WILDWOOD - Wildwood High School girls basketball coach Dave Troiano thought it was strange when his son, Tony, called to tell him that he planned to attend the Warriors' game Monday against Lower Cape May Regional.
"He told me he wanted to see (Caper Tigers junior standout) Lauren Holden play," Troiano said with a laugh. "I certainly wasn't expecting what happened."
Troiano, who is in his 36th season as the Warriors' coach, was moved to tears after Lower's 67-44 victory when school officials brandished a banner proclaiming that Wildwood's gym will henceforth be known as the "Bernie McCracken and Dave Troiano Basketball Court."
In addition to honoring Troiano and McCracken, who was Wildwood's boys basketball coach in the 1960s and 70s, the school retired the basketball jerseys of South Jersey all-time scoring leader Monica Johnson (No. 23) and Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel (No. 22) as part of a riveting, emotional ceremony.
The honorees included a large contingent of family and friends of McCracken, who died in February at age 77. He posted a 256-88 record as coach of the Warriors, whose loyal fan base was known as "Bernie's Army," while also teaching algebra during his 34 years at Wildwood.
"Our father grew up in Western Pennsylvania and was still too young to work in the steel mills when he graduated high school," McCracken's son, Bucky, said. "He looked in a newspaper and saw an ad for a small town on the Jersey Shore and decided to apply for a job there.
"He had opportunities to leave, but Wildwood was where he wanted to raise kids and where he wanted to leave his legacy. And his legacy was not as much about coaching good basketball players as it was about making better people."
Troiano, 66, started his coaching career at Wildwood as an assistant under McCracken in 1970-71 after moving there from his boyhood home of Pittsburgh.
Since taking over the girls team in 1977-78, he has guided the Warriors to four state Group I championships and eight South Jersey titles while also establishing his own legacy as a fiery coach who is also a teacher and mentor.
"This is just amazing," Troiano said. "To be on the same banner with Bernie ... I'm honored and humbled beyond words. I learned so much from him. He taught me how to yell and how to get on the refs. Quite honestly, I've tried to model everything I do after Bernie.
"All I can say is I love this place. I'm going to try to keep doing this as long as I can. It's in my blood."
Although Troiano coached his share of standouts during his tenure, Johnson tops the list.
The 2002 Wildwood graduate scored 3,173 points while leading the Warriors to three straight state championships from 2000-02. She is the only player to be named The Press Girls Basketball Player of the Year four times.
Although she was often the smallest player on the court at 5-foot-3, Johnson relied on remarkable quickness and an uncanny court sense to frustrate opponents and wow crowds.
"A player like Monica only comes along once in a lifetime," Troiano said. "She's not real big, but she put fear in a lot of people's hearts. This young lady made my job real easy. She was a joy to coach."
Johnson, 30, honed her game while playing with older cousins and friends on the cracked asphalt courts at Commissioner's Court, the housing complex four blocks away from Wildwood High School.
But until she got to junior high school, basketball was not her best sport.
"My first sport was football," Johnson said. "I started playing for the Wildwood Islanders when I was 8, and I played running back and linebacker until I was 12. My mom made me stop after that, though, because I was growing and becoming a lady."
Once she turned to basketball, Johnson wound up earning a scholarship to Seton Hall University but suffered a knee injury just before her sophomore year that essentially ended her career.
Johnson now works as a certified nurse's aide at Victorian Manor nursing home in Lower Township and plans to go to nursing school this summer.
"I only play basketball every once in a while now," Johnson said. "The last time I played full-court was during an alumni game last year against Wildwood Catholic. I just can't believe it's been 12 years since I was playing for Wildwood High."
Vogel, a 1991 Wildwood graduate, was a role player for the Warriors but wound up blossoming as a coach.
Now in his third full season as the Pacers' head coach, he still brings his family back home to Wildwood Crest every summer so that his children can experience the special parts of the island that helped mold him.
"He has so many fond memories of Wildwood Crest and Wildwood High School," Vogel's mother, Fran Vogel, said. "He makes sure his kids go to Sam's Pizza, the water park (at Morey's Pier), the beach and the Boardwalk because that's where he grew up and they don't have any beaches in Indiana."
Vogel received his honor at the school in September, before the start of the NBA season.
Johnson and Vogel became the third and fourth Wildwood High student-athletes to have their jerseys retired, joining 1962 graduate Randy Beverly (32) and 1984 grad Bill Osborn (12). Beverly wound up playing for the New York Jets and had two interceptions in Super Bowl III. Osborn was a three-sport star at both Wildwood and the University of Pittsburgh.
Notes: Holden scored 30 points and Maddie Gibson added 24 for Lower. The Caper Tigers (6-7) broke the game open in the second quarter, when they outscored Wildwood 26-9. Jessica Freeman led the Warriors (8-3) with 27 points.
Contact David Weinberg:
Lower Cape May 12 26 23 6-67
Wildwood 16 9 10 9-44
L-Holden 10 7-7 30, Young 2 3-4 7, Gibson 12 0-0 24, Magee 1 0-0 2, Elliott 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 10-11 67.
W-Je. Freeman 6 12-16 26, Huber 3 0-0 6, Reyes 2 1-2 5, McCracken 0 2-4 2, McGrath 1 1-2 3, DelValle 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 16-24 44.
3-pointers: Holden (3) L; Je. Freeman (2) W.
RECORDS: LCM 6-7; Wildwood 8-3.