2022: The Biggest Stories For Toms River

(Photo by Micromedia Publications)

  TOMS RIVER – This year marked a lot of changes in a world that is already moving very fast.

  If you blink, you might miss the closure of a major business, like how Friendly’s on Route 37 and the AMC theater at the Seacourt Mall disappeared with very little warning. Sometimes, though, change happens more slowly: The country is still not the same as we were pre-COVID, but masks aren’t required in school any more.

  Some of the big stories in this article were issues that happened state-wide, but we focused on the ones that mean the most to Toms River residents.

Surf Club

  Joey Harrison’s Surf Club, which was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, became the property of Toms River after ten long years of negotiation. It had not been repaired. Locals had wanted the town to buy it, knock it down, and preserve it for passive recreation.

  The property, located at 1900 Ocean Avenue in Ortley Beach, is one of the few ocean-front tracts of land on the market. A developer could have built another night club or homes on the site. The owner of the land thought it was worth more than the township did, so there was an impasse.

The former Surf Club was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  The total price of the purchase was $7.3 million, township officials said. This money is coming from two sources: $6.615 million is coming from New Jersey “Blue Acres,” which is funding to buy land close to bodies of water to protect the environment; the township is paying $685,000 from the Open Space Trust Fund. Taxpayers currently pay 1.5 cents per $100 of equalized valuation to fuel this fund.

  The future use of the site has not been made public, or set in stone. There has been talk about having a gazebo and boardwalk (without amusements). Between the existing parking lot, and more that would be added, there could be 100 spots.

New Superintendent

  The Toms River Board of Education finally chose a new superintendent: High School South Principal Michael Citta, a 24-year veteran of the district.

Michael Citta (Photo courtesy Toms River Regional School District)

  The district had been without a permanent leader for about 13 months. There had been attempts to vote for a superintendent during that time, but several issues prolonged the situation. One problem was board members who could not legally vote on a superintendent. Another issue was political interference.

New Hospitals

  The 86,000 square-foot Children’s Specialized Hospital of the Community Medical Center and RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group broke ground at 1251 Route 37 West. Upon its completion, the three-story medical building will be shared by CMC and CSH, as well as RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group Orthopedic and Primary Care services.

  CMC Chief Executive Officer Patrick Ahearn said they are expecting to open next year. “We’ll have about 10 of our physicians from Community Medical Center in the building and there’ll be 20 or so from Children’s Specialized Hospital if not more than that. We’ll be one of their major locations for kids.

  Ground was also broken for the new Veterans Administration clinic at 1051 Hooper Avenue. The ceremony was on Caudina Avenue, which is the back road past two banks that leads to the Seacourt Mall. It is expected to open in spring of 2024.

This overhead photo shows Hooper Avenue running horizontally through the middle. The VA clinic would be in the area marked “redevelopment.” (Photo courtesy Toms River Township)

  Currently, veterans travel to Brick’s James J. Howard Outpatient Clinic for their needs. They have complained that the facility is understaffed and that it doesn’t have enough parking. Also, some of them have to travel up to East Orange for certain services.

  The new building will be about twice the size of the current clinic, measuring 68,000 square feet. It will neighbor the county’s new social services building when that’s completed. There is also a bus stop and other amenities nearby.

  Officials at the groundbreaking said that the building will enhance services currently provided, and will also add more. Some of the specialties noted during the presentation was primary care, mental health, dental, podiatry, and women’s health, which is the fastest growing department.

Sports Legacies

  Several local sports legends were celebrated this year.

  Bob Nastase was the head boys basketball coach at Toms River High School, later known as Toms River South, during the 1964-65 season. He left to build a legacy at Lakewood. He passed away at 86.

  For 30 years, Bill Frank Jr. served as the Raiders’ head coach, guiding the team to numerous titles. On May 5, the Toms River High School East baseball field was renamed the Bill Frank Field.

  “The greatest thing about the name is that my grandkids, Brielle and Nico, and great grandkids (he awaits the latter) will know who I was,” said Frank Jr., 69. “That is important to me.”

Toms River East and Toms River South players line the field prior to the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  He guided the Raiders to a 520-279-2 record. He retired at the end of the 2014 season third among Shore Conference coaches in career wins.

  Bob Petruski passed away in June at the age of 71, after a fight with cancer. He was the founder of what he dubbed the Lady Raider Track Factory at High School East.

  He coached for 24 seasons. His 1982 Raiders were inducted into the Toms River Athletic Hall of Fame. Several years later, Petruski was inducted. From 1974 until his retirement in 2011, Petruski pursued a career in education, spending most of his years as the coordinator of TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More), a peer education program. Following his retirement, Petruski became a New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Association track and field official.

  On a lighter note, Todd Frazier retired from the Major League.

  Frazier was perhaps best known locally as the star shortstop-pitcher on the Toms River East American Little League team, which won the 1998 Little League World Series. His career continued with the Toms River High School South Indians and the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights.

