By Bill Evans | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
When the West Jersey Football Coaches Association started putting together the particulars of the Battle at the Beach to open up the 2021 New Jersey season back in the winter, there was plenty of interest and also some well-placed faith.
The 11-game showcase event will take place in Ocean City’s stadium, a couple football fields away from the Atlantic Ocean, on Aug 27-29 and involves teams from around New Jersey and the region.
WJFCA president and Penns Grove football coach John Emel said over 2,000 tickets have already been sold, and he expects over 5,000 tickets bought for the three-day event. Tickets can only be acquired on-line and none will be sold at the door.
Below is the schedule:
Friday, August 27
St. Joseph (Hamm.) vs. Northeast (Pa.), 11 a.m.
Camden vs. Salem, 2 p.m.
Collingswood vs. Marple Newtown (Pa.), 5
Ocean City vs. Vineland, 8
Saturday, August 28
Bernards vs. Penns Grove, 11 a.m.
Timber Creek vs. Red Bank Catholic, 2 p.m.
Union vs. Millville, 5 p.m.
Holy Spirit vs. DeMatha Catholic (Md.) 8 p.m.
Sunday, August 29
Cherry Hill East vs. Moorestown, Noon
Scotch Plains vs. Cedar Creek, 3 p.m.
Winslow vs. Woodbridge, 6 p.m.
While the scheduling of matchups gained traction and the showcase was expanded from nine games to 11, there was hope that COVID-19′s tight restrictions wouldn’t linger into the fall. It looks like it will be a normal athletic year.
“The city of Ocean City was optimistic it would be a normal summer and they would be open for business,” said Emel. “So that was our mentality even though we knew it might not happen. It’s going to be a great environment.”
Originally the showcase was scheduled for Labor Day weekend, but it ended up being moved up a week when the WJFL’s Week 1 was changed from the week after Labor Day to the holiday weekend – leaving an open week before the postseason. Emel has some reservations about the league’s bye week right before the playoffs, but he thinks moving the showcase ended up better.
“We had some teams for travel and other reasons didn’t want to play on Labor Day weekend,” said Emel. “I think it worked out in our favor.”
Emel said there will be other attractions surrounding the showcase including former Eagles players signing autographs.
The idea is for this year’s Ocean City showcase, which will be an unofficial celebration of the return of a normal scholastic season after last year’s modified year, to become an annual kickoff event of the high school football season.
“It will be an opportunity for teams to step out and challenge themselves,” said Emel. “We’re avoiding division games. We want this tournament to become something where you have a lot to gain and not much to lose.”