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Marc Narducci: Connected, South Jersey style

Another high school season has ended, and as preparations for a new one begin, anticipation builds over a new set of standouts who will compete in the fall.

Another high school season has ended, and as preparations for a new one begin, anticipation builds over a new set of standouts who will compete in the fall.

South Jersey has always been a fertile ground for athletics.

The area has produced one of the greatest Olympians of all time in Carl Lewis of Willingboro. South Jersey gave us Carli Lloyd of Delran, who merely scored the game-winning goal to earn the United States the gold medal in soccer in last summer's Beijing Olympics.

Seventeen South Jersey players have been NFL first-round draft choices, including the most recent, Audubon's Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, who led his team to the AFC championship game as a rookie.

South Jersey has had two Heisman Trophy winners (Woodrow Wilson's Mike Rozier and Overbrook's Ron Dayne).

The list goes on, and there never seems to be a shortage of outstanding athletes. What makes this area even more impressive is the camaraderie built among athletes, realizing they represent South Jersey.

It was interesting talking this spring to former Bishop Eustace star pitcher Blaine Neal, who has spent considerable time in the major leagues and is now with the triple-A Columbus Clippers.

He was so excited to see fellow South Jersey pitcher and former Paul VI standout Andrew Bailey make it to the big leagues as a reliever with the Oakland A's.

Neal, like so many other athletes, takes pride in this area and wants to see athletes he may or may not know succeed simply because they represent South Jersey.

This spirit is demonstrated by many projects, including the Adam Taliaferro Football Classic, which will be held June 25 at Rowan.

Since forming the Adam Taliaferro Foundation in 2001, the organization made up of volunteers has raised more than $300,000 to help those with spinal injuries.

Nobody realizes how much work the football game is to put on, but it's the organization's biggest fund-raiser.

Taliaferro is at the top of the list when it comes to promoting togetherness in this area. The former star at Eastern has inspired countless others by making something positive out of a career-ending spinal injury.

Anybody who talks to him realizes how excited Taliaferro gets when he hears that a former South Jersey athlete has achieved greatness beyond high school.

Like Neal, Taliaferro follows and really takes pride in how South Jersey athletes fare.

See, if you are a fan, a former player, or coach, there is a kinship and bond with these youngsters.

Whenever people want to get down on the young generation, maybe they should follow some of these student-athletes, who epitomize hard work, dedication, and getting the most out of their ability.

Many have inspiring stories, not just on the field of play, but off it, too. Countless teams this season participated in fund-raisers, all for great causes. Not all received the notice, but they still gave back.

It's becoming more and more prevalent in this area.

This isn't just to promote South Jersey and say it's the best area, because that is impossible to tell. It's really the only area this reporter knows, and if others can match it in terms of producing quality teams, individuals and coaches, that's great.

What is known is that the bar has been set awfully high in South Jersey.

As another season ends, the spirit of competing in South Jersey against top caliber athletes should never fade.

So, congratulations to the senior class, which once again carried the banner of South Jersey well.

The seniors now leave high school but enjoy the lifelong membership in the former South Jersey high school athletes' club.

As the years go by, it's hoped the seniors realize what an outstanding fraternity it is and how fortunate they were to compete and we were to document their many achievements.