Dozens of members of the public came to the Bayonne City Council meeting on Jan. 19, speaking in support of former Bayonne High School head football Coach Dwayne Williams.
Williams’ contract was not renewed in December of 2021 after he was just hired that August, according to his attorney James Lisa. Lisa said he was not given an explanation, nor an exit interview.
While it is unclear why Williams was fired, it is clear it relates in some way to a fight between football teams after Bayonne beat Barringer on Oct. 29. Student athletes, parents, coaches, residents and other members of the public renewed their calls to reinstate the former coach, having first called for his reinstatement at the December meeting of the Board of Education.
Abraham Mitchell, whose nephew and cousin played football under Williams, said that there is a lack of recreation options for youth in the city other than school sports and that the team should be able to have the coach that they want. He also noted Williams was the first Black head coach to be appointed to the position.
“What I’m hearing from my nephew and my cousin and a lot of the youth is that Coach Williams has made a difference in their lives,” Mitchell said. “The coaches are there for the youth to help them build their character, their confidence, and so forth. So if the council is not going to be concerned about building any type of outlets for these teens, at least let them go to the coaches who are concerned about them… Bottom line, can we reconsider having Dwayne Williams reinstated as coach? It would benefit not only the Black students, but the Hispanic students as well as the white students, because when one wins, they all win.”
Council and board not related
City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski said she was present at the Board of Education where members of the public first expressed their support for Williams since he was nixed by the district as head coach. Ashe-Nadrowski, who is running for mayor, said she supported Williams then and still does now. But there is nothing the council can do.
“I hear you,” Ashe-Nadrowksi said. “I one hundred percent agree… Unfortunately, in our position here, we don’t have control over the school. We don’t even know what went. It’s not within our power.”
Resident Mark Ross asked if the council knew why he was fired to which Ashe-Nadrowski reiterated the council is not aware. However, she said that they could look into.
“It’s a separate entity,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “They don’t report to us. The only thing I think we as a council maybe could ask them for a report on the security aspect of it… But they’re not obligated to respond.”
Ross asked if the council could help in any way: “The kids finally have something, and then they take it away from them. Nobody cares… We’re asking for some type of help from you intercede, even if it’s not the same entity, so these kids have a chance.”
Ashe-Nadrowski said that she didn’t disagree but reiterated that the council is separate from the board.
Pleas of support continue
More residents spoke in Williams favor, such as Ryan Campbell who compared Williams to Tony Dungy: “One bad incident should not cost him his job. Knowing Dwayne all these years, he’s a Hall of Fame guy… I know you guys have nothing to do with it from what you’re saying, but we all can do something.”
Elijah Ortiz, a player under Williams who previously spoke in his favor at the Board of Education meeting, again praised his former coach and called for his reinstatement.
“My teammates and I gather here to fight for the future of BHS and the young men that are misunderstood, misguided, and look at football as the only up for them,” Ortiz said. “Coach Williams was the person who was willing to change the culture, not for the moment but for the future.”
Ortiz also questioned what happened to the security that was supposed to be there. Ashe-Nadrowski repeated that the council doesn’t have access to that information, and while it could ask for it, the board is not obligated to respond.
Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, who usually frequents the board meetings but hasn’t recently since his wife passed away, said he wasn’t aware of the particulars but would look into. La Pelusa is running on a council slate with Mayor James Davis in the May 10 municipal election.
“I’m going to inquire and try to find out,” La Pelusa said. “I can give it my best to see what happened. But not knowing the facts right now, I can’t say I’m going to do one thing or another.”
Allegations of personal retaliation
While the council made it clear that the council can do nothing other than inquire, several others spoke on behalf of Williams and continued to ask the council to do anything that it could.
“One fight does not define a man,” said Gerald Baker. “A man who was willing to help guide these kids and introduce them to new opportunities… You have the power to give this man the opportunity he deserves.”
La Pelusa told Baker that he pledged to inquire about the subject with the Board of Education.
Chuck Waldron spoke in favor of Williams on behalf of the High School Football Players Alumni Association, noting that many high school football fights have ended without coaches being fired. He added that a coach from Barringer admitted they started the fight and that Williams broke it up when he noticed it: “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Sean Hill, a Bayonne youth football coach who worked with Williams, alleged it may have been personal against him: “His whole dream was coming back to here. From day one they had him walking on eggshells. They never wanted Dwayne on the job.”
Another resident, Gary Gustavo praised Williams and speculated it was personal: “Dwayne is the right person for the job. Somebody doesn’t want Dwayne there.”
Council to send inquiry to board
First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll commended the players, coaches and other members of the community for coming out to speak in favor of Williams. Carroll is also running alongside La Pelusa and Davis.
“I’m absolutely impressed and I appreciate you coming here tonight,” Carroll said. Being a teacher, he hoped to have an impact as deep as Williams adding: “Given that we cannot impact, influence or get the answers that we want from the school board, you being here and speaking in public will get attention and that will get the job done. And what you’re doing is good, the way you did it was excellent, and I’m proud of each and every one of you.”
Carroll said that he would sign his name to any inquiry and added that the council should do it as a whole to be effective. City Councilman At-Large Juan Perez agreed, stating he would be making several phone calls and adding: “I think you kids did a great job. I’m inquiring also.”
And with that, the entire council was in line and set to send a letter to the board soon.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.