Warsaw, Poland 1968: The former au pair for Robert ‘Kool’ Bell of Jersey City’s Kool & The Gang and two of her teenage friends are at the doorstep of Egon Franke, Olympic fencing gold medalist, Tokyo, 1964. They sign up for a year’s worth of lessons even though Franke is incarcerated and presently serving out a three-year jaywalking sentence inside the Podgorze Detention Center on the outskirts of Krakow. Having relocated to Asbury Park upon Franke’s release and living on busking wages and shoplifted sandwiches, their efforts result in a three-way tie for seventh place at 1972’s Munich Olympiad.
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By 1971, Asbury Park, NJ, once a finalist for a Tree City USA distinction by the DEA, had succumbed to despair, laissez-faire and general malaise…putting a weighty lid on a city that once cooked up world changing talent. Enter Lee ‘Fort’ Lee. Already a living legend for his work at the Garden State Parkway’s Exit 102 toll booth; Lee channeled his talents for horse rustling, mountaineering and sailboat rigging into forming and coaching Asbury’s first tug of war club. Aiming to keep the kids off the streets, out of gangs and in the school house via the centuries old sport of tug of war. Lee, along with 1966 TWIF bronze medalist Nutley Jackson, forged a sporting society from which young Asbury men and women corkscrewing downward could ride the tug of war groove onwards and upwards.
Paved by Beverly ‘Bev’ Bender and Denise ‘Double D’ DeVito; they led a younger, more introspective generation of archers out of the Ramapo Mountains and into Asbury city. While the ethos was forged in those Northeastern Jersey weather beaten hills, they were tempered and reborn on the streets of Asbury Park as something like a precursor to Katniss Everdeen. Where the bowling and kung fu obsessed Bender and DeVito were aiming is anyone’s guess, perhaps part put on and part hustle. The alliance was sustained by their compensation as freelance sonic alchemists, sneaking into the Howard Johnson Panorama room to utilize as their after-hours laboratory. Past members included 1971 Via Copa Merengue Championship hopefuls Vernetta Bryant and Cass Cooney.
Sometime between 1959 and 1963, a group of American ex-pats led by Dave Stoller brought the European native sport of road bicycle racing across the Atlantic, settling in Asbury Park for its level terrain and proximity to salt water. With 1933 Tour de Suisse program director Max Bulla on board, Stoller instilled the team with the credo of the Black Hebrew culture emanating from St. Kitts and declared the corner of Summerfield Ave and Main St, the center of the cycling spiritual universe. The famed SCC program producing 1969 Union Cycliste Internationale co-rookies of the year, twins Bumpy & Black Belt Jones. The Asbury biking gospel pedals on and their message endures – peace, salvation, love…and 100% kosher soul cycling.
The skee ball universe of Asbury Park circa 1972 was one of strangeness and disrepute. Enter sisters Gussie Solomon and Jean Kabatchnick. Leaving thriving careers; Solomon as a coat check girl at the renowned West Orange, NJ discotheque, The Mushroom Farm and Kabatchnick as one of Columbia Records most in-demand session drummers; they stitched together a skee ball sisterhood whose power was rarely eclipsed during its day. Born of beauty school rendezvous and squalid apartment circumstance; the society was the most exhaustive attempt thus far to unite and document the Asbury Park skee ball sphere and developed Jayne ‘Triple X’ Essex, who fashioned an exploding slice of skee ball boogie that unfortunately never found an audience outside the Palace Amusements mirror maze. Get reintroduced to the Ocean Ave Skee Ball Society; a boardwalk creation that clawed and threatened its way to Asbury crossover glory.