Depending on your age and memory, Wildwood is associated with different things.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the town was a music hotbed. Memorial Day weekend will mark the 65th anniversary of when Bill Haley & His Comets first performed “Rock Around the Clock” at the Hofbrau Hotel on Atlantic Avenue. In the summer of 1960, a Philadelphia teenager nicknamed Chubby Checker introduced “The Twist” while headlining at The Rainbow Club on Pacific and Spicer avenues.
The late 1970s-early ’80s saw a string of bars and nightclubs spring up in Wildwood, North Wildwood and Diamond Beach. You could dance, drink and party until 5 a.m. at spots like the Lucky Club, Moore’s Inlet, Oasis, Penalty Box, Playpen, Shamrock, Stardust and Sundance, among others.
Some things haven’t changed, however.
Wildwood’s beaches still have more sand than some deserts. “Wa-wa-watch the tramcar please” warns walkers to make way for the train that rolls over the boards. The Ferris Wheel at Morey’s Piers lights up the sky on summer nights.
And tiny Wildwood High School, the smallest public high school in the state, is still making big news through its sports programs.
The Warriors enjoyed quite a week recently.
Last Wednesday, 2013 Wildwood graduate Wes Hills, a standout running back at the University of Delaware and Slippery Rock University, signed a contract as a rookie free agent with the Arizona Cardinals.
Then on Saturday, word leaked out that 1991 grad Frank Vogel had agreed to become the next coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Such accomplishments and feats are more commonplace at bigger high schools, such as Millville and Southern Regional.
Millville’s list of alumni includes L.A. Angels outfielder Mike Trout, Jacksonville rookie running back Ryquell Armstead, world-ranked boxer Thomas LaManna, and former UFC fighter Tim Williams.
NASCAR star Martin Truex Jr., Pro Bowl long snapper Clark Harris, Olympic wrestler Frank Molinaro and Miami tight end Mike Gesicki are all Southern grads.
That’s not to say Wildwood hasn’t had its share of standouts, however. Despite its small enrollment, the Warriors boast Randy Beverly (1962), Bill Osborn (1984), Chuck Mussachio (1997) and Jeff Tomlinson (1984) among its graduates.
Beverly had two interceptions for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, Osborn was The Press Male Athlete of the Decade for the 1980s. Mussachio was among the region’s top light-heavyweights in a 13-year pro boxing career. Tomlinson has won over $800,000 in the World Series of Poker.
And no one can forget basketball legend Monica Johnson (2002), the area’s only 3,000-point scorer, who in my opinion remains the best local girls player in South Jersey history.
Much has changed through the years. Those who twisted with Chubby Checker are now sporting artificial hips. People who used to party until 5 are now getting up at that hour. The only people in penalty boxes have ice skates on their feet. Playpens are for grandchildren.
But Wildwood High School is still producing top student-athletes and teams.
Maddie McCracken hit the 2,000-point milestone while helping coach Theresa Cunniff and the Warriors reach the South Jersey Group I final this past season. The entire town was caught up in the thrilling playoff run made by the boys basketball team.
When it comes to sports, Wildwood is still able to “Rock Around the Clock.”
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.