Elliott Denman presents Congratulations Poster, autographed by Shore Athletic Club teammates and friends, to 11-time National Champion and 2-time USA Olympian Ajee' Wilson, Poster was designed and created by Shore AC's Mary Beth McDonnell. Photo courtesy of Chanta Jackson, Township of Neptune Board of Education.
NEPTUNE HONORS AJEE’ WILSON AT TRACK-NAMING CEREMONY
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
These are heady days for Shore Conference enthusiasts.
The 48 conference high schools, 31 of them located in New Jersey’s Monmouth County, the other 17 in the adjacent Ocean County,
have a whole lot to be verrrrry-verrrrry proud of, in and out of the world of sports.
Let us remind you that:
A Toms River High School North alumna, Maria Ressa, has been accorded the honor of all global honors. Ms, Ressa is a 2021 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wow, wow, and wow again !!
Of course, of course, a Freehold High School alumnus continues to be “The Boss” of the entire Rock ‘n Roll universe. Cheers again, Mr. Bruce Springsteen,
While Team USA men continue to struggle in global soccer, Team USA women continue atop – or near the pinnacle - of the sport known to the rest of the universe as football.
Of course, of course, with her three Olympic gold medals and two FIFA World Cup golds, Point Pleasant Borough High School alumna Christie
Pearce – the now-retired Team USA captain - is recognized as a principal building block of all the glories attained in her era.
Holmdel High School alumnus Brian Hanlon continues building on his reputation as one of the world's foremost sculptors, His elegant and numerous works can be seen, pretty much, everywhere. And so there he was at St. John's University last week, unveiling the magnificent Lou Carnesecca statute to be displayed - where else - in the lobby of the Carnesecca Arena building that is home to the
noted Red Storm athletes in basketball and other sports. He'd designed it all, etched it all, created it all. So well that even Coach Looie, now 96, expressed his complete approval.
Before the official unveiling, Looie had kidded, "as I've said, Michelangelo couldn't have helped my face." But he soon changed that tune to delight.
Meanwhile, way down yonder in New Orleans, the NFL Saints plan to induct the late and truly great Long Branch High School alumnus,
Sam Mills, into their Ring of Honor, in recognition of the nine brilliant years he spent playing his heart out as likely the greatest undersized linebacker the league has ever seen.
He’s beloved by Carolina Panthers and their corps of fans, too. He’d played three more brilliant years as a Panther after his Saints’ days.
A Panthers’ spokesman, doing so with ultimate emotion, now reminds us, “in 2005, Mills died of cancer, but before the team’s 2003 playoff opener against the Cowboys, Mills told the team “when I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do, quit or keep pounding.
“I’m a fighter. I kept pounding. You’re fighters, too. Keep pounding!”
And so that phrase — “keep pounding” — is still stitched into the collar of every Panthers jersey.
The spree of alumni recognition reached Neptune, too, in recent days.
Celebrating the amazing run of success enjoyed by international track and field star Ajee’ Wilson – who actually attended Neptune Township’s Academy of Allied Health and Science, but competed for the across-the-street Neptune High School before her graduation in 2012 – Neptune hosted the dedication ceremony in which the oval at its Reynolds Athletic Complex was officially christened as
“The Ajee’ Wilson Track.”
The formal gathering Oct. 15 was the highlight of a gala weekend featuring a Friday afternoon pep rally in the high school gymnasium, induction of the latest additions to the Neptune Hall of Fame, and a Saturday morning parade leading into the Homecoming football game and 22-8 victory over Brick Township.
The Neptune Township Board of Education actually announced the dedication of the track to Ms. Wilson back on Jan. 27, but the timing wasn’t exactly right. So it waited 10 months to formalize the proceedings.
A lot of other things have been askew, timing-wise, in the track and field world.
Look back to the close of the 2019 world season and you’ll see that Wilson – champion of the Diamond League, the global circuit of biggest-time meets – was ranked Number One in the world in the 800 meters that year, a campaign that concluded with the Tokyo Olympic Games due up the following summer.
Only an upsetting third place in the 800 – a race she was favored to win – at the season-concluding World Outdoor Championships in Doha, Qatar, spelled less than perfection to her 2019 campaign.
But – as the world would soon learn – this Covid 19 thing would turn the globe upside down and downside up.
Biggest-time sport – from the Tokyo Olympics on down – necessarily self-revamped. As the pandemic raged – with its ghastly global toll – most everything – sports just a minuscule phase of it all - was put on hold.
Thus, calendar adjustments forced reassessments in virtually all the things
we’d all considered phases of normalcy.
It was a miracle that the Tokyo Olympic Games – still dubbed the 2020 Games but staged a year later – were held at all.
Certainly, Ajee’ Wilson was there in Japan to have it out with the world’s best 800-meter runners. But certainly, too, she wasn’t at her best, either. At the USA Trials in Oregon, it had taken an all-out sprint down the final straightaway to claim the third and final spot on Tokyo-bound Team USA.
The gold medal in Tokyo thus went to an American teammate and fellow Central New Jerseyan, Athing Mu of Trenton, in the American record time of 1:55.21, the silver to Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson, the bronze to USA’s Raevyn Rogers. Wilson, surely not at her sharpest, had bowed out in the semifinals.
But bygones will surely be bygones.