Extra Points: Stockton Basketball Coach Plays Role of Hero
Stockton University men's basketball coach Scott Bittner heard voices Monday night.
One was coming from the dock at the Chelsea View condo complex in Atlantic City. The other was coming from his gut.
His decision to listen to both helped him save someone's life.
"Sometimes circumstances of life put you in a situation where you might be able to help someone," Bittner said. "I'm glad I had that inner voice that told me to go down to the dock."
Call it fate, karma, kismet and/or God's will, but there's no doubt something beyond simple coincidence was at work.
Under normal circumstances, Bittner, 49, would have been coaching the Ospreys in a holiday tournament in Nashville this week, but the event was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Instead, he was home and was putting his daughter Kennedy (7) and son Jackson (5) to bed when he heard someone yelling.
"I didn't think much of it at first," Bittner said. "Out on the lagoon, you can hear noises from as far as a mile away. But it persisted, so I figured I should go check it out."
Bittner rushed toward the yells and discovered a man in his 60s thrashing in the 45-degree water while wedged between a boat and the dock.
He dialed 9-1-1, then he and a neighbor tried for about 15 minutes to pull the guy out without success. The man's right pants leg was tangled in the propeller.
"I don't know how he got there," Bittner said. "He was pretty drunk. The lesson there is that you shouldn't go for a December swim in the bay while fully clothed in a northern state, especially when you've been drinking."
After about 20 minutes, the man fell unconscious and Bittner feared he was developing hypothermia.
Bittner and the neighbor untied the boat and pushed it away from the dock, and victim's leg came free. The two hoisted him out of the water just as paradmedics arrived and rushed him to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center City Campus for treatment.
Bittner feared that the man would not recover and fretted that maybe he hadn't done enough to help. He wondered if he should have jumped in the water, despite the dangers posed by the frigid temperatures. He was relieved to hear Tuesday that the man was going to make a full recovery.
"I was second-guessing myself all night," he said. "I thought that maybe I should have jumped all the way into the water to try and help, but I was wearing a sweatsuit at the time and that wouldn't have been smart. And it wouldn't have done anybody any good for me to get naked."
Bittner, a former basketball standout at St. Augustine Prep and Wheeling Jesuit University (West Virginia), has spent almost his entire life around the water.
He grew up in Ocean City and could be found on the beach when he wasn't honing his basketball talents. He's lived in Chelsea Heights for about a year and spends his spare time in the summer and fall paddleboarding and swimming between long bike rides and workouts on the beach.
He's had more spare time than expected this winter.
After posting a 61-45 record in five seasons as Stockton's head coach, the Ospreys saw their 2020-21 season postponed due to the pandemic.
The team practiced for about six weeks before Stockton's Galloway Township campus, which houses the school's Athletic Center, closed at Thanksgiving.
Stockton, which is a member of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, is hoping to start the season later this winter.
"I give (Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation) Kevin McHugh a ton of credit," Bittner said. "He's fighting as hard as possible for all of our sports to have a season. The same goes for our (school) president (Dr. Harvey Kesselman) and all the school presidents in the NJAC. I think they realize the value of getting back to some semblance of normalcy."
In the meantime, he's plenty busy being a father, but has also found time to be a hero.
Bittner recounted his adventure from Monday night while going for a run along the beachfront Wednesday morning. After about 20 minutes, he had to cut the conversation short.
"I've got to call 9-1-1 again," he said. "I think I just saw a woman ODing (overdosing) in a car."