Portia Motley thinks it’s business as usual that she comes from a family of 11 girls and one boy.
“It’s a blessing,” she said.
Patricia Bennett agrees: “I always had someone to look up to or someone looking up to me.”
Bennett can rattle off all 12 names without missing a beat: “Judy, Cynthia, Patricia, Portia, Karen, Barbara, then comes Dwayne, then Lynn, Lorrie, Lisa, Maria, and Mickey. And thank God we’re all still here.”
So is the matriarch, 88-year-old Julia Williams. “I thank the good Lord for such a big family,” she said. “It sort of grew on us that we had only one boy.” She still lives in Bayonne, as do several of her daughters. Williams’s husband, James, died in 1993.
When the family gets together—12 children, 35 grandchildren, 66 great-grandchildren, and nine great-great grandchildren—there isn’t a living room to fit them all. “We have to rent a hall,” Bennett said.
The Williams family was so big that they had to occupy two apartments at 411 Avenue C. “I tell people how big my family is, and they don’t believe it,” said Motley, a respiratory therapist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark.
“We had a whole lot of different personalities,” said Maria Thaxton, who is a freight forwarder and No. 11 of 12 children. “I had to look up to all of my sisters and my brother. But by the time I came into the picture, he didn’t need anyone to protect him.”
Except from perhaps his own sisters. “I used to get beat up by a few of them,” Dwayne said. “I also fought a few of my sisters’ boyfriends.”
Dwayne became one of the greatest athletes ever to come out of the Peninsula City.
“Being the only boy with 11 sisters, I always felt like I had something to prove,” Williams said.
He began playing football at age 9, in the Bayonne Recreation league and the Police Athletic League. “We won so many games back then that I thought winning was the only thing,” he said.
He became proficient in basketball as well. “I would run to City Line [59th Street and Kennedy Boulevard] and back to First Street late at night,” he said. “I was out shooting baskets at 2 or 3 in the morning.”
He went to all the Bayonne High School football games. “I remember walking down to Bayonne Stadium and seeing guys like Gary Danback and Gerry Castaldo,” Williams said. “I was playing Pee Wee football and asked for uniform No. 22, because I wanted to be like Gary Danback.”
Danback was named the Hudson County Back of the Year in 1969. In 1977, Williams attained the same honor.
Bayonne’s Rich Dimler earned Lineman of the Year. “The college coaches came in to recruit Dimler,” Williams said. “I said to my friend Grover Edwards [a fellow Hudson County Back of the Year in 1976] that those coaches will all come back for us.”
Lucky He Didn’t Quit
When Williams was a sophomore, he said, “I didn’t get to make a lot of tackles, and I never carried the ball. I was about to quit, but my friend Keith McKinnie said, ‘Don’t. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.’ He was right.”
In the NJSIAA Group IV state playoffs, he scored a touchdown on an electrifying 85-yard run that avid Bayonne Bees followers still consider one of the best runs ever.
After high school, he went to the University of Iowa. “There were about seven recruits from New Jersey who all decided to go to Iowa,” Williams said. Some went on to play in the NFL. “If I didn’t get hurt, the coaches all said I had a chance to play in the NFL,” he said.
Back in Bayonne
When Williams graduated from Iowa in 1982, he returned to Bayonne, becoming an assistant under head coach, Don Ahern. After four years, he moved to Ferris High School in Jersey City for two more.
After those two stints, Williams moved to Kansas to become head coach at Highland Park High School.
In 1999, Williams came back to Bayonne to become an assistant coach under the Bees’ new head coach Tom Bulwith. After the 2009 season, he left Bayonne to coach one season at Roselle High School.
In 2011, he became head coach at Marist High School. Imagine, one of the Bees’ all-time greats coaching the rival Royal Knights. In 2012, Williams led the Royal Knights to five victories and the program’s first trip to the NJSIAA state playoffs since 2005.
But Williams wanted to head back to Kansas, finding a head coaching position at Schlagle High School and turning that troubled inner-Kansas City program around.
“We won the city, the county, and the conference championship,” Williams said. “The only thing we didn’t win was the state title.”
“I’ve been blessed 10 times over,” said Williams, who came home for the holidays to undergo hip replacement surgery. A 58-year-old single dad, he remains close to his daughter Kaniesha Hallenbeck, who lives in Bayonne.
“It’s a large family that is very diverse and very interesting,” Hallenbeck said. “When we get together, it’s nothing but fun.”
Kaniesha follows Stallions football. “I boast about him to everyone,” she said. “I love to cheer him on.”
The Williams sisters agree.
“I have a great sense of pride in my brother,” Patricia Bennett said. “I was working New Year’s Day in the pediatric department of United Hospital in Newark when he was in the Rose Bowl. I made sure that every single television was turned to the game.”
Family members manage to get together once or twice a year. “It’s pretty remarkable that we are all so close,” Maria Thaxton said.
Williams will go back to Kansas after he rehabilitates from hip surgery. “I put all my faith in my Lord and Savior,” he said. “I have a lot more to give.”
But there’s something tugging on his sleeve.
“I always have my 11 sisters with me,” he said. “Bayonne is always going to be home. I want to come back.”
If Dwayne Williams comes back to coach again, he already has a humungous cheering section. It’s called family.—BLP