Good morning everyone. Hope everyone is enjoying there Christmas. Well, the Holiday Season is upon us, and besides Yule Logs, Egg Nog, Santa Claus, Gift Giving, and Get Togethers, there are always the Holiday Basketball Tournaments. A couple of them got underway in the waning days of the first full week of the GMC Boys Basketball Season as on Thursday, Morris Tech traveled over to East Brunswick Tech for an opening round matchup in the 2007 NJTAC Holiday Tournament, and then on Sunday, Old Bridge battled Toms River North in the opening round of the 2007 WOBM Classic in Toms River. GMC Hoops covered this game as well, and traveled to the relatively brand new Ritacco Center on the campus of Toms River North High School for the first time ever in order to do it. For those who think I’m crazy for doing this, I actually had traveled down to Toms River before to cover the WOBM Classic. Five years ago, in December 2002, Old Bridge was playing Point Pleasant Boro in the Semifinals of the tournament at Ocean County College, the old venue for this tournament before the Ritacco Center opened several years ago. That season, Old Bridge had the likes of Sean Williams, Spencer Corbett, and Steve Barella as well as Fichel Cuffy, who joined the team later that season, and helped the Knights reach the Championship Game of the 2003 Central Jersey Group IV Tournament versus Trenton at Hunterdon Central High School.
In that 2002 WOBM Classic semifinal game, Old Bridge lost to Point Boro by a 33-29 count. The Panthers advanced to play Raritan of Hazlet in the Championship, and won 48-38. The MVP of that year’s tournament was Kelly Trippanara. One of the things that I like to do in terms of the web site, is do things that haven’t been done before. For example, in the second season of the web site’s existence, a goal was to try to go to a home game for every GMC team. Now, while that goal wasn’t accomplished until several games into the next season, it was still done. Another idea was to try and see each team in the conference at least once during the season. Again, it always doesn’t work out that way, but over the last two or three seasons, I’ve been able to do that, and actually see most teams more than once. So, since I had never been to Ritacco, hadn’t covered this particular tournament in five seasons, and the fact that this game was on a Sunday when no other GMC teams were playing, I thought it would be a good idea to take the hour long trip down to this facility. And, boy did a pick a great day to go. A couple days before, my WeatherBug software alerted me to the possibility of some wicked weather on Sunday. Then, Saturday night, a Wind Advisory had been issued. Consequently, I was a bit apprehensive about making the trip, but it was during the middle of the day, which made things easier.
For those, who have not gone down to Ritacco before, its actually a very simple trip if you take either Route 9, or the Parkway South. On the Garden State Parkway, it is off Exit 83 for Route 9 North. Getting on Route 9 North, you take that to Ocean County Road 571, and make a right. Follow that road down to the next light, and make another right onto Old Freehold Road, which takes you up to Toms River North High School, and its accompanying Ritacco Center on the left. Obviously, if you take Route 9 South, you’d follow it until you get to Ocean County Road 571, and make a left. Then, follow the road down to the next light, make a right, and the school and arena are on the left. I left the house, I bit later that I had wanted to, but I needed to do some things on the site before I left so I didn’t depart until about 1:50 PM for the 2:45 PM tip-off. However, I didn’t miss much. Despite missing the exit (somehow I didn’t see it), I arrived at the game with still a few seconds to play in the opening period. Overall, the trip wasn’t that bad although the weather was picking up. The winds definitely make a bigger impact on the Parkway since the road is in an area of open space with no buildings, or a lot of trees to obstruct the wind. I actually could feel the wind try to push the car around a bit, and it actually slowed it down. On the way back from the game, I decided to take Route 9 North since it was better lit, and that made it easier to see, which helped a lot as the weather got worse later in the day.
Arriving at the Ritacco Center, I was fascinated to see that it was actually a part of the school itself. Imagine taking a smaller version of the RAC, and attaching to one of the high schools in the Greater Middlesex Conference, and that is what you get with the Ritacco Center. Poland Spring is the official sponsor of the site, and you’ll see their logo on the side of the building as you drive up to it. Entering the facility, it has a bit of a Rutgers Athletic Center feel to it with the concession stands, electronic message boards, flat screen television displays, and stuff. Poland Springs Arena was right to the left of where I walked in, but Old Bridge and Toms River North, weren’t playing there. Rather, I believe it was Point Boro and Wall Township ready to tip off for a 3:15 start. After inquiring about where the Old Bridge game was being played, I found that it was going on in the Toms River North gym, which you could get to by making a right, and then a left from the corridor outside the Poland Spring Arena gym.
The folks at Ritacco that were helping with running the WOBM Tournament, were very nice and helpful, and I got an official 2007 WOBM Christmas Classic game program for free. Although Old Bridge lost, the Knights gave a good fight as well so the trip was overall a pretty good one.
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