Phil Anastasia: S. Jersey's fields of dreams

Camden's #11, Eddie Davis, right, intercepts a pass from Joe Brennan, Camden Catholic's QB in the first quarter. the entended reciever is #13, Anthony Sweet and he also was defended by Camden's #8, Sherman Robinson. Camden Catholic vs Camden High School. Camden High School wins 14-9 ( Michael Bryant / Staff photographer ) 09/12/2009 112184 JPHIL13-b Location: Camden's Farnham Park; Phil's column with sig on Camden Catholic at Camden football, 11 a.m. Please get game action of Camden Catholic and Camden for Phil's column
Camden's #11, Eddie Davis, right, intercepts a pass from Joe Brennan, Camden Catholic's QB in the first quarter. the entended reciever is #13, Anthony Sweet and he also was defended by Camden's #8, Sherman Robinson. Camden Catholic vs Camden High School. Camden High School wins 14-9 ( Michael Bryant / Staff photographer ) 09/12/2009 112184 JPHIL13-b Location: Camden's Farnham Park; Phil's column with sig on Camden Catholic at Camden football, 11 a.m. Please get game action of Camden Catholic and Camden for Phil's column
Posted: September 09, 2013

You can smell burgers on the grill from the parking lot and see a team that has won 118 of its last 129 games while fashioning three 12-0 records and capturing six sectional titles in the last 11 seasons.

That's why West Deptford is one of the best places in South Jersey to watch a football game.

You can walk right into the top row of the stands from the parking lot and then down into the bowl with its rich history and check out that display honoring coach Vince McAneney next to the scoreboard.

That's why Pennsauken is one of the best places in South Jersey to watch a football game.

You can sit in the stands beneath a huge mural of galloping horses painted to honor four players who died in a 2011 auto accident and sense the tradition of the place known as the Mustang Corral.

That's why Mainland is one of the best places in South Jersey to watch a football games.

There are plenty of others. Four days before the start of another season - who else feels as if it has been an interminable wait? - here's a look at some of the best spots to spend a Friday night or Saturday afternoon in the fall.

Better footing through chemistry?

Turf fields are everywhere these days. Haddonfield, Camden, and Atlantic City are redoing their football fields with the artificial stuff for this season, although only the Bulldogs' reconstruction project will be finished this week.

Shawnee, Cherokee, Eastern, Camden Catholic, Bishop Eustace, Egg Harbor Township, St. Augustine Prep, Paul VI, and Washington Township all play on the slick surface. Cherry Hill West might add it for next season.

The turf doesn't really add or subtract from the spectator experience, although there's something to be said for the look, feel, and smell of newly mowed grass on a warm, late-summer night.

But turf can change the game, increasing the importance of speed and creating an ideal surface for the expanding list of teams running those spread, no-huddle offenses.

Warhorses

That's one word for those big old stadiums that were built in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, when high school football was king and every town shut down for the game on Saturday afternoons. (Yes, kids. That really used to happen. Ask Grandpa.)

There's so much history in that old concrete at Haddonfield, Audubon, Collingswood, and Woodbury, among other spots. You can almost hear the echoes of the old metal cleats and the crowd roaring for teams such as Collingswood's Golden Eleven in 1959 or at games such as Haddonfield's historic 26-26 tie with Haddon Heights on Thanksgiving 1971.

Woodbury's stadium is special, a sunken bowl with a huge home seating area built into one side. You walk down twice to get there - from street level to the lower parking lot, and then from the lot into the bleachers.

Recently refurbished, it's a great place to spend a sunny Saturday morning in October, especially when Paulsboro comes to town.

Gone, not forgotten

Shore fans remember great scenes at Bader Field in Atlantic City, and there are more than a few folks in Florence still lamenting the passing of "The Pit," a great old field in the heart of a great old town.

Florence plays Friday nights now on a generic field at the new high school. Veteran coach Joe Frappolli isn't the only one who misses Saturday afternoon games with walk-up crowds that filled the bleachers and stood three-deep around the fences.

Green, green grass of home

A special nod to the groundskeepers who take care of the grass fields at Overbrook, Highland, Seneca, Hammonton, and a few other spots - lush, manicured, all-natural counterpoints to all those artificial-turf fields.

The wish list

It's well worth the $3 admission to check out games at these sites:

Atlantic City. It's not Bader Field, but there's something about a game on the bay. The wettest game I ever covered was Washington Township at Atlantic City in the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs about a decade ago. Minutemen coach Tom Brown was only half-kidding (I think) when he said he was worried about one of his kids drowning in a sideline puddle.

Camden. There's a lot of history at Farnham Park, nestled off Park Boulevard in Camden's Parkside section. Notre Dame has Touchdown Jesus. Farnham Park has the 30-foot statue of the Blessed Mother rising above Our Lady of Lourdes hospital.

Cherokee. This is another sunken bowl with a ton of tradition, and there's a great pregame scene when those orange helmets come down the hill on their way to the field.

Haddon Heights. A great old stadium that sits in the middle of a neighborhood. The "Super Teams of Second Avenue" played there in the early 1940s, and it's always a great scene when Haddonfield comes to town on Thanksgiving and fans sit on the half-wall behind the north end zone.

Millville. Wheaton Field is a wonderful place to see a game on a Friday night. You might see Mike Trout there. This is another old spot sitting right in the middle of town, hard by the Thunderbolt Club, and filled with memories of those Thanksgiving Day games against Vineland.

Ocean City. This spot isn't near the boardwalk. It's on the boardwalk. Great scene with the Ferris wheel lit up above the playing field.

Paulsboro. One of the few remaining places to see a game on Saturday afternoon. It has a West Texas, high school football feel with those oil refineries forming the backdrop from the home side.

Rancocas Valley. What's cool about Bill Gordon Field is that it's tightly framed by the high school - like Audubon, Haddonfield, and a few other spots. It's as if they carved out a place right next to the building for a field.

St. Joseph. You can set your watch by the trains that run behind the visitor side at Bill Bendig Field, a quaint place that sits in a neighborhood off Wood Street in the heart of Hammonton. You also can set your watch by the synchronicity of the Wildcats' wing-T offense.


Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @PhilAnastasia. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports,"

at www.inquirer.com/

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