Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Blackjacks Go Bust in Atlantic City, Taking Dreams with Them

by Raquel Rothstein, Adaptive AC Correspondent

Football? In Atlantic City? At Boardwalk Hall? Brilliant. This was a typical reaction of local people when they heard about the new Arena Football League Blackjacks team coming to Atlantic City: FINALLY, something new and positive is coming to Atlantic City!

It all started with strong plans. Indoor arena football is something exciting and innovative to bring to any city, but especially Atlantic City. Arena football is rapid-paced with a titillating atmosphere to draw crowds in and keeps that crowd on their feet. Fans in the stands are just off the field with the players and any action that occurs is that much more fun as a result. Throw in running clocks, sexy dancers and booming music to make it a fun-filled time.

The uniforms for Atlantic City were bold red, black and gold, and the team was named as a result of a community competition. In a gambling town, the Blackjacks were fitting. Personnel were in order as well -- the head coach was Ron James, supported by offensive coordinator Shane Stafford. Sergio Gilliam was the defensive coordinator and Brandon Lang the director of player personnel.

The players hailed from around the country, with long and winding paths to the Arena League. Many of the players felt as if they made history by being the first to have a team like this in the city. The closest Arena League team is the Philadelphia Soul, over the bridge and an entire market away. Locals in the area got excited, hyped up really, and many were eager to attend the home opener game to see what this new thing was all about!

In the meantime, preparations continued at Boardwalk Hall. A dance team called the Diamonds was fielded to cheer on the team. Many dancers were from the local area, some from Northern New Jersey and Philadelphia. Momentum grew, and more and more people were benefiting from this team coming to town.

Tons of jobs were created at Boardwalk Hall when the Blackjack rolled into town. The cheerleaders, coaches, behind the scenes support staff, coordinators, concession stand managers, merchandise specialists and more all were bringing home pay checks. The team created partnerships that produced internships, opportunities, and jobs for many. The Blackjack Arena Football Club brought advantages and positive vibes, giving people a bright spot in the community.

In a city of bet big and bust such as AC, this was good news. It offered a live sports game to look forward to each week, a viable alternative to a show at the casino or a movie at the local mall -- the few sources of entertainment locally.

At the home opener against the Columbus Destroyers, the crowd was vibrating with excitement. The energy was so powerful and strong, the hype and happiness as the crowd gathered to watch this first game was palatable. Children were catching T-shirts, fans had already invested in Blackjacks apparel, and a sea of smiles and clapping could be heard as the new team was being introduced and coming onto the field.

Each action packed drive was bursting with emotion and so entertaining no eyes turned from the field.

James Whelan Boardwalk Hall Arena packed with Fans at the first Blackjacks Game.
The home opener was very successful, with a fully packed stadium, and the crowd could not wait for the next game to come. The launch of the Blackjacks went better than expected.

“I think our players were very much pumped for the game,” Atlantic City coach Ron James said. “Just because ….. the history of the building. We talked about it, (but) they didn’t realize just how historic the building was (At first), so it was great to see them react that way.” The football games brought the community together, and the fans were passionate.

Wide receiver LaMark Brown commented after the first home opener that “One of the things that you kind of worry about being a new team is fan attendance… Our fans showed up. They were into the game. They were in tune. They really came out to support us, so it’s a good feeling.”

All of the players and coaches were pleasantly surprised at the success of this first game. This gave a wave of positive energy, and was just what the players needed to hype them up for each game to follow.

Ventnor native Ryan Rothstein, the emcee of the Blackjack games, loved his job. The thrill of the stadium was exceptional. Part of Rothstein’s job was to go on the field and hype the crowd up and get them excited.

“As I walked onto the field, my adrenaline would sky rocket. My job is to get everyone pumped up for the game but with the natural excitement in the arena, it was made easy to do. When I would walk onto the field, the whole stadium was on their feet. All yelling and jumping up and down enjoying themselves. T-shirts and hot dogs were thrown out and dancing and everyone genuinely having a great time. I feel the Arena football league brought all positive to the community and the area of Atlantic City. This was something so new with so much potential, everyone could not help but be excited and wanting to attend these games throughout the summer,” said Rothstein.

