Taniaya Morris scoring this season for the Lady Rockets. (Photo by Mark Costa. Click to enlarge.)


Coming off what Superintendent Jared Rumage called “the most successful year ever in the history of Red Bank Middle School sports,” district officials have also harvested some gold about the relationship of athletics and academics, they said recently.

The RBMS girls’ cross-country squad in a meet against Rumson’s Forrestdale School, above. Below, Ber McLaughlin eluding defenders on the soccer field. (Photos by JT Pierson, above, and Mark Costa. Click to enlarge.)

At a recent board of education meeting, middle school vice principal and athletic director James “JT” Pierson offered a review of what he called a “fantastic year in sports.”

• The boys’ soccer team claimed the Jersey Shore Athletic League championship for the second year in a row.

• The girls’ basketball team won the league title for the first time in 24 years.

A deep dive into district history, including an inventory of the trophy case and available records back to the 1960s indicates “this is the first time we’ve ever had two middle school championships in one year,” Pierson said.

• The girls’ soccer, softball and baseball teams all had winning records, and each made it to the semifinals of its respective championship.

• The the RBMS boys and girls soccer teams both took home the Count Basie Cup, which is awarded to the team that wins the annual competition between RBMS and the crosstown rival Red Bank Charter School.

• In its first-ever season, the cross country team notched three victories.

• The boys’ basketball team failed to make it to the semis, but “showed incredible growth,” nearly doubling the total 137 points scored in 2017, Pierson said.

“What made the victories sweeter” is that many students were playing their sports for the first time, Pierson said. The majority of players on the Lady Rockets championship basketball team were new to the sport, as were most members of the girls’ softball team.

But the results also came with welcome data about student attendance and academic performance, Pierson said.

Pierson said the median grade-point-average for the school’s 104 participating middle school athletes was 3.35, or a B average, and noted that this year’s eighth-grade valedictorian, Lillian Woolley, and salutatorian, Gus Dal Pra, each played three sports.

“Of course, our number-one concern is academics,” and the data show athletics “help support that,” Pierson said.

Of the 104 students who participated in one or more sports, only one was considered chronically absent from school, and the median number of unexcused absences for athletes for the year was just three, Pierson said.

“What does that tell us? Athletes come to school,” Pierson said. “How do we get kids to come to school? Get them to play sports.”

The results, posted at a time when officials said Red Bank was among the most underfunded school districts in the state and had to cut staff and programs, were largely made possible funding “partners” in the the community, Pierson said. He called out:

• The Horizons Student Enrichment Program, overseen by executive director Lori Hohenleitner, which funded many of RBMS’s sports clinics and will be expanding those sports and morning/after-school programs next year as well.

• Former state Senator Jennifer Beck, who raised money to start the boys’ and girls’ cross country teams and donated sneakers to team members. She has also raised enough money with the support of several donors, including the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, to not only fund the coming year’s cross country team, but also to add a “Boys on the Run” program to supplement “Girls on the Run,” a highly successful running and confidence-building program already offered at the middle school, Pierson said.

• Amanda Frost and Tomora “Teeigh” Young of the sports training business Jersey Fusion Elite ran basketball clinics throughout the year and gave scholarships valued at more than $1,000 each to several RBMS students to play on Jersey Fusion Elite’s spring AAU basketball teams.

• Kristen Bunnell, the CEO of RiverRoad Waste Solutions in Tinton Falls bought the girls’ basketball team 33 balls, a new basketball rack and ball pumps—and took team members out for a celebratory dinner at Chipotle after they won the championship.

• Stacy Tarver, Nike’s Brand Planning Director for North America and an RBMS graduate, donated her personal collection of Jordan sneakers to the girls’ team as well.

As a result, RBMS was able to offer clinics before and after school throughout the year. “Some of the kids just about lived in our gym,” Pierson said. “They were here at 7 a.m., back from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and then back out at 6 p.m. for the Red Bank Parks and Recreation teams. And still they were able to manage their school and home responsibilities.”

RBMS celebrated their achievements at banquet in June.