For South Jersey basketball, the daily numbers that tell COVID-19’s gruesome toll now have a name.
Marty Derer died Monday of complications from the new coronavirus. He was 56.
Marty lived in Williamstown and was a Board 34 official, which meant he refereed mostly in Camden and Burlington counties.
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The news has shaken the South Jersey basketball community. The gyms and the people in them are connected from Wildwood to Cherry Hill and everywhere in between. That’s what makes basketball season a joy to cover. That’s what makes this news so devastating.
Good friend and fellow official Tim Attanasi remembered Marty in articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer and NJ.com this week. Tim’s brother, Tom, is the former coach of the Holy Spirit boys team and was an assistant at St. Augustine Prep this season.
Former Mainland Regional and Pemberton coach Roy Heck knew Marty well not only from high school but from watching Marty officiate the travel games of Heck’s two sons. Heck said Marty just had a continuous smile.
“Great guy,” Heck said, “(with) an incredible heart. He wanted to get things right. Always asked me how my kids were doing.”
Marty also had a summer home in North Wildwood. He was a member of the Wildwood Elks Lodge and the Cape May Emerald Society. He was the president of the Beach Creek Condo Association in North Wildwood and loved Notre Dame football.
Marty stood 6-foot-5. He was healthy, vibrant. His passing should make everyone think twice about how potent COVID-19 is.
Marty worked as a court services supervisor in Gloucester County. His love of basketball was obvious to all who knew him. He would often go right from officiating a high school game to several youth contests. He rarely, if ever, turned down an assignment.
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A standout player at Camden Catholic, where he graduated in 1982, “his love of basketball never faded,” former Camden Catholic coach Jim Crawford said on Twitter. “He would tell refereeing stories all night long. He wanted to help the kids and the game.”
On March 12, he officiated his last playoff game at Deptford High School.
I was there, gathered with a few other reporters around Ocean City girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi, interviewing him just after the Red Raiders had won, 50-38, in the state Group III semifinal.
As the interview began, the three officials for the next game — the state Group I girls semifinal between Woodbury and Bound Brook — walked by us on their way to the court.
Marty was one of those officials.
On March 12, no one was quite sure what was happening in the world. The pandemic was in its infant stages. The news seemed to change every minute.
Earlier that day, Gov. Phil Murphy banned gatherings of more than 250 people. The two state semifinals were played before no fans and only essential personnel.
The huddle has all but disappeared from high school football.
When the Ocean City game tipped off, there were 70 people in the stands, including players and coaches. At no point during the Ocean City-Westampton Tech game were there more than 100 people in the gym.
Later that night, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association canceled the rest of the state tournament.
There hasn’t been a high school sports event played in New Jersey since that day.
There have been no other reports of anyone at Deptford that night having COVID-19.
Still, it’s jarring to think that the virus took someone who was in the gym that night.
Many South Jersey teams have posted tributes to Marty this week on social media.
“A person who just cared for the kids and was above everything else,” read a tweet on St. Joseph High School’s Twitter account. Marty officiated the Wildcats’ South Jersey Non-Public B playoff game against Ranney School last month.
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One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, public health and government officials will proclaim it safe for us to come out of our homes and play and watch the games that Marty and all of us love.
Until then, we stay at home because COVID-19 is about much more than what we see on TV and hear during news conferences.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column traditionally appears Fridays in The Press of Atlantic City’s sports section.