He reported that the energy of the coaches and football players was amazing every game. “Regardless if the Blackjacks won or lost a game, the excitement level never changed,” he stated. “I loved this job because everyone was happy, there was no negative. I looked forward to each home game because it brought a positive atmosphere and joy around me.”
Ryan Rothstein preparing to throw T-shirts and Hot dogs to the Blackjacks fans

Kiante Northington of Louisville, Kentucky was a defensive back for the Atlantic City Blackjacks. 

“Joining the Arena team was a great opportunity and I immediately took it. Football is my passion, and I was looking forward to checking out the area and seeing what Atlantic City is all about. I graduated Eastern Kentucky University and then played for the Massachusetts Pirates of the Arena League. This new team was an exciting thing for me, I couldn’t wait to try something new especially knowing its new in the area as well.

Like a football thrown out of bounds, the energy and excitement of the newest AC sports team dropped to the ground with news that came in October. Not only was the Atlantic City Black Jack team folding, but the entire Arena Football League was done.

Unfortunately, the league faced a lawsuit filed by an insurance carrier that provided workers compensation coverage for the league between 2009 and 2012, leading to the Arena Football League closing. Suddenly, the high cost of doing business outweighed the energy of the sport.

“I had high hopes for passionate, excited fans and that’s exactly what there was. It made playing so much more fun and awesome. I also ended up really loving the city of Atlantic City. We constantly did charity work, fun events, and more. It was an overall great experience that I appreciated every minute of.”

Northington stated he will never forget the experience of the Blackjacks team and memories that were made. The team was always doing charity work at Chick-Fil-A, events at Hamilton Mall, and other appearances. All the team players were from all over the country which was very unique and interesting. Giveaways and ticket deal packages were sold to get more people to attend games.

Ron James, the head coach of the Atlantic City Blackjacks said “I played college football at Siena College. I have been coaching since 1986 and always had the biggest love and passion for the sport. My mindset going into this was nervous but determined. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support our team received from the start and up until the very last game. The team became a family very quickly with one another and we just worked. It all just worked. The experience for me was a blast and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

James loved coaching this team and said he was taken aback in a positive way of the amount of love and constant support the community poured out to him and the new team.

The end of the Blackjacks and Arena League Football was disappointing after the successful launch in Atlantic City. It left many shocked and surprised.

The average attendance for their home games was 5,430 fans, and the last two games included 6,685. The team finished with a 4-8 record, but definitely were celebrated by fans and the community. It is not clear where the players, coaches and support staff will head to next, but for one bright and shining season, the Blackjacks landed on black.
Atlantic City Blackjacks Team Photo 2019

Raquel Rothstein

Raquel Rothstein is a Ventnor resident who is also in her third year at Stockton University. Raquel is a founder of Sigma Delta Tau Delta Pi chapter at Stockton. She works as a concierge at Marriott Fairway Villas and in her free time loves spending time at the beach and hanging with friends and family.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Defining Recovery One Day at a Time

Matthew Bee skating boarding 2016.  

By Dani Starr, Adaptive AC Correspondent
The National Institute on Drug Abuse of Bethesda, Maryland reported in 2019: “There were nearly 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019 in the United States to put that in a context that’s more than gun deaths. That’s more than car crashes. It’s more than HIV/AIDS during the peak of that epidemic. Another way of looking at it is it is more deaths in the United States from drug overdoses than there were United States casualties during the entire Vietnam War.”

A human achingly known to many in South Jersey was Matthew Bee. He illuminated every room he walked into and was truly the most unique person. Besides being handsome, Matt was beyond intelligent. Matt was hilarious, that kind of funny that makes one almost pee their pants and made you snort terrible sounds. Matt was beyond athletic and the kind of athletic as in not only good at every sport he played and started football varsity as a freshmen in high school, but he could also shred on a surfboard and skateboard effortlessly.