  A third baseman, he was a two-time major-league All-Star and a Home Run Derby champion. Drafted 34th overall in the first round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2007, he appeared in 1,244 regular-season games. An 11-year major-leaguer, he hit 218 home runs and batted .241. He posted a .763 OPS (on-base plus slugging) and drove in 640 runs.

  Frazier, 36, was with the Reds from 2011-2015. He also played for the Chicago White Sox (2016-2017), New York Yankees (2017), New York Mets (2018-19, 2020), Texas Rangers (2020) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2021). He played third base on Team USA, which came away with a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. He competed for the United States in the World University Championship, an under-23 international collegiate competition sponsored by the International University Sports Federation, in Havana, Cuba, in 2006.

Field Of Dreams Opens 

  The field that Christian and Mary Kane worked so hard for opened this year. Inspired by the challenges their son Gavin, now 11, faces every day, the field welcomes children with different ability levels. Stations throughout the park offer a variety of sensory exploration and physical activity.

  Mary said that the Toms River Field of Dreams represents a place where everyone can feel the kindness in one place and hopes the concept will catch fire worldwide.

Stafford Intermediate School students Danica Howarth and Carmen Taylor took particular delight in the “spinny” thing at the Field of Dreams. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Officially named RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams at the Ocean Orthopedic Associates Complex, many other contributors have earned naming rights throughout the space. It is located at Bey Lea Park on North Bay Avenue.

Sex Ed Controversy

  The state updates their guidelines on a regular basis, but this year it became a culture war that played out in school board meetings throughout the state.

  In 2020, the state updated their Comprehensive Health and Physical Education guidelines, and it encompasses a great deal more than sex and gender. It is 66 pages. There are entire pages on fitness, and just a few sentences on gender identity, but that is what some parents are concerned about. Other topics include addiction, nutrition, and resolving conflicts.

  The state’s guidelines can be found here:nj.gov/education/cccs/2020/2020%20NJSLS-CHPE.pdf

  Research shows that these more comprehensive approaches reduce teen pregnancy, delay the age at which teens commence sexual activity, lessen the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and promote teen health overall.

  However, religious and conservative groups have questioned these standards, afraid that they are “indoctrinating” kids into lifestyles of which the parents wouldn’t approve. Examples of sex ed materials have been spread on social media, regardless of whether they were actually going to be used in a classroom.

  Some parents who say they are not being political argued that they should be the ones having these conversations with the children.

  Every local district was allowed by the state to interpret the guidelines their own way. Some still have not.

State Districts Change

  Each town has one senator and two members of the assembly that are sent to Trenton to draft laws just for the state. These changes went into effect on March 1.

  The 9th District has Senator Chris Connors, and Assembly members Brian Rumpf and DiAnne Gove. It contains: Barnegat Light; Barnegat Twp.; Beach Haven; Beachwood; Berkeley; Eagleswood; Harvey Cedars; Lacey; Little Egg Harbor; Long Beach; Ocean Gate; Ocean Twp. (Waretown); Pine Beach; Seaside Park; Ship Bottom; South Toms River; Stafford; Surf City; and Tuckerton.

  The 10th District has Senator James Holzapfel, and Assemblymen Gregory McGuckin and John Catalano. It contains: Bay Head; Brick; Island Heights; Lakehurst; Lavallette; Manchester; Mantoloking; Pt. Pleasant Beach; Seaside Heights; and Toms River.

  The 12th District has Senator Samuel Thompson and Assemblymen Ron Dancer and Robert Clifton. Locally, it just has Jackson and Plumsted.

  The 30th District has Senator Bob Singer and Assemblymen Sean Kean and Edward Thomson. It contains: Avon-by-the-Sea; Belmar; Bradley Beach; Brielle; Farmingdale; Howell; Lake Como; Lakewood; Manasquan; Point Pleasant; Sea Girt; Spring Lake; Spring Lake Heights; and Wall.

Split Republican Party

  Ocean County’s Republicans have been divided. Former leader George Gilmore had been convicted of tax fraud but was pardoned on President Donald Trump’s last day in office.

  Frank Holman ran the county Republicans after Gilmore. He stepped aside as Sheriff Michael Mastronardy ran to take the position but lost to Gilmore by a vote of 333 to 320.

George Gilmore shows the election results to his running mate, Ruthanne Scaturro. (Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan)

  Former Brick Councilwoman Ruthanne Scaturro was on the ballot as Gilmore’s running mate and became his vice chair. Scaturro secured 325 votes putting her in the lead over her opponent Barbara Lanuto, who received 311 votes.

Democrat Challenged

  Longtime Democrat County Chairman Wyatt Earp was challenged by former Toms River Councilman Terrance Turnbach. Earp won 260 votes to 204.

  Earp has run the county Democrats for 16 years. Turnbach said he wanted to energize and repopulate the Democrats to make them more competitive in Ocean County, which is largely a Republican area.