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WHS honors coaches here, gone and elsewhere

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WILDWOOD – Wildwood High School honored perhaps the three most famous coaches in school history Monday evening.

In front of a packed gymnasium in between games of a girl-boy doubleheader against Lower Cape May, Wildwood High School held a ceremony to retire the No. 22 worn by Frank Vogel during his high school basketball playing days at the school. Vogel never coached at Wildwood but is now doing so at the highest level of basketball in the world. He couldn’t make the ceremony; it seems he was across the country getting the Indiana Pacers team he coaches ready to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

Also during the ceremony, the school officially renamed the gymnasium floor as Bernie McCracken/Dave Troiano Court in recognition of the most successful boys and girls basketball coaches, respectively, in school history.

The ceremony also included the retirement of Monica Johnson’s uniform number for basketball (see related story).

Vogel’s coach at Wildwood, Joe Bimbo, while wearing an Indiana Pacers T-shirt, spoke about his former player and introduced Vogel’s parents, Frank and Fran, during the ceremony.

Bimbo read aloud an email message Vogel asked to read at the ceremony. It said, in part, “I sat in these same bleachers as you are now … All I can say is, dream big.”

Somehow, Wildwood was able to keep the floor dedication a secret from Troiano, who had just finished coaching his team in its 67-44 loss to Lower Cape May, which got 32 points from junior Lauren Holden.

“I never had a clue about this,” Troiano, a winner of well over 600 games and four state titles, told the crowd. “My son (Tony) never comes to games and he said he was coming because he wanted to see Lauren Holden play. I guess I should have known something was up.”

“I am humbled beyond words,” Troiano then said, quickly becoming more serious.

Troiano was joined near the new banner by members of McCracken family. McCracken, who won 255 games, a state championship, five South Jersey titles and six Cape-Atlantic League crowns in only 16 seasons as head coach over two different stints, passed away nearly a year ago in Florida.

“I couldn’t be happier to share this with Bernie and I really wish he was here, even though I know he’s looking down on us,” Troiano said. “I started coaching here (as an assistant boys coach) with Bernie in 1970 and he taught me a lot. … All I can say is, I just love Wildwood High School.”

Later Troiano said, “I just can’t fathom this. I mean, every time I come in here now, I’m going to see my name hanging in this gym. It’s just overwhelming.”

Bucky McCracken, Bernie’s son and a standout player on Wildwood’s teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s, spoke on behalf of the family.

“With the success that my dad had, he had offers to go to bigger places but he wanted to raise his family in Wildwood,” Bucky said. “But as much as he loved basketball, he loved teaching more than he loved basketball. He was a tough coach but he really cared for every kid that he taught and every kid that played for him. I think the legacy of my father is that he was about making better people.”

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