They will play high school football games in the Shore this weekend, tonight-Sunday.
Scores will be kept. Teams will win by having more points than their opponent.
But, hopefully, most importantly, the return of scholastic football will perhaps begin the return to some sort of normalcy for all of us whose lives were turned upside down by first Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29 and then by the nor’easter on Wednesday night.
“Any time, you can rally around something and embrace, it absolutely helps in the healing process, particulary those who were hit harder than others,” said Toms River South coach Ron Signorino Jr.
Toms River South will host Toms River North at 1 p.m Saturday at venerable Detwiler Stadium in the 41st renewal of one of the Shore’s best sports rivalries.
Passion has always run high for this game. In the first years of the rivalry, the pranks both coaching staffs pulled on each other were legendary.
No matter, if the game is played at Detwiler Stadium or Toms River North’s Gernerd Field, the stands are packed. The Toms River South-Toms River North football game has always been a major social event on the Toms River calendar.
This time, in the wake of what’s happened over the last 13 days, the game will, hopefully, serve as a rallying event for a community which was hit hard from the barrier islands on the East side of town, to the Silverton section on the North side of town to the area by the Toms River in the South part of town and points West, too.
“Every player is going through their own problems, whether it be the loss of a home or having no electricity. This (football) gives them a chance to maybe escape their problems for a couple of hours,” said Toms River North coach Chip LaBarca, who said five of his players lost their homes.
“Anything you can rally around and embrace is vital to the healing process,” said Signorino Jr., who said his players for the most part did not suffer major damage to their homes. “We can at least have a little bit of fun and have spirits high for a few hours. The North-South game is something people will come out and rally around for sure.”
There is no question the last two weeks have been challenging for all of us. As several coaches and athletic directors have said, there is “no playbook” for dealing with what Mother Nature has dealt us.
“I don’t think any of us have gone through this, at least to this extent,” Signorino Jr. said.
Like Sept. 11, 2001, we have all been given a harsh lesson about perspective. Football and athletics have been put in their proper place — as something that is secondary in our lives and not the be all, end all. Surviving what we’ve all been through and rebuilding our lives is much more important.
“I think when you’re sitting home in front of the fireplace and you don’t have heat, it lessens the importance of football,” LaBarca Jr. said.
Football coaches have had difficulty conducting practices because there has been no school and because they have had difficulty getting in contact with all their players.
Normalcy was starting to return, and then the nor’easter came.
“That put us back to square one,” LaBarca Jr. said. “I can’t imagine how all of this is going to affect the football game.”
Before the hurricane, this edition of the Toms River North-Toms River South game was shaping up as the most intriguing one since 2002 when both teams entered the game 6-0, and Toms River North rallied to win, 28-27, before about 8,000 people at Gernerd Field.
Toms River North (4-3), which has defeated Toms River South 10 straight times, needs to win ensure it qualifies for the NJSIAA South Group V playoffs. Toms River South (4-3), which leads the series, 23-16-1, could earn a home game in the South IV playoffs with a win.
One team will win and be happy late Saturday afternoon and the other one will be disappointed.
But, the Toms River community could be the big winner. Hopefully the playing of the game will pull a close-knit community even closer together and begin the return to normalcy. It will be great to hear Toms River South’s legendary public address announcer Dave Correll rally those in attendance around each other before the game.
And hopefully, the playing of football games around the Shore this weekend, will signal the turning point for all of us from Long Beach Island to Seaside Heights, to Seaside Park to Toms River, to Point Pleasant, to Point Pleasant Beach to Manasquan to Asbury Park, to Ocean Grove, to Long Branch, to Sea Bright, to Oceanport to Rumson to Keansburg, to Union Beach and Keyport as we begin to move away from the nightmare of the last two weeks and look forward to the holiday season.
The Jackson Liberty at Monsignor Donovan game, which Monsignor Donovan can clinch the outright Shore Conference Class B South championship with a win, will be broadcast live on 1160 and 1310 AM at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.