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ACHS' Allen out as boys basketball coach, Elijah Langford in

ATLANTIC CITY — Gene Allen, who led the Atlantic City High School boys basketball team to unprecedented heights over 15 years, is out as head coach of the Vikings.

The Board of Education voted Tuesday night not to reappoint Allen, under whom the team won three state titles. The Vikings had not won a state championship before Allen took over in 2003. 

Former assistant coach and player Elijah Langford is now the head coach. Langford is the son of former Mayor Lorenzo Langford.

Allen maintains his teaching position in the district.

Atlantic City athletic director Chris Ford referred all comment to the superintendent’s office. Attempts to reach Superintendent Barry Caldwell on Wednesday morning were unsuccessful.

Langford, 26, said Wednesday morning he still supports Allen “1 million percent.”

“Although there are times I disagree with him, I remain in full support of Coach Allen,” said Langford, a 2011 Atlantic City graduate.

Langford said he disagreed with the board’s decision.

“I think there needed to be due process, which there wasn’t,” he said.

Langford said he’s still the junior varsity coach, and no one has told him otherwise.

John Devlin, the lone board member to vote for Allen, confirmed Langford had been named head coach.

Allen said he had no idea how the board would vote on his position Tuesday night. He was not at the meeting and had no chance to plead his case.

“What did I do wrong?” Allen asked Tuesday night. “I feel bad for the kids.”

Allen said Wednesday he was unsure whether he would fight the board’s decisions. He had held tryouts for the Vikings on Monday and Tuesday. Atlantic City is scheduled to begin regular practices Monday.

“I’m very much undecided about it,” he said. “I’m going to take the weekend and spend time with my friends and family. I’ll have more clarity by Monday.”

Allen, who is also a teacher at the high school, said he has never had a negative review from an Atlantic City athletic director, principal or superintendent during his tenure.

“I’m surprised and disappointed,” he said. “I don’t feel it was warranted or justified. I don’t feel they appreciate what I do.”

Ray Bethea Sr., the father of a former Atlantic City player, said he complained about Allen to the board before Tuesday night’s vote. Bethea’s son, Ray Jr., graduated Atlantic City as the second leading scorer in the program’s history and currently plays for Howard University on an NCAA Division I scholarship.

One of Bethea’s biggest complaints was that Allen sent a text message to a player last season saying the team did not deserve a post-season banquet because it did not earn it. Allen also said in the text message the team should not have a banquet because it did not raise enough funds during the season.

Allen said Tuesday night another reason he did not want to have a banquet is he feared there would be a confrontation between parents on the team. There was a confrontation between parents during a game last season.

Eventually, the team did have a banquet.

Devlin said the board investigated some complaints about Allen after the season. He did not specify what those complaints were but said the investigation revealed nothing that should have caused the board not to reappoint Allen.

“I think (Allen) has some personal issues with some parents that need to be resolved,” Devlin said. “But as far as (Allen’s) professionalism, and his work ethic, his track record and his care for the community, it’s unmatched.”

Devlin said Allen’s issues with Bethea should have been mediated behind closed doors and not caused Allen to lose his job.

“It seems like (Bethea) has a personal issue with Gene Allen,” Devlin said. “His presentation was one-sided. We only heard his side. The next thing you know, we’re in closed session voting not to reappoint Gene Allen as the coach. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Devlin expressed support for Langford.

“At this point, Elijah Langford is moving this team forward,” he said. “We support him. He’s coached for numerous years and done a nice job as assistant coach, but there’s some big shoes to fill.”

But Devlin described the matter as a “lose-lose situation” for the Atlantic City school district.

“Whatever way it goes, we’re losing a very qualified coach,” Devlin said. “We also have some unhappy parents out there. At the end of the day, the children of Atlantic City are going to miss out.”

Atlantic City councilman Marty Small was a member of the Atlantic City Board of Education and was instrumental in hiring Allen back in 2003.

He noted that both Bethea and Allen are his friends and supporters, but he blasted the Board of Education’s decision Tuesday night.

“It’s not surprising,” Small said, “when you have some cowards making decisions.”

Allen was 17 wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Atlantic City High School boys basketball history with a career record of 336-101.

Bill Swain, who coached the Vikings from 1955-1977, is Atlantic City’s career win leader with a 352-143 record.

The Vikings finished 25-5 last season, losing in the South Jersey Group IV final to Shawnee.

The Vikings under Allen were famed for their unselfish play and sting man-to-man defense. Atlantic City was known for dramatic come-from-behind wins.

The state high school basketball community and several former players rallied to Allen’s side.

“I think it’s magnificent and humbling,” Allen said of the coaches and players he heard from since the decision became public. “I’m still in a fog to be honest with you, but it’s very humbling.”

Farmers want to keep your Thanksgiving plate local

The last of Frank DeFeo’s homemade pies were picked up Wednesday from his Mays Landing market. Orders came in for apple and pumpkin pies, using the last of the fall harvest for New Jersey.

DeFeo’s Farm and Garden is just one of the few South Jersey farm stands that last through the fall. While many think of the Garden State for summer tomatoes and sweet corn, many New Jersey farms successfully grow produce found on a Thanksgiving plate.

DeFeo, who runs his farmers market and has been a member of the New Jersey Farm Bureau since 2008, offers seasonal favorites like winter squash, pumpkin and a variety of herbs.

New Jersey is categorized as metropolitan agriculture, which means there is a mix of high-value commodity crops in close proximity to major cities.

According to Jersey Fresh, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s program to promote local produce, root vegetables, winter squash and leafy greens are widely available at farms in Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May counties through November.

New Jersey is also home to several large cranberry farms, which supply the Ocean Spray Cooperative for the juice and jellied cranberry maker.

