Coach Williams fights back against Bayonne BOE’s ‘hostile environment’
- Coach Dwayne Williams and two of his players tell their story regarding the Bayonne-Barringer game and the cancellation of Bayonne’s 2021 football season.
- HudPost has obtained cell phone and police bodycam footage that went unreported by the local media. The videos raise questions about narratives propagated by Bayonne BOE officials, an incident report generated by a Bayonne police officer, and the Super Football Conference’s follow-up investigation.
- Williams has filed a six-count lawsuit against the Bayonne Board of Education in Hudson County Superior Court alleging defamation, discrimination, and unlawful interference with economic advantage.
The backstory of the Bayonne-Barringer game
“Him being their old coach, I felt like they had something to prove,” Bayonne Senior Joevon Stephens said when looking back at the Bayonne-Barringer high school football game on October 29, 2021.
Due to altercations during and after the game, Bayonne football’s 2021 season was abruptly cancelled. Additionally, Dwayne Williams was unceremoniously removed as head coach by the Bayonne Board of Education after three months on the job.
“The fact that they want to blame that incident on me… I’m not going to let them do that,” Williams told HudPost. “Don’t hire me, then fire me, and then try to blame me for something I have nothing to do with.”
For three seasons prior to taking over Bayonne, Williams was the head coach of Newark’s Barringer High School. He separated from the school after a difficult 2020 season that included his mother, two sisters, and nephew passing away from COVID-19.
When the head coaching opportunity at Bayonne presented itself in 2021, Williams, a legendary running back in the school’s history, put his name in the mix. He says that other coaching opportunities were available in the midwest, but he waited on his dream job.
Williams was eventually hired a few weeks before the 2021 season’s start; however, he claims that he was never truly supported by the Bayonne BOE. Moreover, Williams claims school officials misrepresented the Bayonne-Barringer altercation and used it as a false pretense to remove him from the head coach position.
Coach Williams, Bayonne players tell their story regarding altercation
“I don’t want anyone to think that Barringer has bad kids,” Williams said when discussing the game played on a cold, rainy night. “Football is football.”
According to Williams, Bayonne was physically wearing down Barringer because they were able to rotate players in-and-out of the game. With less than nine minutes to go in the 4th quarter, and losing 24-7, Barringer’s frustration boiled over when one of their players attacked a Bayonne player on the field.
At that point, the game was called early and Bayonne received the win. Moments later, the teams were clashing under the bleachers at Don Ahern Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Due to a downpour, Williams’ says his players decided to go to the home locker room under the bleachers instead of heading up the hill to the high school. Barringer’s players were ordered to go to their bus, according to Williams and corroborated by a Barringer assistant coach, but they ended up charging their way towards Bayonne.
“Barringer ran up to our locker room,” Bayonne Senior Christian Ashe said. “They was throwing [helmets] at us… they were using them as weapons against us… They have none of our helmets. None of our helmets were used as weapons.”
Coach Williams contends that the post-game altercation would’ve never happened had there been proper security. WATCH VIDEO BELOW ~ Coach Dwayne Williams, Bayonne players tell their story about Barringer altercation:
Cell phone, bodycam videos obtained by HudPost
HudPost has obtained multiple videos related to the Bayonne-Barringer game that have gone unreported by the local media.
Those videos include cell phone footage and Bayonne Police Department (BPD) bodycam footage obtained via the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), none of which were included in the Super Football Conference (SFC) follow-up report. WATCH VIDEOS BELOW ~ Bayonne-Barringer altercation (October 29, 2021):
Video 1 captures the beginning of the on-field altercation initiated by a Barringer player and recorded by the game film.
Video 2 was a screen recording of a cell phone video, apparently recorded by an individual associated with Barringer, that included incendiary language directed at Bayonne. According to Williams, Barringer’s principal, Dr. Jose Aviles, was seen “chasing his team” in the short clip.
Video 3 is a cell phone video apparently recorded by an individual associated with Bayonne. The footage captures coaches from both sides separating the two teams near Bayonne’s locker room, Barringer’s side throwing at least one helmet, and a Bayonne police officer arriving as Barringer’s players were already retreating.
Video 4 is police bodycam footage and one of three heavily redacted videos provided by the City of Bayonne. The city did not provide information identifying which officer’s bodycam was recording. As well, the footage did not include a timestamp.
By the time Video 4 begins recording, there’s no Bayonne or Barringer players under the bleachers, but there’s multiple police officers on scene. The footage captures at least three people injured following the fracas – a security guard, an assistant coach, and a player. The incident report written by BPD P.O. Mark Oleksa only mentions the security guard.
Additionally, Oleksa claimed that him and the other three Bayonne officers assigned to the game – Lt. Kubert, P.O. Hoffman, and P.O. Drago – were the ones who separated the two teams and deescalated the situation. Video 3 casts doubt on that claim. In Video 4 it appears that Bayonne Asst. Coach Dante Rodriguez confronts an officer, asking them “where the f*** were you,” and Williams attempts to calm him down.
The Super Football Conference Report
One of the more questionable aspects of the SFC’s report following the Barringer-Bayonne game was the lack of video evidence. In fact, the SFC’s Controversies Ethics Sportsmanship Committee only reviewed “a short video of a Bayonne player hitting a Barringer helmet against the floor and wall.”
