The loudest, rowdiest boys' basketball fans in South Jersey are the ones who chant (sometimes in bad taste) and cheer for St. Augustine Prep, a tiny all-boys school nestled in the woods of Atlantic County.

Bad taste aside, the fans are smart, quick-witted, and they seem to have an instant chant for any situation that arises, whether it be a perceived bad call by a ref, a headband that they don't like (worn by a visiting player, of course) or the rebuttal to cheers from the opposing teams' fans.

In short, they turn a basketball game into an event.

"We feed off them," senior guard Andrew Kirey said.

St. Augustine is nicknamed the Hermits, and their bandbox of a gym - seating capacity: nearly 500 - has been affectionately known as The Cave. It is a mini-Palestra, filled with color, passion and noise. Lots and lots of noise from fans who never sit down, never stop chanting, never run out of energy.

A long jump shot away from The Cave, a state-of-the-art gym is being built and should be ready for next season's Hermits. The gym will seat 1,250 - believe me, more than that many wanted to attend the Hermits' showdown with visiting Holy Spirit on Thursday - and will be known as The Forum.

"I'm sure it's going to sound a lot less noisy than The Cave," St. Augustine athletic director Tony Iaconelli said. "When you leave this place, you go home with a headache from all the noise."

I'm sure the new place will be beautiful, albeit more sterile. I'm sure, in time, it will feel like home to the Hermits and their players and spectators. I'm sure the raucous fans will make a lot of noise and give the place a personality.

I'm also sure it will never compare to The Cave.

Tom Attanasi's in-season resignation as Holy Spirit's highly successful boys' basketball coach was downright shocking.

Attanasi, one of South Jersey's classiest people, stepped aside the day after the Spartans dropped their third straight game, the 59-34 decision at St. Augustine on Thursday.

After that game, Attanasi said his team was "undisciplined" on the court and talked about its "selfish play."

The criticism, he said Sunday, had nothing to do with why he stepped down. He also said no one in the administration asked him to resign.

"They've been so supportive," he said. "In fact, they asked me to take the weekend and think about [his resignation], but in my heart, I knew it was time."

Attanasi, an assistant principal at a Hammonton middle school, compiled a 191-75 record in 11 seasons at Spirit. Before that, he was at Hammonton for five years and went 35-86.

Attanasi said the 16 years of coaching "had taken its toll" and that he "just didn't have the energy that is needed on a daily basis" to do the job.

Stepping down will enable him to spend more time with his five children. "The other day, for the first time ever, I got to see my 9-year-old play for his traveling team," he said. "I've missed my kids' games . . . and now I won't have to."

Attanasi, who credits three area coaches - Cherry Hill East's John Valore, Camden Catholic's Jim Crawford and St. Augustine's Paul Rodio - for helping his career, did not rule out the possibility of returning to the coaching ranks one day.

"If the batteries get recharged, perhaps I will," he said.

Changes could be coming to New Jersey football leagues - at least if the Sussex County Interscholastic Association's plan is accepted.

The association is putting together a football proposal that would put schools in leagues in which teams have the same group size. The group says it wants "competitive balance" in the leagues and believes nonpublic schools have an unfair advantage because they do not have geographical restrictions for accepting students. Public schools are restricted to those students in their district.

The proposal calls for public and nonpublic schools to be placed in separate leagues.

A lot of work still has to be done, and, provided it goes through the proper channels, the earliest this proposal could be on the NJSIAA ballot - and voted on by its general membership - is December.

"This could possibly open the door for statewide playoffs in all groups," said Kittatinny athletic director Chris Carroll, one of the backers of the proposal.

Stay tuned.

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