By Donald Wittkowski
Brad Burnette, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., said that when he tells people in his home state that he’s going to the beach, they assume he’s heading to South Carolina.
“They don’t think of the Jersey Shore,” Burnette noted. “It’s our family secret.”
On a blockbuster Fourth of July at the Jersey Shore, Burnette and his family were celebrating the holiday with a group of relatives in Sea Isle City. They had plenty of company.
With sunny skies, temperatures in the high 80s and a refreshing ocean – as well as an array of Independence Day attractions topped off by a fireworks display – Sea Isle is expecting a spectacular holiday weekend.
“We anticipate there will be well over 60,000 people on the island,” Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer said of the surge of holiday visitors. “They want to be at the shore. They want to be at a place that they’re familiar with. They find that Sea Isle is a very welcoming community.”
Burnette drove 12 hours from Knoxville to get to Sea Isle. He, his wife, Bethany, sons Owen, 12, and C.J., 10, and daughter Emily, 6, were part of a big family gathering that included relatives from New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Altogether, there were about 35 relatives from the Burnette, Papa, Mazziotto, Bullock and Quick families. They gathered at a vacation home on 69th Street owned by Nick and Pam Mazziotto.
“We have a newborn all the way up to a 90-year-old. It’s a big group. It’s become a family tradition,” explained Zac Papa, Brad Burnette’s cousin and a resident of Maplewood, N.J.
To start the holiday, Papa proudly watched his 8-year-old daughter, Chloe, win a silver medal in the bean bag toss during the family-friendly Junior Olympics at Dealy Field. This year, 623 children competed in a variety of running, jumping and throwing events.
The Junior Olympics, hosted by the Sea Isle Division of Recreation and the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City, are held every Fourth of July. Jamie Mulholland, co-chair of the event and a former commodore at the Yacht Club, said the Junior Olympics began in 1965, making them one of Sea Isle’s longest holiday traditions.
“The city feels strongly about family traditions. This is one of those traditions that you come back to year after year with your family,” Mulholland said.
Children triumphantly stood on an Olympics-style podium to receive their medals, with some raising their arms in celebration.
Chloe Papa was decked out in patriotic colors for the Junior Olympics. She wore a red, white and blue headband to go with a matching necklace. Her face was decorated with a temporary “I Love USA” tattoo.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Chloe exclaimed.
After the Junior Olympics, the Burnette, Papa, Mazziotto, Bullock and Quick families were planning to celebrate the holiday with some beach time, a barbecue and watching the fireworks.
By noon, Sea Isle’s beaches were packed. At the 92nd Street beach, the Greenfield and Withelder families, who are related, were enjoying a relaxing holiday just steps from water’s edge.
Husband and wife Gary and Kat Greenfield, of Vineland, have an oceanfront vacation condominium on 92nd Street. They watched as their son, Chris Greenfield, played wiffle ball in the surf with his daughter, Natalie.
The Greenfield and Withelder families, who have seven children among them, were also doing some elaborate digging on the beach. Ron Withelder, of Garnet Valley, Pa., was using a shovel to dig deep holes, while his 8-year-old son, Ray, gave instructions.
“That’s two feet deep. That’s three feet. Next, we’re going to make some stairs,” Ray said to his father while pointing to the beach holes.
The Greenfields and Withelders were looking forward to having some hotdogs and hamburgers and watching the fireworks from the deck of their condo.
Hotdog sales were brisk during the holiday at Tom Stewart’s “Stu Dogs” hotdog stand at the entrance to the beach at 77th Street and Pleasure Avenue.
Stewart sells hotdogs at the same location seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“There are a million people on the beach. They all want their hotdogs,” Stewart said, laughing at his exaggeration. “They expect me to be here.”
On Fourth of July, he described his hotdog business as “fantastic.”
When asked why hotdogs have become the quintessential American food on the Fourth of July, Stewart shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said, “All I know is, everybody loves hotdogs.”