Big Season for Atlantic City’s Boys’ Basketball Team

Big Season for Atlantic City’s Boys’ Basketball Team

First in a look back at some of the outstanding winter sports teams in South Jersey.

Atlantic City’s boys’ basketball team entered this season without the highest of profiles, but nobody was discounting the Vikings from being a title contender.

The Vikings were coming off a 9-13 season in 2018-2019, which for this tradition-rich program appeared to be an aberration.

Over the decades, this has been among South Jersey’s signature programs, but coach Gene Allen has taken the program to an even higher level.

Under Allen, Atlantic City has won three Group 4 state titles, in 2005, 2012 and 2013. The Vikings were also state runner up in 2006 and 2016.

The 2018-2019 season was one that Allen and the program would like to forget. Atlantic City still battled, but the season got off to a rocky start when on Nov. 20, 2018, the Atlantic City Board of Education voted to not reappoint Allen as head coach.

Allen field a lawsuit to be reinstated and he eventually was. His suit claimed the board failed to notify Allen that his position as basketball coach was going to be discussed during a Nov. 20 meeting. He won the lawsuit, was reinstated and coached last season.

The Vikings played better toward the end of last season, winning a playoff game before being eliminated by Eastern in the second round.

This year Atlantic City played its best basketball toward the end of the season, highlighted by the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.

Stephan Byard, a 6-foot-7 senior, was the driving force to Atlantic City’s sectional crown. Byard averaged 26.2 points in the third-seeded Vikings’ four playoff wins.

He scored 26 points in a first-round 77-52 win over Kingsway. Byrad then added 18 points during a 53-38 victory over defending sectional champion Cherokee. Then came a 38-point explosion during a 61-58 victory over No. 2 seeded Lenape.

Finally, Byrad scored 23 points and added 12 rebounds in a 61-44 triumph over No. 4 seeded Cherry Hill East. Senior Sharon Watson scored 11 points off the bench while classmate Teriq Chapman added 10 points.

This was a veteran club that took its knocks last season and early this year, but kept improving in finishing 21-6. It was the seventh sectional title in Allen’s 17 seasons as head coach.

Even though this was a senior laden club, that is often the case for Atlantic City. Allen has the ability to build teams and as stated below, the Vikings have a history of playing their best basketball beginning in late February.

This year the Vikings started 1-3 but then quickly hit their stride. The Vikings always play a tough schedule that prepares them for the rigors of the state tournament. For example, two of the losses this year were to South Jersey Non-Public A champion St. Augustine.

By the time the South Jersey tournament rolled around in early March, the Vikings, as they have been so many times under Allen, were ready to compete and to win.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo courtesy of Marc Narducci

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