“We’re mostly sold out of everything,” DeFeo said Tuesday, “I got a lot of apples this year, so we were selling the bushels. Anything that was left over, we put into the pies.”

DeFeo also said sweet potatoes, a fixture on many Thanksgiving menus and a favorite of farm-to-table shoppers, were in demand as the season drew to a close.

According to the Department of Agriculture, New Jersey’s fruit and vegetable produce sector makes $367 million annually, leading over the nursery and greenhouse, field crop, poultry, equine and dairy industries.

“There’s a particular stress with vegetable farming in New Jersey. Farmers are coming off a rough year with growing conditions and some real challenging circumstances in the marketplace,” said Farm Bureau Executive Director Peter Furey.

The challenges seem to keep New Jersey’s growing season between the spring and fall, but agritourism and the farm-to-table food trend can make it worth it for area farms to push their market seasons as long as they can.

“We grow a lot of different things, we retail to the public and the value of crops we grow are high,” saidFurey. “We feel the effects of being in an urban state with those opportunities and challenges. Things like the unpredictable weather, interruption in the markets — it can put farmers in a tight spot.”

In addition to produce, Thanksgiving plates in the state can feature locally raised turkeys. Farms such as Lee Turkey Farm in East Windsor, Mercer County, which raises about 3,000 turkeys a year, offer shoppers the opportunity to have a farm-to-table turkey.

While local farmers have their issues, Furey said there is no complaint from the consumers.

“The farmers markets and retail markets are busy and doing well,” he said.

This season's Black Friday shopping trends

Online Black Friday deals have already given customers the chance to fill their carts and avoid the crowds, but local brick-and-mortar shops are still planning to capitalize on the annual shopping tradition this year.

Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, a marketing professor at Rutgers School of Business-Camden, said retailers can earn up to 30 percent of their yearly profits during the holiday season, and this year’s early Thanksgiving gives businesses one extra weekend to entice shoppers.

“They’re encouraging shoppers to shop online right now,” Kaufman-Scarborough said. “So it seems like a bigger push toward Black Friday pricing existing already.”

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, is expecting U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December to increase as much as 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $720.89 billion. The sales growth marks a slowdown from last year’s 5.3 percent, which was the largest gain since 2010.

Along with making their lower prices available online, Kaufman-Scarborough said some retailers also are adding free shipping and more gifts options for their customers at checkout.

Black Friday shopping in South Jersey and beyond

These features fit in with a larger trend Kaufman-Scarborough has noticed as retailers continue to develop their own easy-to-use databases that compete with Amazon’s “one-click” ordering model.

Even with the expansion of online shopping, Kaufman-Scarborough said, the Black Friday experience will still compel shoppers to hit the stores this week.

“It’s combining a social occasion as well as the excitement of being in stores,” she said.

The Hamilton Mall, which will be open at 6 a.m. this Friday, plans to double its events from last year. Instead of a $1,000 giveaway, the prize has increased to $2,000. Additionally, the first 200 shoppers in line at Customer Service, up from 100 last year, will receive a scratch-off card to reveal a prize of up to $500 or a Hamilton Mall lunch bag.

Seven local radio stations will be in JCPenney Court throughout the day giving away concert tickets, Hamilton Mall gift cards and other prizes until 8 p.m.

“We definitely predict a large crowd,” said Crystal Rodriguez, manager of marketing at the mall. “The two events we had last year were very successful, which is why we’ve amped them up this year.”

Hoping to take advantage of that excitement this year, sisters Jaime Hannigan, of Egg Harbor Township, and Lisa Muratore, of Margate, plan to open a second location of their specialty shop White Lotus in the mall.

“With online shopping, a lot of people aren’t shopping in brick and mortar as much, so it’s really important to capitalize on the time you do have when there are people in the mall or people shopping,” Hannigan said.

Look back at Black Friday Shopping

Their new location will be one-third of the original store’s size and will be located directly below it on the bottom floor. They hope to offer customers a more personalized experience with deals such a discount wheel.

The boutique, which started as a clothing and jewelry store in 2010, has expanded to metaphysical candles and healing items and now embraces online shopping through social media advertising.

“Traditional advertising just doesn’t work for the younger demographic and even the older demographic is starting to lean in that direction, so it’s really important to be online and on social media to try and get in front of people.”

The second White Lotus location will be open for the rest of the holiday season and they plan to transition to the lower floor location year-round.

Rodriguez said she believes shoppers will come for an experience they can’t find online.

“The majority of people want to come out and shop. They want to see and touch and feel. They want to get those Black Friday bargains,” Rodriguez said. “With the experiences or services, you can’t buy those online.”

Kaufman-Scarborough said these kinds of experiences could be the future for physical stores.

“My estimate is that bricks and mortar will be different, but not gone, that there will be more integration of technology, that customers will have more experiences, trying out products and events,” she said.

Kaufman-Scarborough said it can also be important to track individual products. For example, she said someone may choose to skip the hassle of lugging a large TV while another will shop in person with friends for cosmetics.

While the traditional shopping holiday may face a bigger challenge from online shopping, Kaufman-Scarborough said if this Black Friday does show a decline in shopping activity there could be another unexpected culprit: procrastination.

The extra time in the holiday shopping season could lead shoppers to wait till the last minute.

“That’s a possibility to watch: whether there’s less patronage because there’s less pressure,” Kaufman-Scarborough said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Edward Lea / staff photo 

Atlantic City High School boys basketball coach Gene Allen celebrates his 300th career win in 2017.

Stockton University / provided  


Dave Griffin  

Vineland’s Mike Lee breaks free for a few yards as Millville’s Rashad Johnson makes the tackle during their Thanksgiving Day game held at Millville’s Wheaton Field Thursday November 26, 2009. Photo/Dave Griffin