Fans packed Wildwood Catholic High School’s tiny gym Wednesday night.
The home Crusaders hosted St. Augustine Prep in one of the most anticipated boys basketball games of the season.
Fans arrived at 5 p.m. — two hours before tipoff — to get seats.
Once the game started, the tiny gym rocked with noise as the Crusaders rolled to an 82-43 win.
With each dunk by Wildwood Catholic’s Taj Thweatt and each 3-pointer by Crusaders swingman Jacob Hopping, the crowd got louder and louder.
The Wildwood Catholic players seemed to feed off the crowd’s energy and vice versa.
“It felt amazing, especially in the environment with basically everyone on top of you,” Hopping said.
There is no doubt Wildwood Catholic’s tiny gym is one of the iconic high school sports venues in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties.
Driving the 90 miles back from Wildwood Catholic to my home in Howell, Monmouth County, I began to think what are some other local must-see high school sports venues.
Here’s my list:
Ocean City football field: Located behind the school at 6th Street and the Boardwalk, there’s no better place to watch a football game, especially in September and October. The combination of the salt air, the boardwalk and the Ferris wheel behind the home bleachers makes this field a great place to catch a game.
Atlantic City gym: The Vikings’ home has hosted countless big games, including state semifinals and South Jersey championships, since the school opened in 1994. The gym is even better since it was remodeled with a new floor and better lighting last season. The gym is loud and pulls off a neat trick — it’s intimate but fans don’t feel cramped or overcrowded.
Wheaton Field in Millville: Few towns appreciate high school football like Millville. The school sells season tickets to home games. You can feel the history at Wheaton Field. Watching a game here, you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to the 1950s when the local high school football game was always the biggest event in town.
Gittone Stadium in Vineland: A few miles from Wheaton Field is Vineland’s Gittone Stadium. It was built in 1938 during the Great Depression. It was remodeled a few years ago and now features an artificial grass field and a video scoreboard.
Alden Field in Bridgeton: This facility is home to the Bridgeton baseball team. It’s been remodeled but has an old time minor league baseball feel. It’s not a field. It’s not a stadium. It’s a ballpark.
Holy Spirit gym: Another facility that has hosted countless big games, including the Seagull Classic basketball showcase event and Cape-Atlantic League title games in the 1990s. It was once best known for the soft rim with lots of give that Holy Spirit boys and girls teams always shot at in the second half.
Southern Regional’s 9/10 gym: The Rams just named this court in honor of former coach Jim Ruhnke. The Southern boys still play their home games on this court, which features stands behind both baskets.
Those are just some of the venues that came to mind on one man’s drive home.
What are your favorite places to see a high school game?
Let us know, and we’ll revisit this topic down the road after a few more long drives home.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.