Boys Basketball – In Rumson, N.J., the Bulldogs Are Back and So Are Some of Their Fans
RUMSON - Chris Champeau has always made a statement with his gameday attire during his 12 seasons as the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball coach. One of his suits costs more than an an entire wardrobe of most high-school coaches - no surprise considering Champeau is longtime friends with always-nattily-attired Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
This year, that statement has been much different. Champeau's trademark accessory this year is his plastic face shield that he wears over a black mask that fits even better than one of his suits - all held in place by a baseball cap that covers his normally-slick gray hair.
Champeau's new look is an ultimate sign of the times in New Jersey. He lives in Rumson with his family, including his 82-year-old father-in-law that Champeau said is a diabetic, putting him at elevated risk should Champeau or any other member of his family bring the COVID-19 coronavirus home.
"My daughters and wife said, basically, that they didn't want me to (coach)," Champeau said. "So we cut a deal that I'd wear this fish bowl with everything else. I know I look like a goof, but that was the deal I cut, so here I am. I'm just glad to be back out here."
While Champeau's "Darth Vader" look, as he called it, is a sign of unusual times, there was one characteristic of Rumson's Friday-night game vs. Barnegat that was a sign that times are changing for the better: there were fans in the stands.
Rumson allowed two family members per player on both teams Friday night - the same day that Governor Phil Murphy announced that a limited number of fans could begin to attend high-school and youth sporting events, effective immediately. While most administrations around the state are taking some number of additional days to craft their guest policy, Rumson-Fair Haven was ready to open their doors to parents as soon as the announcement from Murphy came Friday afternoon.
"(Athletic director) Chris Lanzalotto hit me up this afternoon and said 'We have been preparing for this, so I just wanted to let you know that this is something we are going to try to do,'" Champeau said. "Obviously the parents want to see their kids play so it was nice to see them get a chance to do that."
The unlocking of the doors throughout New Jersey for approved spectators comes while two more Shore Conference boys varsity teams - Holmdel and St. John Vianney - are beginning a two-week shutdown for exposure to the virus. St. John Vianney is already on its second shutdown, while Holmdel is the 24th Shore Conference boys varsity team to shut down. With that, now more than half of the varsity boys teams in the 47-team Shore Conference have been shut down for a period of time since the first day of practice on Jan. 11.
"It was a little weird at Red Bank because you didn't hear much," junior Scott Gyimesi said of the atmosphere for Rumson's opening game at rival Red Bank Regional on Jan. 27. "Tonight was more like last year and previous years having parents here and it's just a lot better environment with fans here."
"It's just surreal, because I'm on the phone with (Holmdel coach) Sean Devaney and a couple of other guys who are like, 'We just got shut down,'" Champeau said. "Teams are getting shut down left in right and in the next breath, they are letting parents in the gym. We're just going to take what comes our way, be happy that we're in here and just battle."
The two-to-three dozen spectators Friday night watched Rumson - the No. 8 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - storm past Barnegat, 51-30, in the Bulldogs first game back after a two-week shutdown. Rumson opened its season with a 49-42 win at Red Bank, then found out it had to shut down its varsity program because a player on Red Bank who played in the Jan. 27 opener tested positive for COVID-19.
"We said it during Red Bank: 'This could be our last game,'" Gyimesi said. "We didn't really think much of it but now we're coming back like this really could be our last game of the year so we want to go all out."
As if facing a 4-0 Barnegat squad in its first game in 16 days was not challenging enough, Rumson played last night without two of its starters from opening night - one of whom was junior and 2019-20 leading scorer Geoff Schroeder. Champeau said they are going through additional protocol.
With a short-handed roster, Gyimesi took over the game in the second quarter, scoring 13 of game-high 25 points in the quarter to stake the Bulldogs to a 32-14 halftime lead. The 6-foot-6 Gyimesi also hauled in 14 rebounds and blocked three shots as part of a dominant performance in the paint.
"He is a young guy so last year, he really deferred to a lot of the older guys," Champeau said. "The last game of the year (against Manasquan), the last five or six possessions, I had him on the wing and whoever was guarding him - I didn't care if it was Alex Galvan or whoever - I wanted him to just do his thing. Whether it worked or not, I just wanted to give him some confidence and then this summer, he was working and working and has gotten bigger. He has started to get some calls from colleges so he is just starting to scratch the surface."
No other Rumson player scored in double figures but the Bulldogs got noteworthy contributions from senior point guard Jackson Patton, senior Robbie Sypeck and juniors Trent Sloan, Charlie Jones and Aiden Moriarty. Patton finished with eight points, Sypeck put up seven and Sloan and Jones each added four.
Sloan made his four points count: he hit a slick floater to end the first quarter and threw down a fast-break dunk to prompt a Barnegat timeout in the third quarter.
Senior Tyler Quinn led Barnegat with eight points and Rumson held Bengals top scorer Jaxon Baker to five points. Baker took a shot to the ribs in the first half and was in visible discomfort for the rest of the game, although he did play through it.
Now back in action for what they hope is the the remainder of the abbreviated 2021 season, the Bulldogs are ranked eighth in the Shore Conference by Shore Sports Network and if the coaches on the conference postseason seeding committee agree, that would put Rumson in the last spot of the eight-team championship pod that is set to determine the champion, for all intents and purposes, of the Shore Conference in 2021.
"It had been 10 months since we got in this gym and we just wanted to get fired up right away," Gyimesi said. "We came out like that against Red Bank and again today, regardless of the shutdown."