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Elise Amendola  

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2019 file photo, potential Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks to workers during a tour of the WH Bagshaw Company, a pin and precision component manufacturer, in Nashua, N.H. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, is opening the door to a 2020 presidential campaign. Bloomberg announced earlier this year that he would not seek the Democratic nomination. But in a statement, his political adviser Howard Wolfson says Bloomberg is worried that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates is “not well positioned” to defeat President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Ocean City Girls Soccer wins South Jersey Group III championship against Mainland. Nov. 7, 2019 Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer

Trains added for teachers convention as officials discuss goals for Atlantic City rail service

Transit Villages and a connection to Atlantic City International Airport are among the initiatives state and local stakeholders are considering to reinvigorate the Atlantic City Rail Line.

On Oct. 24, the stakeholders participated in the second of three planned teleconferences organized by state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, to discuss goals for expanding service on the line.

The topic this time was midterm goals. Among the immediate gains: An extra train to and from Atlantic City was secured for this Thursday and Friday’s New Jersey Education Association convention, which Brown said is expected to see 15,000 attendees. In addition, officials agreed to look for funding sources for a spur line from the airport in Egg Harbor Township to the main line.

“A direct rail link from the airport to Atlantic City is a smart investment which will help generate more flights into an underutilized airport and help grow our hospitality industry while diversifying our economy,” Brown said.

The meetings have been productive, said Janet Hewes Gasbarro, who was nominated for the NJ Transit board earlier this year and sat in on the call.

“I think things are really starting to coalesce,” Gasbarro said. “The transit people are talking to the people from here and communicating.”

The semi-regular meetings follow a nearly nine-month shutdown of the Atlantic City Rail Line that ended in May, about five months after the original reopening date. NJ Transit ceased operations to install federally mandated “positive train control” safety equipment that can correct for conductor error. Commuters found the lack of a clear timetable from the agency unacceptable, and the stopgap measures, including a bus to and from Philadelphia, insufficient. Riders put pressure on elected officials, who in turn leaned on agency employees.

Now, officials — including Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director Matt Doherty and Atlantic County Freeholder Chairwoman Amy Gatto — are looking to be more proactive with buoying the line, which many commuters rely on but has seen dropping ridership for years.

Brown sent letters to the mayors of Atlantic City, Absecon and Egg Harbor City last week saying he would advocate at the state level for Transit Village designation and funding for them, which allows select cities to build up pedestrian infrastructure near rail stations. Transit Villages were on the short-term wishlist in August.

Officials also discussed shifting schedules to accommodate casino workers who clock out at odd times, Gasbarro said.

At the first stakeholder meeting in August, stakeholders secured extra cars for the Atlantic City Airshow and announced their short-term goals, including clear lines of communication in the run-up to large events in the city and beefing up marketing efforts on both ends of the line.

“By working hard as a bipartisan team, we are improving the services of the Atlantic City Rail Line step by step — with adding extra service for events in Atlantic City and a commitment to upgrade our infrastructure — to grow and diversify our local economy,” Brown said.

PHOTOS: NJ Transit meeting in Atlantic City

Local educators want to get the most out of annual NJEA convention

ATLANTIC CITY — Looking for a teacher this week? Try the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Schools around the state are closed Thursday and Friday for the 165th annual New Jersey Education Association convention. Thousands of educators could be found on the convention floor for the event’s first day.

Kimberly Thavisack, a teacher at Clayton J. Davenport Elementary School in Egg Harbor Township, has been attending the NJEA convention for a decade.

“I’ve been teaching 19 years, third grade. I’d like to grow professionally,” she said. “Society has changed, and you can’t stop learning and growing with your students.”

Thavisack said each year she learns something new and different to take back to the classroom.

“It’s really a great thing to have this convention so close to where I work,” she said.

Imani Irby of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Atlantic City was a first-time attendee to the convention. Irby came with her coworker Lyneris Kelly, who has been several times.

“We’re interested in what they have to offer the children,” Irby said, “how they can increase their education.”

Kelly said she wanted to explore “a little bit of everything.”

“Because we have this opportunity right in our backyard,” she said.

2018 NJEA convention in Atlantic City tackles social justice

ATLANTIC CITY — Inside the main hall of the Atlantic City Convention Center, thousands of teachers from around the state collected pens, stress balls and packets of information on new products and services Thursday during the annual state teachers convention.

The NJEA represents 175,000 teachers and support staff and 28,000 retired educators statewide, and the event is one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

Union members and guests arrived by car, jitney and train to Atlantic City for the convention.

