Oakcrest High School has produced some outstanding athletes over the years.
Golfer Joanna Coe spent four seasons on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour and played in the U.S. Open. Darren Drozdov played three seasons in the NFL with the Denver Broncos. Legendary college women’s basketball coach Cathy Rush is a former Falcon.
Does world-ranked competitive eater Carmen Cincotti belong on that list?
Cincinnati Bengals long snapper Clark Harris, Olympic wrestler Frank Molinaro and NASCAR star Martin Truex Jr. are among the Southern Regional graduates who have gone on to enjoy outstanding success.
Should World Series of Poker event winner Tom Pomponio be included in that group?
Both Cincotti and Pomponio are among the best in the world in their respective specialties. Cincotti, a 2011 Oakcrest graduate, battled Joey Chestnut wiener-for-wiener en route to a second-place finish in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest in Coney Island, New York, on the Fourth of July.
“I consider myself an athlete,” Cincotti, 25, said. “I train very hard to be the best.”
Pomponio, a 2007 Southern grad, won $745,000 and a coveted gold bracelet by taking first place in a World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas last month.
The 28-year-old works full-time as a butcher at a B.J.’s Wholesale Club in Toms River, but plays in poker tournaments in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and online.
So should competitions such as eating contests and poker — not to mention bowling, darts and golf — be considered sports?
“That’s a great question,” said Jeff Tomlinson, a 53-year-old North Wildwood native who won a WSOP event in 2015 and placed second in one last month. “I don’t know that poker should be considered a sport. It’s much like golf in that you don’t have to be in good shape to be good at it. But having mental toughness and putting the work in is the only way to be elite.”
The argument could be made that because the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest and the WSOP’s Main Event are televised on ESPN, they are sports. But don’t forget that the network’s call letters originally stood for “Entertainment Sports Programming Network.”
They are all about airing events that draw big ratings, whether it’s the NFL or MLE (Major League Eating). ESPN also shows the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.
There is an athletic element to activities such as eating and poker, I suppose. Cincotti, who was a member of Oakcrest’s crew, soccer and track teams, works out at a local gym six days a week to keep in top physical condition for when it’s time to swallow hot dogs, corn on the cob, pork roll and various other foods.
“I love sports and I love to compete,” Cincotti said. “After I graduated from Oakcrest (and The College of New Jersey), I had to find something to fill that competitive void for me.”
Poker helped fill the void for Pomponio, who played youth baseball in Stafford Township.
Tomlinson, who is now a high school football coach in Florida, credits his background in baseball and triathlons with helping him at the poker table.
“The poker tournaments at the WSOP last for days,” Tomlinson said. “You start at 10 a.m. and played until 2 a.m. the next day every day. It really challenges you both mentally and physically.”
Sports is generically defined as “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.”
By that broad measure, I guess backyard games such as beer pong, corn hole and “Kan Jam” technically qualify.
I’m on the fence. Speaking of which, is fencing a sport?
I was going to sweep Quidditch aside until I learned that it’s one of fastest-growing college sports in the country. Virtually every school — including Stockton University — has a club team and there is even a International Quidditch Association that organizes a World Cup each year.
The mighty Ospreys participate in several tournaments in the fall and spring, including the prestigious “Turtle Cup” at the University of Maryland.
At the end of that tournament, many players head to an Annapolis restaurant and attempt its six-pound milkshake challenge.
Sounds like the perfect competition for Cincotti.
(David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.)