High school basketball coaches always have a lot of stories around this time, as their seasons slide into history.
Some are actively getting ready for next year. Others might consider stepping down. Still others have celebrated milestones.
But there are four coaches in the area who seem to have interesting stories this year.
Start with Gene Allen.
Only six coaches in CAL history have more career wins and just four have better winning percentages. But the Atlantic City Board of Education mysteriously decided to give in to the complaints of one parent who appeared before them more than once. They announced that Allen would not return as head coach. And they did it just days before pre-season practice was to begin.
The public, which apparently knew a little more about the requirements of high school basketball than the Board, arose in protest. Assistant coaches Elijah Langford, Carl Cochran and Bob Newman kept the ship afloat until this ridiculous decision could be reversed.
The season started slowly with some unusual losses. Atlantic City had lost a ton of talent to graduation anyway but the delay in getting Allen renewed made things more difficult. He kept experimenting and adjusting until he started to find the best combinations. In the second half of the season, his Vikings reversed most of those early bad losses with victories in the rematches and came close to some significant upsets. And they not only qualified for the NJSIAA Group 4 Tournament, they won in the first round and made a serious run at their second round game.
The Vikings finished with their worst record in a long, long time. But they were a lot better at the end of the season than at the beginning, as most Gene Allen teams are.
Then there is Scott Holden.
Like Allen, he lost some talent to graduation, including his nephew, Patrick, the greatest scorer in school history. Holden had originally decided to step down and take a few years off. But he returned and guided this new lineup to 10 wins in the first 11 games. But the Tigers hit a rough spot in late January, losing three of four. Then star sophomore Martin Anguelov, the top returning starter and the CAL’s top perimeter shooter, transferred to Wildwood Catholic, ending his season and, most people thought, Lower Cape May’s season.
But Holden kept them together. They immediately won four straight and, later in the season, won a critical game against Mainland, a South Jersey finalist in Group 3, and qualified or the CAL Tournament.
Scott Holden comes from one of the greatest basketball families in Cape-Atlantic League history and he loves the game. This year, with all the hurdles he faced, he demonstrated that love and passed some of it along to his players.
Scott McCracken has another story.
He has coached the third highest scorer in Cape May County history during his seasons at Wildwood and brought some success to the Warriors, despite all those long bus rides. This year, however, was something else.
Wildwood was 10-16 entering the NJSIAA Group 1 Tournament and was given the 14th seed in South Jersey. Through the season they’d turned in good efforts that resulted in close losses to Holy Spirit, Ocean City and Glassboro plus a memorable 99-95 loss at Clayton.
But Wildwood has always been a basketball town that could come alive in the post-season. This year the 14th-seeded Warriors won at Salem by seven, were winners at Pitman by three and stunned Glassboro, the Group 1 favorite, by four. They found themselves in the South Jersey final at Clayton and they were as close as you could get to an extremely rare championship by a 14th seed before losing, 64-63.
The Wildwood girls, coached by South Jersey Hall of Famer Teresa Cunniff, made a similar run, though never taking a bus ride because they were the top seed. They also lost a tough one to Haddon Township in the final.
On that girls team was Maddie McCracken, Scott’s daughter, who became the fifth area girls basketball player to score 2,000 career points. But her dad missed the majority of those points because his team and her team were usually playing in different gyms at the same time.
Still, Scott McCracken and his Warriors brought Wildwood alive again in late February and early March with a state tournament run that made South Jersey history and had the whole state talking.
And there is one more Scott – Scott Betson.
A little less than two years ago it looked like Betson’s career as Mainland’s coach might end. But, somewhat like with Gene Allen, his fortunes changed through public support.
What has followed is the two best seasons in Mainland history including the overall championship of the CAL last year and the school’s first state championship in girls basketball this year. The Mustangs have a 56-4 record over the last two seasons, a great success for any program, and they are the only CAL team still playing – they face tough Manchester Township tonight at 7 in Toms River in the Tournament of Champions.
Sure, Betson has Kylee Watson, one of the state’s best basketball players, in his lineup. Last year she was surrounded by seniors, this year the rest of the lineup is much younger. And they have continued to win not just because of her great talents but because of the way she blends with her teammates.
Despite the stress he must have felt after the developments two years ago, Scott Betson has worked hard to develop Mainland girls basketball to new heights.
There are lots of stories among area basketball coaches but Gene Allen, Scott Holden, Scott McCracken and Scott Betson are four with stories, though somewhat different, that are especially interesting and emphasize the positive impact they have on area basketball.