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In a Post-Wolf Football World, Rooting for Rivals in Lakewood

The legendary former head coach helped instill pride that is good for a team - and a town

My cover blown, it is time to come out of the closet.

Despite appearing, for more than half a century, to be a loyal son of Toms River South, I have recently harbored feelings of joy at the prospect of our dreaded, sworn, enemies, succeeding.

Yes, a traitor in the land of the Indians, hoping for a return to football glory of the Lakewood Piners.

Unthinkable. Unforgivable.

But there I was, Friday night, sitting in the visitors’ stands as Lakewood took on Monsignor Donovan. No disguise, no attempt to deceive anybody, I was there prepared to root for Lakewood. Not against Mon Don, for Lakewood.

Before I got to a seat, Ginny Haines was wondering out loud what I was doing there. She is a proud graduate of Lakewood High School, who knows well that I studied under the tutelage of Old Indian Tom.

We shared memories of the days when the Piners were a football powerhouse, including a season I shall not number, where her class got credit for all those wins by one of the best Piner teams ever, even though her class had graduated the prior June. That comment will doubtless bring rejoinder from Old Number 27, retired newsman Sam Christopher of Lakewood, who still insists the best Piner football was played when Coach Wright was in command and Sam was somewhere in the single wing.

But I digress. Ginny, ex-Assemblywoman, ex-Lottery Director, and one of the nice people in politics, was certain the seeds planted last season in Pinerdom by Warren Wolf, the legendary Brick football coach, would sprout this season. So was I. Winning with Wolf is contagious. He’d given the team a jumpstart last year, showing kids used to losing what it was like to be a winner on and off the field. He’d passed the torch after igniting a winning spirit.

“Lakewood Pride,’’ had a familiar ring to it. Sort of like “Brick Pride.’’

So I piled a BlueClaws cushion atop the one from Manchester High School, and settled in to see some high school football.

Before the Lakewood cheerleaders could get warmed up, Piners were marching up and down the field.

“Hey, these kids aren’t bad,’’ I said to myself.

They made third down plays when they needed to keep drives alive. The secondary picked off just enough of the aerial bombardment from Mon Don to seal the victory. The Piner coach got drenched – twice. Fans celebrated, but there were too few of them.

As the game moved into its later stages a few students from Toms River High School (South) showed up in the Lakewood stands. They left before the game ended, the Piner victory certain. They’d seen enough.

I hope Lakewood keeps winning. The kids need it. The parents need it. Lakewood High School needs it. I also hope South’s rebuilding program is successful. That way, come Thanksgiving, I will be restored to reason and rooting for South, good football and a long halftime show from the best high school band in the land, the Marching Indians.

That’s the way the Toms River-Lakewood game was, and ought to be again.


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