her all the color drained from her face. She was “shocked, appalled, devastated” at what was happening after a distinguished 30-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Unabashed, Trump said when asked about it later, “I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech.”

But not all Republicans thought it was wise. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming said Trump’s live tweeting at the ambassador was wrong. She said, “I don’t think the president should have done that.”

The former ambassador was testifying on the second day of public impeachment hearings, just the fourth time in American history that the House of Representatives has launched such proceedings. The investigation centers on whether Trump’s push for Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rivals amounted to an abuse of power, a charge he and Republicans vigorously deny.

More hearings are coming, with back-to-back sessions next week and lawmakers interviewing new witnesses behind closed doors.

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who served for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents and was first appointed by Ronald Reagan, was pushed from her post in Kyiv earlier this year amid intense criticism from Trump allies.

During a long day of testimony, she relayed her striking story of being “kneecapped,” recalled from Kyiv by Trump in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about a White House shadow foreign policy.

She described a “smear campaign” against her by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others, including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., before her firing.

The daughter of immigrants who fled the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, her career included three tours as an ambassador to some of the world’s tougher postings, before arriving in Ukraine in 2016. She was forced out last May.

In particular, Yovanovitch described Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, as leading what William Taylor, now the top diplomat in Ukraine who testified earlier in the inquiry, called an “irregular channel” outside the diplomatic mainstream of U.S.-Ukraine relations.

“These events should concern everyone in this room,” Yovanovitch testified in opening remarks.

She said her sudden removal had played into the hands of “shady interests the world over” with dangerous intentions toward the United States. They have learned, she said, “how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want.”

After Trump’s tweets pulled attention away from her statement, Schiff read the president’s comments aloud, said that “as we sit here testifying, the president is attacking you on Twitter,” and asked if that was a tactic to intimidate.

“I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidated,” she said.

Said Schiff, “Well, I want to let you know, Ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”

Later Friday, the panel in closed-door session heard from David Holmes, a political adviser in Kyiv, who overheard Trump asking about the investigations the day after the president’s July 25 phone conversation with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Holmes was at dinner with Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, when Sondland called up Trump. The conversation was apparently loud enough to be overheard.

In Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy, he asked for a “favor,” according to an account provided by the White House. He wanted an investigation of Democrats and 2020 rival Joe Biden. Later it was revealed that the administration was withholding military aid from Ukraine at the time.

Democrats are relying on the testimony of officials close to the Ukraine matter to make their case as they consider whether the president’s behavior was impeachable.

Yovanovitch provides a key element, Schiff said, as someone whom Trump and Giuliani wanted out of the way for others more favorable to their interests in Ukraine, an energy-rich country that has long struggled with corruption.

It became clear, he said, “President Trump wanted her gone.”

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, bemoaned the hearings as a “daylong TV spectacle.”

Republicans complained that the ambassador, like other witnesses, can offer only hearsay testimony and only knows of Trump’s actions secondhand. They note that Yovanovitch had left her position before the July phone call.

Nunes also pressed to hear from the still anonymous government whistleblower who first alerted officials about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine that is in question. “These hearings should not be occurring at all,” he said.

Just as the hearing was opening, the White House released its rough transcript of a still-earlier Trump call with Zelenskiy that was largely congratulatory.

Nunes read that transcript aloud. In it, Trump mentioned his experience with the Miss Universe pageant in Ukraine and invited Zelenskiy to the White House. He closed with, “See you very soon.”

Under questioning from Republicans, Yovanovitch acknowledged that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, serving on the board of a gas company in Ukraine could have created the appearance of a conflict of interest. But she testified the former vice president acted in accordance with official U.S. policy.

She denied allegations against her, including that she favored Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 election, and she rejected the notion that Ukraine tried to interfere in the election, as Trump claims, counter to mainstream U.S. intelligence findings that it was Russia.

The White House has instructed officials not to comply with the probe, and most have been issued subpoenas to appear.

An administration budget official will meet privately with the panel privately Saturday. Part of the impeachment inquiry concerns the contention that military aid for Ukraine, which borders a hostile Russia, was being withheld through the White House budget office, pending Ukrainian agreement to investigate Biden and the 2016 U.S. election.

Late coach Bill Walsh's No. 16 all over Holy Spirit football game

The Holy Spirit High School football team had just lost the 2016 state title game to Mater Dei 26-20.

Mater Dei scored the winning touchdown on a 50-yard, hook-and-lateral trick play with three seconds left. It was a crushing defeat. The Spartans were so stunned they didn’t know how to react. Many just wandered aimlessly around the field and looked at the scoreboard in disbelief.