As if that wasn’t enough Matt was also very artistic and musically inclined, even his school journal doodles were remarkable and he could play the guitar as though he were born to it, as well as sing. The most important thing about Mathew Bee was that he was the most loving, kind-hearted soul and truly cared about everyone. Matt had a way about him that was like no other, so humble and carefree, it would have been amazing if only he could have seen himself through other people’s eyes.
Adaptive AC Correspondent Dani Starr and Matthew Bee 2014.

Matthew Bee on his 20th Birthday August 2016.

Tragically Matthew Bee passed away in September 2016, at the age of 21 -- because of the disease of addiction. His mother Lisa Bee started the Matt Bee Memorial Fund with the help of the Hanson Foundation. The Matthew Bee Memorial Fund and the Hansen Foundation partner in expediting treatment in a safe and healthy environment, for those who would not have the financial resources and someone to advocate for them.

The Matthew Bee Memorial Fund donations go one hundred percent to treating those who cannot afford treatment. “My choice to send patients to the Hansen facilities is based on the outstanding care and resources provided. I have the ability to share in the client’s treatment and be a part of their recovery plan through my close relationship to the Hansen family” says Lisa Bee.

Lisa Bee had a real need to start the Matthew Bee Memorial Fund and the passion to make it real.

“In 2016 I tragically lost my son Matthew sue to the disease of addiction. Matthew was an incredible human being. He was kind, intelligent, tremendously athletic and beautiful inside and out” said Lisa. “After his passing, it was my mission to stop the stigma of addiction and mental illness as well as help those who have the need of treatment” said Lisa.

Lisa faced her own difficulties but pushed through it and others were ready to help. “In truth, it was difficult for me mentally because of the heartache of losing my beloved son Matthew. As far as raising funds people were ready to.” said Lisa.

Lisa wanted people to remember Matthew in a positive way. “I think the community was ready to deal with a subject matter that was in one shape or form effecting us all” stated Lisa.

Matthew Bee Memorial Fund has been highly successful raising upwards of two hundred thousand dollars to help people go through detox, treatment, and sober living. “I have had the pleasure of seeing people’s lives change and for them to thrive and be happy,” said Lisa.

Anyone who cares about addiction and people with the disease can get involved. The best way to become active is through bringing awareness about the risks and dangers of drug abuse educate students by having speakers and informational materials, make it a conversation built around solving the epidemic rather than bringing shame and isolation.

Stockton University is one of the many schools that provide recovery housing. In New Jersey in 2017, it was actually mandated in all colleges that have one-third of its students living on campus. Michael Levin, one of the counselors at Stockton University, devotes his time and is very hands-on in the recovery housing and councils those who seek help.

“Not many people want to live in the recovery housing because it is not a very glamorous title,” said Michael. At Stockton University there is currently only about two or three students living in recovery housing, where they have their own RA, kitchen, etc. The most Stockton has ever had in recovery housing was five and they all graduated last year. Recovery housing has its own weekly meetings and events.

Michael also explains how there are “smart recovery” groups which are non-faith based meetings that are held twice a week. There are some students who are “recovery coaches” as well.

“There are a lot of other addictions besides drinking and drugs, gambling is a big one, porn, and the internet,” said Michael. “Students should be knowledgeable and know that there are resources to help them and not be afraid to ask for help!” Michael explained.

Lisa Bee and Michael Levin share a goal, even though they have never met -- to help the world understand that addiction is a disease, and it is a disease that can be addressed. Every day that a student or youth lives addiction free is a triumphant day.


Dani Starr is a Brigantine native who loves running and spending time on the beach. Dani is a Communication Studies major, on the Public Relations track and hopes to graduate in May 2020. She lives with her family, including her younger brother and sister. She is an Atlantic City High School alumnus.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Forging Community While Studying for the Citizenship Test

By Emily Montgomery, Adaptive AC Correspondent

Naturalization Ceremony held on Stockton’s main campus in Galloway, NJ, provided by Stockton University Flickr account.