If the committee had reviewed something easily obtainable, like the game footage, they might’ve been able to document the moments leading up to the on-field altercation and identify who started the fight. The SFC report includes Officer Oleksa’s report, which mentions bodyworn cameras being activated, but the committee failed to obtain those videos, too.
Barringer claimed that “helmets were thrown back and forth between both schools,” but there’s no evidence that a Bayonne helmet was thrown. The police bodycam footage only captures Barringer helmets being retrieved after the brawl (and Video 3 captures a Barringer helmet launched towards Bayonne).
Regarding security, Bayonne claimed the “security team acted immediately to break up the altercation. In fact, officers were stationed appropriately.” Conversely, Barringer claimed the only security seen by their coaches “was after the melee” and “there was no security for escorts to and from the locker room.”
It’s hard to ascertain much from the Officials’ Game Report, but the referee appeared to place blame on both sides for talking trash to each other. Here’s how Barringer’s athletic director originally described the moments before the fight:
“Barringer kids were directed to go to the bus and ignore the Bayonne players. We
walked in the opposite direction to get on the bus. We went somewhat near under the bleachers and that’s when the Bayonne players ran off the field and went towards the other side of the bleachers and met our kids under the bleachers and all hell broke loose.”
If neither team should’ve ended up under the bleachers (Bayonne officials told the committee their players should’ve walked towards the school), it’s apparent the Bayonne BOE failed to provide proper security when the game abruptly ended (based on the location where the altercation took place).
Williams and Bayonne were placed on probation by the SFC for the incident, Barringer was not. Despite never hearing testimony from Williams, the committee stated “as a result of the actions of the Bayonne players… it is evident that the Bayonne head coach had no or wanted no control of his players.”
That statement is reflective of Bayonne’s game report, which placed heavy blame on Williams. The report was crafted by Baseball Coach David Hoffmann, who served as administrator-in-charge for the football game.
Of note, despite Niesz not being present for the Barringer game, Hoffmann asked him what he should “add take away etc” from the game report and referred to the superintendent as “brotha” in an email obtained via OPRA by HudPost.
Niesz addressed Hoffmann as “bro” and said it was a “good statement.” Hoffmann replied “Thanks Bossman!! Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page .. I knew we would be,” to which Niesz responded “on the money brother.”
On December 8, 2021, Bayonne was represented at the committee’s hearing by Athletic Director Michael Pierson and Principal Richard Baccarella. They informed the committee that Williams was terminated as head coach prior to the meeting, per the SFC report.
Coach Dwayne Williams files lawsuit against Bayonne BOE
On March 7, 2022, attorney James Lisa filed a six-count lawsuit in Hudson County Superior Court on behalf of Williams against the Bayonne BOE, Superintendent John Niesz, and Board Pres. Maria Valado. The complaint alleges that Williams was the victim of discrimination, unfair dealings, and a hostile work environment.
In his complaint, Williams states that Niesz, Pierson, and Baccarella terminated him – without discussion, due process, or explanation – during a meeting on December 7, 2021. The coach also claims they failed to notify him of the SFC’s committee hearing the following day.
Even before he was hired, Williams claims Pierson contacted him and said “you may have to play the race card, make this racial, in order to get hired.” The coach also claims that Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis said “Dwayne gets the job over my dead body.”
The lawsuit states that “despite being ultimately selected after several adjourned meetings, backroom dealings, and tabled discussions, [Williams’] employment was consistently the subject of issues created by uninvolved outsiders.” Examples of issues according to Williams include:
- Unwarranted controversy stemming from t-shirts, donated by an alumnus, which were fundraised for the Bayonne youth football team.
- Behind the scenes arguments between BOE Trustee Jodi Casais and Pierson over trying to terminate Williams, which occurred prior to the Bayonne-Barringer game.
- Accusatory complaints over the use of foul language by Athletic Trainer Tracey Power – who herself is a plaintiff in a case against the Bayonne BOE.
The lawsuit claims Williams, Bayonne’s first black head football coach, was subjected to racial double standards and pointed towards an incident involving Hoffmann’s baseball team after a game against Saint Peter’s Prep on May 5, 2021. In that incident, Bayonne officials blamed coaches from Saint Peter’s baseball team – whose head coach happens to be black – for a post-game altercation.
Additionally, Williams accuses Bayonne BOE Pres. Maria Valado – who didn’t attend the game, but works as a Newark Public Schools teacher – of operating outside the scope of a school trustee by contacting Barringer employees, apologizing for Williams’ alleged actions, and stating the coach would be terminated.
Bayonne players share final thoughts on 2021 season
Despite the nightmarish ending to his dream job, Williams has continued to receive support from the Bayonne community at BOE and city council meetings. At the same time, his former players claim they were threatened with punishment if they demonstrated in support of their coach.
“They made it clear that if anybody was going to protest or walk out for Coach D-Will, then nobody was going to walk across the stage for graduation,” Ashe said.
“Do I think it was season-ending? I don’t think it was season ending,” Stephens said about the Bayonne-Barringer game. “The board ended our season, not the [New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association].”
Ultimately, Ashe was sad over how the season ended and felt Bayonne players were subjected to unequal blame/punishment, but found solace with the idea “I’d rather go out like that, with my family.”
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