The Ocean City High School boys and girls cross country teams were flying high literally and figuratively Friday.
A magnanimous gesture by Delta Airlines made it possible for the Red Raiders to compete in the Disney Cross-Country Classic in Orlando, Florida. The boys varsity team wound up winning its race, and the girls varsity placed second in its race at Walt Disney World.
One day earlier, the teams doubted they would even get to Florida, let alone have the opportunity to compete.
“It definitely wasn’t looking good for us to get there at one point,” Ocean City senior runner Max Kelly said from the Magic Kingdom on Sunday night. “Delta definitely saved the day for us.”
We all have had our share of travel troubles. My wife still cringes at the memory of when she boarded a Phoenix-bound flight in Philly at 6 p.m. to visit our son at Arizona State. Her plane pulled away from the gate, rolled onto a runway and sat motionless for five hours before returning to the gate at 11 p.m.
Ocean City’s experience was also destined for disaster until Delta stepped in.
The Red Raiders were flying to Florida to compete after holding fundraisers — washing cars in the high school parking lot, bagging groceries at the ShopRite in the Marmora section of Upper Township and selling buckets of Johnson’s Popcorn — for two years.
Logistical problems caused Frontier Airlines to cancel their flight at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Boys coach Matt Purdue, boys assistant Steve Hoffman, girls coach Trish Henry and others scoured the airport, hoping to find another flight, but had no luck. Around 10 p.m., Purdue announced they were headed back to Ocean City.
“Some of us were crying,” senior runner Casey McLiss said. “We worked extremely hard to raise the money, so it was devastating when we found out we weren’t going. When we went to get our luggage from baggage claim, we had lost all hope.”
While the coaches were stopping at every airline counter in Terminal E, one of the runners posted a video on Twitter. Teammates followed with tweets to news outlets, airlines and even national talk show host Ellen DeGeneres using the hashtag #getocxctodisney.
“Our race @SPNWWOS is tomorrow but our flight was cancelled!!,” one of the messages read. “We like to run but not that far! @Delta can you help #getocxctodisney? @NBCSPhilly @TheEllenShow.”
Someone at Delta headquarters in Atlanta read their Tweets and sent word to Philadelphia-based representatives Bulent Dogan, Ira Parker and others to help the Red Raiders with their plight.
“Ira Parker told us he played football and ran track for Camden High School and had a real soft spot for teams,” Purdue said. “They told us they were going to find a plane to take us. They really went above and beyond for us.”
Because Delta doesn’t fly from Philadelphia to Orlando, it sent a McDonnell-Douglas MD-88 from Atlanta to accommodate Ocean City’s contingent.
It landed in Philadelphia around 4 a.m., 12 hours after the Red Raiders had arrived at the airport.
“We were the only people in the airport by that time,” Purdue said. “They had to open TSA security for us and bring all our luggage to the plane.”
The Red Raiders were the only people on the flight, which enabled everyone to have an entire row to themselves.
Most slept, while others enjoyed the food and drinks that were served.
“It was first class all the way,” Kelly said. “I felt like a VIP.”
The plane landed in Orlando a little after 6 a.m. Friday. The teams checked into their hotels around 8 a.m. and managed only a couple hours of sleep before heading out for the races.
If they were tired, they didn’t show it.
Ocean City’s boys team won its race behind Owen Ritti, Anthony Conte, Kelly and Luke Kramer, who finished sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th overall, respectively. McLees led the Red Raiders’ second-place girls team by finishing sixth, followed by Alexa Palmieri (10th), Becca Millar (14th) and Emma Sardy (19th). Ursuline School from New Rochelle, New York, won the girls title.
“I just told them to rise up,” Purdue said. “They were given an incredible opportunity, and they needed to take advantage of it.”
The teams spent Saturday and Sunday working out in the mornings, then had the rest of the days to enjoy themselves at the parks.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” found out about the adventure and did a segment on the Red Raiders on Sunday morning.
“It was like something out of a Hallmark Christmas movie,” McLees said. “We didn’t think we were going to make it there, but once we did, we ran with a lot of heart and grit.”
I can relate to Ocean City’s ability to overcome adversity.
About 25 years ago, my plane landed in Orlando and my luggage went to Oklahoma City. I didn’t care about the clothes, but it forced me to play golf with rental clubs.
Oh, the horror.
I would have asked for help with a hashtag #getdavesgolfclubstoflorida, but Twitter wasn’t created until 2006.
And I couldn’t find a pay phone.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press’ print edition and Tuesdays and Saturdays online.
Kevin Antczak, Mainland Regional
Antczak won the Atlantic County, Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group III championships.
Mike Liberty, Oackcrest
Finished seventh at the Atlantic County championship.
Anthony Conte, Ocean City
The defending Cape May County champion.
Luke Kramer, Ocean City
Finished third at South Jersey Group III championships.
Tyler Green, Ocean City
Green finished seventh at the South Jersey Group III championship.
Max Kelly, Ocean City
Kelly is another talented Ocean City runner.
Nicolas Valdivieso, Egg Harbor Township
Finished ninth at the Atlantic County championship.
Jackson Braddock, Southern Regional
Won the junior class race at the Cherokee Challenge last Saturday.
Olivia Shafer, Egg Harbor Township
The Press Female Runner of the Year last fall. She won the Cape-Atlantic League and Atlantic County championships.
Alyssa Turner, Mainland Regional
Turner finished second at the Atlantic County championship.
Rebecca Millar, Ocean City
Finished in the top-five at the Cape May County, Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group III championships.
Casey McLees, Ocean City
Won the Cape May County championship.
Megan Winterbottom, Cedar Creek
Finshed 10th at South Jersey Group II championship.
Michaela Pomatto, Egg Harbor Township
Finished ninth at Atlantic County championship.
Lillian Sarno, Barnegat
Finished fourth at South Jersey Group II championship.
Alexa Palmieri, Ocean City
Has been troubled by injuries but won the South Jersey Group III title last season.