Shane O’Connor knew it wasn’t going to be good when he saw TV weatherman Al Roker reporting from his hometown of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.
It wasn’t good, of course. The Jersey shore was pummeled by Hurricane Sandy this week, resulting in unprecedented destruction.
Even though O’Connor’s house was spared significant damage, many of his friends weren’t so fortunate. And Bay Head Beach, where the senior co-captain on the Muhlenberg football team works as a lifeguard in the summer, was among the hardest hit.
“It’s just sad,” said O’Connor, shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s where I grew up. It’s my childhood.”
O’Connor got a welcome respite from the horrible news from home yesterday when he helped the Mules beat Ursinus, 24-17, on Senior Day at Scotty Wood Stadium. He said it was like a “sigh of relief” at the end of a harrowing week.
“Concentrating on football and schoolwork were tough,” he said. “I was calling friends here and there, seeing whose house got damaged. I knew how bad it was, but I didn’t know who it affected.”
Getting even that information proved to be challenging and frustrating.
“Cell service was down for a few days after the storm hit,” O’Connor said. “I couldn’t get in touch with my parents.
“A lot of my friends went home,” he added. “I saw the news and the pictures and it was tough being here and not being able to help out.”
O’Connor’s other family, the Muhlenberg football team, helped ease his anxiety. Known as “Shane-O,” the three-year starting safety is popular among his teammates. Wrote fellow co-captain John Merklinger, “He puts David Hasselhoff to shame with his killer good looks and ‘Dude, I’m such a beach bro’ attitude. Having Shane as both a teammate and friend is something I’ll always treasure.”
For a few hours yesterday, it was Saturday business as usual for O’Connor. He smiled for pictures with his family during Senior Day ceremonies and went out for the coin tosses prior to the game and the overtime.
Proudly wearing “732” – his home area code – on his wrist, O’Connor played his customary solid defense as the Mules held the most prolific passing attack in the Centennial Conference in check, with the exception of a few big plays. He recorded three tackles and had a near-interception in the second quarter. He hammed it up on the field with his fellow seniors following the game, their last at home.
“It just brightened my day,” said O’Connor. “I’m able to look past everything for just a little bit.”
There will be tougher days ahead when he goes home and the reality sets in. But even though Bay Head Beach will be off limits for a while due to gas leaks, O’Connor is confident it will bounce back.
“I know we’ll rebuild the shore and get it back to the way it was,” he said.
photos by Lisa Youngentob ’12