NJ Transit added an additional train for Thursday and Friday’s convention, which is expected to attract 15,000 attendees and generate nearly $7 million in spending.

“This is our first year here,” Kathy Albert said as she departed the train station into the Atlantic City Convention Center Thursday morning.

Albert, a Gateway Regional School District employee, said she just became an NJEA member and decided she would rather skip dealing with parking and try out the train.

“The ride was great,” said her coworker Jean O’Connor, who rode with her.

Egg Harbor Township school employee Leanna Mullen lives five minutes from the Egg Harbor City station and took the train into the city for the first time Thursday.

“I had taken the DC Metro a few times, but I’ve never tried NJ Transit,” Mullen said. “I liked how hassle-free getting in and out of the convention was. So much cheaper than tolls/parking, and it saved a lot of headaches. I would definitely use it again.”

Rows of jitneys with digital displays reading NJEA filed in and out of the loop in front of the convention center, a line of cars was directed to outside parking areas as the garage filled to capacity, and a long line of educators waited to gain entry to the convention floor.

Michele Miller, of Morristown, was dressed as a suffragette and carried a clip board to register attendees to vote, but had trouble early on.

“I’m not surprised that every teacher I’ve met thus far is already registered and voted the other day in their local,” Miller said, adding she hopes she can still reach some younger attendees who may not have registered yet.

Two hundred and sixty-five exhibitors lined the convention floor. Over the course of two days, attendees could hear from 316 speakers and attend 366 workshops.

Near the back of the room, New Jersey author Lisa Funari-Willever handed out bright yellow reusable bags filled with books she authored — in total 50,000 books were given away.

Nearby, Tamar Lasure-Owens, a teacher at the Leeds Avenue School in Pleasantville, said she attended the NJEA’s Patriots Alliance veterans breakfast Thursday morning and was able to share information with members about veterans benefits.

“That’s important because we have a lot (of veterans) in support services and certified staff,” she said.

Lasure-Owens said she hopes local educators take advantage of everything available at the convention.

“This is where the networking takes place, partnerships,” she said. “This is the happening spot. Everything is impacted here.”

GALLERY: First day of the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City

Brigantine council votes for stricter enforcement at Cove beach

BRIGANTINE — City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to adopt changes that will allow for stricter enforcement at the Cove beach.

The popular stretch of beach on the southern end of the city, where visitors can drive onto the sand and boaters can anchor just offshore, saw an excess of noise, litter, fights and drinking this past summer, as well as a bomb threat.

Two changes to the ordinance allow police and/or city officials to check coolers larger than 24 inches in width, height or length, or 36 quarts, and close or limit access to the beach due to overcrowding.

The city also will increase parking permit fees to cover the planned addition of more officers to patrol the Cove. According to the city’s website, 4x4 permits cost $175 from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 and $200 after March 1. For the 2020 season, fees will increase to $200 if purchased in January or February and to $300 if purchased after March 1.

About 5,800 vehicle permits were issued this year, city officials have said. Over the past six years, revenue from permit sales has jumped from about $601,000 in 2012 to about $701,000 last year.

“If you don’t go to that beach, I don’t expect you to pay for security,” said Mayor Andy Simpson. “It’s a privilege. You’re going through people’s neighborhood, and you’ve got to respect your neighbors.”

Some locals have complained of the beach’s atmosphere of excess over holiday weekends, and a video showing one area of the beach’s trash-filled aftermath July 4 went viral on Facebook.

Simpson said the changes to the ordinance are not to ruin beachgoers’ fun, the city just doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt.

Councilman Rick Delucry had reservations about the cooler size deemed appropriate for inspection.

“It hasn’t really been very difficult to get large amounts of alcohol down to the beach,” he said. “It’s pretty simple to get around; we have coolers of all different sizes. We gave ourselves the right to inspect the largest of those containers, but that’s going to be converted pretty easily because people are just going to go to slightly smaller containers.”

Police Chief Tom Rehill said that while police can search any cooler if they have probable cause, the ordinance just gives officers the ability to search coolers larger than 36 quarts without probable cause.

Councilman Paul Lettieri said while he understood Delucry’s argument, he believed the ordinance should establish a baseline of measurement for cooler inspections.

The city is also looking to place more police officers at the Cove for daily patrol. In past years, two officers were designated to that area. It was unclear Thursday how many will be added.