Can you name two Cabinet-level positions of the United States government or what stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful? Do you know how many voting members are a part of the House of Representatives or the exact date the Declaration of Independence was adopted? What about the US Senators? Can you name any of them?

As of this past June, eighteen people who attended the naturalization class offered at Stockton knew the answers to not just these five questions, but 95 more as they all passed their civics exam. At the end of November, one more student, Mauro, passed the civics test. Mauro, who is represented by his first name only for this article, was the 19th person to pass the exam. Consequently, the passing rate for the class is 100%.

The atmosphere in the room is unique from any other classroom setting. Students can attend the class whenever they please up to the day they take their exam. Typically almost all of the students in the class show up diligently every week in pursuit of knowledge of the US. All of the students are eager to learn, determined to pass, and curious about their environment.

Mauro came to the naturalization class for the first time on November 19th. He had informed Dr. Merydawilda Colón, Professor of Social Work, Director of the Center for Community Engagement and lead teacher of the class, that he was scheduled to take his exam that week. Compared to the people who had been showing up to class for weeks/months and had ample time to prepare, Mauro was behind. Going to the class that night, however, was the best decision he could have made for himself and his future, according to Colón.

“His mom told me, had he not come to this class, he would not have passed,” says Colón.

In 2015, the Stockton Center for Community Engagement (SCCE) began offering the sessions for people in the community who are trying to become naturalized citizens. The course began a year after Colón became the center’s Director. At the time she started, there was only one program that SCCE offered to the community, and for Colón, that was not enough.

“When I began working here in 2001, I always wanted to teach naturalization. Many people have to do so many levels of approval to get permanent approval for US citizenship. When I became the Director, I said this is it, this is the time because now I’m able to facilitate the process for it. I knew about it and knew there was an importance for it in the community, so that’s how it came to be,” she said.

As a tactic to get every student engaged in the class, the students are expected to just shout out the answers to the questions. Rather than have the students raise their hands, all the students actively participate. This way, each one learns the answers and the correct pronunciation of the words. Also, they feel a sense of belonging as they participate in the class, which ultimately boosts the classroom’s energy and enhances the student’s ability to form relationships with one another.

Dr. Merydawilda Colón, Executive Director of Stockton Center for Community Engagement and Tenured Professor of Social Work, photo by Stockton University Flickr account.
 The class is set up in a way that gives each person taking the class a student Fellow to work with one-on-one. The SCCE Fellows are Stockton students who act as tutors and additional teachers.

The community members typically memorize 100 answers to 100 questions, including such things as Cabinet-level positions and how many voting members are a part of the House of Representatives. However, during the civics exam, they are only asked 10 of the 100 questions they prepare for. And while you may be able to answer questions about the US Senate and the rules of government, these students are expected to answer the questions in English, the language many of them are still getting comfortable with.

That’s where the Fellows come into play, like Mike Meros. The Fellows can pronounce every word so that the naturalization students can fully understand. The community members taking the class must learn how to actively and accurately understand English because the test is given to them orally.

“I want to make a difference in the lives of many and by playing a part in this class, I realized I could start making a difference right away,” says Meros.

The SCCE Fellows work hard, repeating every question and exaggerating the pronunciation of particularly difficult words to ensure that the naturalization students comprehend them. The Stockton students actively practice patience and are empathetic towards each of the community members’ needs.

“It’s tedious because you’re saying the same things every night, but to the members of the community, they want this content so badly. We feel a sense of pride that we can help them in this process,” said Colón.

Being a part of the class and working with the members of the community means more than just community service to the Stockton students. They genuinely care about each of the community members. While the student Fellows are impacting the lives of the community members, the community members are also impacting the lives of the Fellows simultaneously.

The people taking the naturalization class are not just taking the class to memorize a bunch of United States trivia, take the test, and be done. Rather, they are taking the class to fully understand the United State’s government, culture, and language and to set themselves up for a future that they have craved for a long time.

