By BRIAN CUNNIFF
CAPE MAY COURT HOSUE – On a night when all things Middle Township High School basketball were celebrated, all Tom Feraco wanted talk about was scaffolding.
Feraco was the head coach of Middle’s back-to-back state championship teams in 1993 and 1994. He said one of his enduring memories of the era is his recollection of when the school permanently attached scaffolding at the edge of the bleachers in the four corners of its old gymnasium to create platforms that allowed for extra seating.
That’s how popular the Panther teams were back then.
“They could probably get an extra 30 or 40 people in with it,” Feraco said, “plus all the (media) with their cameras were up there, too. You have to remember, we had people getting turned away at the doors back then. The lines would stretch around the corner.”
Middle honored its state championship basketball teams from that era on Monday in between games of a girl-boy doubleheader against Lower Cape May. In addition to those aforementioned boys teams, Middle’s girls teams won consecutive state titles in 1994 and 1995.
As is noted by a small banner, the dual boys and girls state titles in 1994 were the first in state history. And the girls team’s accomplishment of winning consecutive state titles while moving up in enrollment group – Middle won as a Group II school in ’94 and as a Group III school in ’95 – was the first time that had ever occurred.
As part of Monday’s ceremonies, 1993 graduate Stephano Anderson, who was a member of three South Jersey title teams in addition to the ’93 state championship team, had his No. 23 retired.
Close to 20 players combined from the four teams were on hand. Anderson and LaMarr Greer, who between them scored more than 4,500 high school points, were among the boys teams’ representatives. Greer was the New Jersey high school Player of the Year in 1994. Current Middle girls assistant coach Brandee Kennedy-Day, Dinean McBride-Rulon and Heather Ingersoll – all career 1,000-point scorers – were among the girls teams’ players in attendance.
“Walking in here, it feels like it was so long ago but then when you see everyone it feels like it all just happened yesterday,” said Heather Ingersoll, a starter on both of the girls state title teams. “It’s nothing you could every really put into words or describe. It was something really special to be a part of.”
Kennedy-Day has been around Middle’s girls basketball program for more than 25 years. After returning from college, she became an assistant coach and is now in her 22nd season in that capacity.
“We were the ones that kind of put the program on the map 25 years ago,” she said. “Now that I’ve been coaching this long, I know how hard it is to get to that point.
“My memories of that team are right up there with the great memories of my life. It was huge part of my life. Everything I am is because of those memories.”
Each player was introduced by Mark Seim, a retired Middle teacher who served as the basketball stadium announcer back in the 1990s. Following introductions, highlight videos were projected onto the wall of the gymnasium above the east bleachers.
“I’m not sure those videos did those teams justice,” Feraco later told the crowd. “It was something special.”
Duncan McNeal, a player on the ’93 Middle boys team, said he is often reminded of those extraordinary days.
“There are too many memories to count,” he said. “People that saw us play, I’ll see them at Wawa or somewhere like that and they come up and ask me how I’m doing and they’ll say what a great team we had back then. We might’ve taken it for granted back then but we definitely appreciate what we did now.”
Gary Barber, the head coach of the Middle girls state title teams, did not attend the ceremony. But McBride-Rulon read a prepared statement to the crowd that Barber had written. Barber wrote that there were too many people who had a hand in the teams’ successes to mention them all individually. He also mentioned how the team posted a record of 111-9 over a four-year stretch and how the program produced seven 1,000-point scorers and seven Division I college basketball players.
“This is exciting,” McBride-Rulon said before reading Barber’s statement to the crowd. “No one has done what we did in the years since. I’m exciting for my teammates and my coach – everyone involved.”
Rewi Thompson, a longtime assistant coach with the boys team, also addressed the near-capacity crowd during the ceremony.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to accomplish what these groups of players did,” he said. “Every team is special in its own way but everyone old enough to be in the stands to watch these teams play … Wow, just wow.
“I think it was $2 to get into a high school basketball game back then. That was the best $2 you could have spent. It was a show. It really was.”