Spirit coach Bill Walsh gathered the Spartans around him.

He waived his arms and said “No regrets. No excuses.”

Walsh lived like he coached.

The former Spartans football coach and administrator died at his Galloway Township home Friday morning after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 52.

Walsh is survived by his wife, Cindy, and his daughter, Kelly, a Holy Spirit senior.

Walsh was famed for his devotion to his family, Holy Spirit and football. He was renowned for his toughness as a Spirit player.

“Our whole school is devastated by his loss,” current Spirit football coach A.J. Russo said. “All we can think about right now is praying for Cindy, Kelly and the Walsh family. We did lose a great man, but that great man had been suffering for a period of time. Now, he’s at peace. That’s the only solace that we have.”

Walsh influenced countless Spirit football players and students. His fight against ALS inspired the Spartans.

“Coach Walsh is like a father figure to me,” Spirit senior running back E’lijah Gray said. “I learned from him never to put your head down, just keep going, never turn your back on your team. Always keep pushing.”

Walsh was the Spartans’ head football coach from 2003-07 and assistant from 2014-17. He was the school’s director of institutional advancement while head football coach.

“We have to remember all the great things he did,” Russo said. “Words can’t express the type of guy Bill Walsh was and how much passion he had for everything he did. If we could take a little bit of the passion he had, it would help all of us to continue to be better people.”

The legendary coach’s passing leaves an irreplaceable hole in the community, former Spirit football player Keith Sooy said prior to the Spartans’ playoff game Friday night against St. Mary’s of Rutherford.

“There will never be another coach like him,” said Sooy, a 2004 graduate from Brigantine. “The amount of kids he took in and just helped on a regular basis was remarkable. You’re never going to find another guy like that.”

Holy Spirit was floundering when Walsh, a 1985 graduate of the Absecon school, took over as head football coach in 2003. He pumped life back into the school, not only as a coach but also by raising funds as Spirit’s director of institutional advancement.

The Spartans finished 12-0 and won the state Non-Public III title in 2007 with a team that is considered one of the best in Cape-Atlantic League history. Walsh stepped down after that but returned as an assistant under Russo in 2015.

Walsh was diagnosed with ALS in 2017. He stopped attending practices and games last year. But he still reviewed Spirit practice and game film and made suggestions to the coaches.

The school retired Walsh’s number last season. The Spirit players wore decals of Walsh’s No. 16 on their helmets.

“(Seeing everyone wear his number) is unbelievably special,” said Holy Spirit Dean of Students Dennis Smith, a 1989 Spirit graduate who coached with Walsh.

On Thursday, Gray asked to wear No. 16 in Friday’s game.

Russo immediately texted Walsh and asked him what he thought.

“He loved the idea,” Russo said. “He (texted) ‘This is perfect.’”

Gray admitted it seemed like fate he asked to wear Walsh’s number the day before the coach died. Gray said one of the lessons he learned from Walsh was never to use the word “I” when talking to reporters. Walsh told Gray the focus should always be on the team.

“This is for him,” said Gray, who has a photo of Walsh on his cleats. “It’s my last year. I want to show everybody this is for him.”

Half an hour before kickoff, the senior running back pointed up to the sky as he led the team’s pregame stretches.

Holy Spirit never considered postponing Friday’s game.

“Bill would be looking down on us and giving us a bunch of crap if we didn’t play tonight,” Russo said. “There’s no possible way we would push this back. We will honor him in every way we can and honor him by playing the best game of football that we can possibly play tonight.”

The entire Holy Spirit team and at least half of those in attendance wore No. 16 shirts with “Walsh” on the back. Led by Gray and Kelly Walsh, Spirit walked through the “Spartan Way” tunnel under the home bleachers minutes before kickoff.

A No. 16 helmet on a pedestal awaited the team at the end of the tunnel, and Gray knelt next to it in remembrance of the late coach. During a moment of silence before kickoff, he shed tears for his mentor.

According to Smith, there was no way Walsh was missing the game.

“He’s up there with (former Spirit coaches) Ed Byrnes and Stan Marczyk,” Smith said before the game. “They’re all looking down. (They’re watching) Friday night lights, playoff action, (and) they get to see the emblems on the helmet for the first time. I think that’s what it really, truly boiled down to. He knew it was time, and he wanted to see a game.”

Services are not yet scheduled.

GALLERY: Holy Spirit honors former football coach Bill Walsh