We began the search for the Shore’s Greatest Sports Personality of the last 50 years a month ago and have reached the final four with three of the four top seeds still alive but in an upset former NFL standout Phil Villapiano eliminated Brick football coaching legend Warren Wolf to advance into the overall semifinals along with Todd Frazier, Al Leiter and Christie Pearce Rampone.  The popularity contest is sponsored by Sonny’s Recycling Scrap Center in Waretown.

Villapiano has been the surprise of the online voting competition despite an NFL career that has him under consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame through the senior committee.  A graduate of Ocean Township High School and four-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, he defeated Joe Montano, Scott Goodale, Jim Nantz and Wolf to win the Harmon/Sarluca bracket.

Villapiano now faces his toughest challenge in Pearce Rampone, who has cruised past Bob Roggy, Eddie Conti, Keith Elias and Knowshon Moreno and will look to take out her fourth consecutive former football standout and move into the finals.

The recently retired soccer standout who won three Olympic gold medals and two World Cup titles has been among the top vote getters each week and has carried the banner as the lone female to advance past the second round as she rolled to victory in the Harmon/Sarluca Bracket.

The other semifinal matches a pair of baseball greats, one retired and the other still very much active.  Frazier has been a celebrity since his little league and high school days in Toms River and through his major league career which has him now playing third base for the Mets.  He claimed the Williams Bracket by eliminating Joe Bravo, Jerry DiPoto, Dan McCullough and most recently coaching football coaching icon Vic Kubu in what was a very close race.

Leiter, who won 162 games over a 19-year career rose to stardom at Central Regional High School and was a two-time All-Star pitcher who won three World Series crowns.  He has been impressive each week winning the Badders Bracket with victories over Ken O’Donnell, Miles Austin, Tony Caravella and the late Sam Mills but now faces his toughest challenge in Frazier.

So it’s Pearce Rampone against Villapiano and Leiter versus Frazier with the winners to meet in the finals for a special award from Ocean Trophies of Lanoka Harmon and the title of the Shore’s Greatest Sports Personality from 1968-2018.

Thanks to Sonny’s Recycling of Waretown for sponsoring this program and Ocean Trophies of Lanoka Harbor for providing a unique award for the winner.

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Take a closer look at the Final Four:

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Todd Frazier

From the time he caught America’s eyes in the Little League World Series to his moments on baseball’s biggest stage as a Major Leaguer, Toms River’s Todd Frazier is without question one of the Shore Conference’s all-time greats.

It all began in the 1998 Little League World Series when Frazier led the Toms River East American All-Star team to the New Jersey state title and then the U.S. East Regional championship to send the team to Williamsport. The TRE American All-Stars were nicknamed the “Beasts of the East” and went undefeated in the tournament with Frazier, a shortstop and pitcher, leading the way. In the world championship game Frazier went 4-for-4 with a leadoff home run and was also the winning pitcher, recording the final championship-clinching strikeout in a 12-9 win over Japan’s Kashima Little League. It was in that moment a legend was born.

Frazier attended Toms River High School South where he led the Indians to consecutive NJSIAA Group III state titles in 2002 and 2003 and was a multiple-time All-State selection. He was initially drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 37th round of the 2004 MLB June Amateur Draft, but instead went on to a record-setting career at Rutgers University before embarking on a professional career. In 2007 Frazier was the Big East Player of the Year and a Rivals.com All-American selection and at the time of his graduation finished in the top six all-time in every major single-season offensive category at Rutgers other than triples., including the top marks in runs scored (87), walks (62), doubles (24) and total bases (187). The Cincinnati Reds selected Frazier with the 34th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

The 32-year old Frazier is currently the third baseman for the New York Mets in his eight MLB season. Frazier played for the Reds from 2011-2015 and was a two-time All-Star. In 2015 he hit 35 home runs, drove in 89 runs and won the Home Run Derby during All-Star weekend. Frazier then joined the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and slugged a career-high 40 home runs with a career-best 98 RBI. He was traded to the New York Yankees midway through the 2017 season and became a fan favorite and clubhouse leader who helped the Yankees reach the American League Championship Series. He finished 2017 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI.

Frazier signed with the Mets in the offseason. He has 175 home runs, 501 RBI, 489 runs scored, 822 hits and a .245 batting average across an eight-year major league career.

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Al Leiter

A superstar pitcher for Central Regional High School during his days at the Shore, Leiter went on to enjoy a championship professional career in which he played for both the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

Leiter pitched 19 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1987-2005 for the Yankees, Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Florida Marlins. He is a two-time All-Star (1996, 200) and a three-time World Series Champion (1992, 1993, 1997) and is the all-time winningest Major League pitcher from New Jersey with 162 wins.

Coming from a baseball family in the Bayville section of Berkeley Township, Leiter was a dominant left-handed pitcher for the Golden Eagles. He famously pitched back-to-back no-hitters and then had a 32-strikeout game in 13 innings in 1984. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1984 MLB Draft.