More lifeguards will be added and a State Police patrol boat will be stationed in the water for the Fourth of July. Funds to pay for overtime accrued by State Police and lifeguards for that location, about $180,000, will come from the increased 4x4 permit fees, Simpson said.

GALLERY: This Brigantine home sold for $1.975M

Instant replay expanding in high school football

It seemed like a routine timeout in the Williamstown High School-St. Augustine Prep football game last week. But this stoppage of play was different.

With about five minutes left in the game, Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola asked for time late and challenged a potential fumble recovery.

The officials gathered around a tablet near the sideline to review game footage and determined the ruling on the field stood.

Scenes like this are becoming more common in the state. Just like in the NFL and college football, instant replay is becoming part of the high school football experience.

How high school football has changed over the years

Edward Lea  

Cedar Creek’s Malachi Melton #16 breaks free past Willingboro’s Zaire Clements #10 during the first half of football game at Cedar Creek High School the opening weekend of the high school football season Friday Aug 30, 2019. . Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

Last season, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations, introduced instant replay in selective games where both teams used Hudl Sideline technology, an internet-based program to store and share game film.

“It’s not something that is mandatory,” said Jack DuBois, NJSIAA assistant director in charge of the association’s football committee. “I think it’s a nice option to have. With technology increasing, why not allow it? I think it’s a good thing.”

If a coach wants to challenge, they first need to call a timeout. Only touchdowns and turnovers can be reviewed. Both teams also need to agree during the week to use instant replay and inform officials.

Each team receives one challenge per half.

“That was the first one (challenge) I was ever in,” St. Augustine coach Pete Lancetta said after the Hermits’ 21-7 win over the Braves. “I don’t think it belongs in a high school game. It went our way this time, thankfully. But I just don’t like it.”

After a team challenges a play, the referees review it on tablets stationed along the sideline with views from different camera angles, including looks from the sidelines and end zone. The association mandates there are at least three angles, but prefers four.

Both teams must provide tablets that are linked to their Hudl accounts, which can cost up to $1,500 per year.

DuBois said 100-plus schools have participated in a replay game so far this season, most being in North Jersey. About 70 plays have been reviewed, DuBois said.

“This is the second year of our trial,” DuBois said. “I think other schools will jump on board soon and it will increase going forward.”

Most schools use some form of Hudl, a video program used to electronically swap game film and allow coaches to watch plays seconds after they happen.

But not every school can afford the extra camera angles needed for replay, which are required for the instant replay to be used during a game.

The cost and access to that technology are major concerns and prevent some schools from using it, including Mainland Regional.

“We can’t afford the update right now,” Mainland coach Chuck Smith said. “But I think high school football is trying too hard to be like college, which is great for instant replays because they have all these different camera angles. At our level, we don’t have those proper angles, like goal line cameras.”

Another concern is the reliability of the equipment.

Pleasantville was supposed to use instant replay for a game in 2018, and then another this season, but both times the opportunity fell through when the technology failed.

“I think in theory it sounds good, but you have to wonder how many programs actually have the technology to do it,” Pleasantville coach Chris Sacco said. “It works well if you’re able to do it, but it’s very difficult to rely on each week if you can’t make it work.”

For some, the biggest issue with replay is that it slows down the game.

“It disrupts the flow of the game,” Lancetta said. “The officials are good, and whatever they decide is fine by me.”

Each challenge should take no more than two minutes, DuBois said.

“You look at the way the NFL is this year, and some people are upset about how slow it is getting (because of the challenges),” Sacco said. “I don’t want to see that trickle down to high school. The good thing about high school is it’s a little faster, but we live in a world where technology changes everything.”

Most local coaches hope that is true.

“I think it could (slow it down),” Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. “But at the same time you go back and review the film and see something egregiously missed that, if called correctly, could change the outcome of the game. It’s worth taking a few minutes to look it over to make sure you are making the right call.”

Ocean City coach Kevin Smith and the Red Raiders could have benefited from instant replay in their game against St. Augustine on Oct. 4.

Red Raiders wide receiver Brian Beckmann caught a touchdown pass, had a foot in bounds and the ball never moved through the process of the catch, but it was ruled incomplete.

The referee who made the incorrect ruling later apologized to Ocean City, Kevin Smith said. But with instant replay, something like that could be avoided.

“As long as they have an efficient way to do it and limit what you can challenge, and keep it that way, I am fine with it,” Kevin Smith said. “Anything that makes the game more fair and efficient, I’m all for it.”

GALLERY: St. Augustine Prep vs. Williamstown football