“I concentrate on people understanding, this is not simply about being documented. This class isn’t a path to be documented,” says Colón.

The challenges of the class are just the beginning for many of these community members, who crave citizenship so intensely. Before anyone can even consider the class, they have to have permanent residency with a green card for at least five years. In addition to going through the prolonged process of getting a green card, (this can take up to 3 years) permanent residents have to wait another five years before they can take the citizenship test. Colon reserves spots in the class for those who have everything to become a citizen, and only need to prepare for and take the test.

“We care deeply,” says Colón, “but we [the US] don’t always make things easy for people who want to become American citizens.”

The green card requirement sets back some people who are eager to not only learn a new language but who want to immerse themselves in a new culture. During the naturalization class recently, a woman, bright-eyed and smiling, who spoke Italian and very little English, passionately walked into the classroom. Sadly, she had to be turned away from the class because she only had her green card for less than a year. Unaware that she had to wait five years when she was told she could not stay, she immediately sank into despondency.

“I want to learn more, I don’t want to wait,” she said.

With similar goals in mind, all of the students taking the class form a deeply connected community amongst themselves. Since most of the students show up every week, spending time together and learning, they quickly become bonded. When one student passes, it’s as if the whole class passes. There is a sense of accomplishment among all of the students, even if they have not taken the test yet. For the students focused on becoming citizens, this provides hope, motivation, and something to show them that their hard work will eventually pay off.

“I love it,” says Colón. “They call me to tell me they have passed, and then they come by to celebrate. If there's one thing that you will always know as a student, it’s that you need to network. Everything is about relationships. I work hard to maintain relationships.”

Even the student SCCE Fellows have developed relationships with the community members.

“You could say I have developed a relationship with some of them. It’s more a teacher-student relationship, but also a friendly relationship as well. They’re great people to be around,” says Meros.

Anasky, (her last name has been withheld for safety), has had her green card for five years this March. She has been attending the class for about a month with her mom with the hope both will pass their civics test. Anasky came to the United States with her mom in 2015, following her father who came in 2008. They are motivated in their desire to complete their education and land dream jobs -- jobs they would not have the opportunity to get back in their country.

“The laws right now are really hard. I feel like if I want to go back to the place I was born, they’re not going to let me go. I want to study here. Back in my country, I was supposed to graduate high school in 2016 and I came here in 2015, so I had to do high school here, and now, I am in college. I wanted to come here [to Stockton], but they don’t have what I want [talking about wanting to be a pediatrician],” says Anasky.

Anasky’s mother, Norma, does not speak English as well as Anasky does. Language is one of the biggest reasons why becoming naturalized is so valuable to Norma. Norma explained that she aspires to go back to college, but she can not do that until she passes the civics exam. Norma tells her daughter, who translated the conversation, that she wants to become a kindergarten teacher and that if she can not do that, she would like to be a medical assistant.

“I want to integrate myself in the American community,” says Norma. “In my country, I practiced being a nurse, but I am not finished. I want to improve my English, so I can interact with patients.”

All of the opportunities that could potentially be available to the community members in the class start with the passing of the civics test and becoming citizens. This course and what it offers is indispensable.

The work that goes into implementing the class is more than just important, it’s crucial. Colón, the student Fellows, and other community partners that are part of SCCE, all work together to not just educate the community members -- they help to transform their lives. And community members never let it go unknown how thankful they are, either.

“I love when students pass, it’s my life, my everything. These individuals, they want this badly, it’s a gift every day that I get to do this. The community members are the experts, not us and it’s good to know we’re making such a big difference,” said Colón.

Naturalization ceremony held at Stockton University on May 7, 2019, provided by Stockton University Flickr account. 

Emily Montgomery

Emily Montgomery is currently a Communication Studies student at Stockton University, concentrating in General Media Studies and minoring in Spanish and Professional Writing. She is a Staff Writer for Stockton’s independent newspaper, The Argo, and she hopes to one day pursue a career in Broadcast Journalism. In her spare time, she likes to workout, take pictures, and explore the world around her.