Leiter made his major league debut on Sept. 15, 1987, earning the win in a 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Leiter spent two-plus seasons in New York before being traded to the Blue Jays in 1989. Injuries limited Leiter to just nine games from 1989-1992, but returned healthy in 1993 to make 32 appearances, including 12 starts. He went 9-6 with a 4.11 ERA, won Game 1 of the World Series out of the bullpen and helped the Blue Jays capture their second straight World Series title.

Leiter signed with the Florida Marlins as a free agent in 1996 and spent two years in South Florida. In 1996 he was selected to his first MLB All-Star team and finished the season with a 16-12 record and a 2.93 ERA. He threw a no-hitter on May 11, 1996, against the Colorado Rockies, the first no-hitter in Marlins history. In 1997 Leiter helped the Marlins win the World Series title. He started Game 7, pitching six innings and giving up two earned runs.

Leiter was traded to the Mets in 1998 and would spend the next seven seasons in Flushing. In his first season with the Mets he posted a career-high 17 wins and a career-best 2.47 ERA. He was selected to his second all-star team in 2000 and also helped the Mets reach the World Series where they fell to the Yankees in five games. In seven seasons with the Mets, Leiter went 95-67 with a 3.42 ERA.

Leiter went back to the Marlins as a free agent for the 2005 season and spent half the year in Florida before being acquired by the Yankees. He signed a minor league contract with the Yankees in 2006 and retired during spring training.

Leiter, 52, is currently a color commentator for the YES Network and a studio analyst for MLB Network.

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Christie Pearce Rampone

One of the most accomplished athletes in New Jersey history, Pearce was a four-sport star at Point Pleasant Boro High School and a three-sport star at Monmouth University who is best known as a three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion as a defender on the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

During her high school years at Point Boro, Pearce was a standout in soccer, basketball, field hockey and also track and field. She scored 2,190 career points as a basketball player and was the first female athlete in New Jersey history to lead her conference in scoring in three different sports. She was an all-state selection in soccer, basketball and field hockey.

Pearce then attended Monmouth University and played three sports: soccer, basketball and lacrosse. As a soccer player she was a two-time Northeast Conference Player of the Year and First Team All Mid-Atlantic Region selection. She concluded her career with a start in all 80 games, scoring 79 goals and adding 54 assists. She was inducted into the Monmouth University Hall of Fame in 2007. She was also the starting point guard on the basketball team until her senior year when she decided to devote more time to training with the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

Pearce started for the national team at the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cup finals and in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. The U.S. captured the 1999 World Cup title in one of the most memorable moments in U.S. soccer history, defeating China, 5-4, in penalty kicks. In 2000 Pearce helped the U.S. capture a silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics. After a knee injury sidelined her for the 2001 and 2002 seasons, she returned to start 15 of 17 games and all four World Cup matches to help the U.S. to a bronze medal. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Pearce was a core member of the national team that defeated Brazil to win the gold medal.

In 2008 Pearce was named captain of the U.S. women’s national team and helped lead the United States to a second straight Olympic gold medal. She then helped the U.S. finish second at the 2011 World Cup. Pearce’s fourth and final Olympic games came in 2012 when she again captained team USA to a gold medal as they defeated Japan, 2-1, in the championship. In 2015 Pearce became the oldest woman to play in a FIFA Women’s World Cup final at age 40.

Pearce also played professionally in the W-League, Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer, most recently with New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC. 

Picture courtesy of his daughter Andrea Villapiano

Phil Villapiano

A standout linebacker at Asbury Park High School and later Ocean Township High School, Villapiano enjoyed a 13-year NFL career in which he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl champion.

Villapiano began his career at Asbury Park and moved to Ocean Township High School when the school opened in 1965. He played his college football at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and was a Mid-America Conference Player of the Year.

The Oakland Raiders drafted Villapiano with the 45th overall pick in the second round of the 1971 NFL Draft, beginning a successful career with the Silver and Black that made Villapiano one of the most beloved Raiders of his era. He burst onto the scene in 1971 to start all 14 games and win AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He would start 83 of 84 games from 1971 to 1976, making the Pro Bowl from 1973 to 1976.

The most memorable moment of Villapiano’s career came in Super Bowl XI when his thunderous goal line hit on Minnesota Vikings running back Brent McClanahan forced a fumble and sent the Raiders on their way to the Super Bowl title. The NFL did not officially keep statistics for tackles until 1994, but

Villapiano was considered one of the fastest linebackers of his era who also played with a physicality that defined the Raiders. He had 11 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries during his career. He concluded his career playing two seasons for the Buffalo Bills in 1980 and 1981.

Villapiano currently resides in Rumson and has three children, Andrea, Phil and Michael, with his late wife Susan. Michael quarterbacked Rumson to the 2010 Central Jersey Group II state sectional title, the first in program history, and played collegiately at Brown University.