Monday, May 18, 2009

The Town That Cried Wolf

The Brick Township High School football team will have a new coach patrolling the sidelines for the 2009 season. So what you ask? Fair question. Brick is a bit different than most of its neighbors and rivals in the Shore Conference in that its team has only had one varsity coach in its history.

For the first fifty-one years that Brick Township has played high school football, its teams were coached by Warren Wolf. In high school football circles here in Levelland, Warren Wolf is a more than a bit of a legend. Wolf retired at the end of the 2008 season. In January 2009 the Township Council honored Wolf with a series of resolutions. The resolutions lauded Wolf's record 51 years as coach of the Brick Township High School's Marching Dragons and his unsurpassed record of 361 victories, 25 division titles and 13 sectional titles.

Months after being honored by the Township Council and settling into retirement, it now appears as if the big bad Wolf is gone but not forgotten. Apparently, the Brick Township Board of Education offended its residents by not hiring a "Brick man" to succeed Wolf. Instead they hired a man named Patrick Dowling - who most recently was the head coach at Allentown (N.J.) high school.

True confession time. I would not know Warren Wolf or Patrick Dowling if either man was dropped from a plane and landed on top of me. Whether Dowling is the best man for the job in Brick Township I know not either. And I suspect that months away from coaching his first game, neither Coach Dowling nor the Board of Eduction that hired him knows that answer either. But one wonders why the high school football community in Brick Township appears wholly unwilling to give him a chance.

And candidly, more disturbing than the reaction that the rank-and-file folks in Brick Township have publicly expressed to Dowling's hiring, which has been pretty damn disturbing in its own right, is Wolf's reaction. If there is one person in Brick Township who apparently has the influence to keep the little wolves at bay until Dowling actually has a chance to coach a game, it is Wolf. Unfortunately, it is a role Wolf has no interest in playing. Worse yet is the fact that the old ball coach does not adhere to the axiom "if you have nothing nice to say about someone, say nothing at all." To the contrary, the retired octogenarian has gone out of his way to thrust himself into the middle of the conversation.

According to the Star-Ledger, Wolf has become something of a point man for the growing groundswell of opposition to Pat Dowling: Three local meetings in the past three weeks were overrun with protesters who have never met Dowling but spent hours explaining in public forums why he shouldn't get the job. Wolf spoke at all of them, saying he would come back for a 52nd year if one of his former coaches was not picked to replace him. His words were met with raucous applause.

Wolf, apparently, for all of the invaluable life lessons he disseminated to his players over five decades of coaching and teaching, never imparted anything to them from Profiles in Courage. Rather than stand up and tell the other folks in town to pipe down long enough to give his replacement a chance, Wolf (who retired at the end of last season - presumably of his own free will) has not only openly campaigned for his old job, he has refused to support the hiring of Dowling as his replacement. Wolf met with Dowling nearly a month ago and let him know he wouldn't have his blessing. "I told him, 'You're walking into a hornets' nest because the people don't want you,'" Wolf said. "I told him, 'I can't support you.'

Sorry Coach - no sale. The word you are searching for is "won't", not "can't". You most certainly could support your replacement but to do so in the face of public outrage over the hiring would require courage. Courage appears to be in short supply in Brick Township these days - along with common sense and responsible adult behavior. Among the other highlights from the Ledger's piece was this: Jon Sendzik, who was on Wolf's second team in 1959, had already made up his mind. "They shouldn't play," he said. "They shouldn't walk on the field. In my day, they wouldn't go out there. Well, in my day, this wouldn't have happened. They would have lynched him or run him out of town by now." Incredible. Here's to hoping that Mr. Sendzik represents the nadir of the collective intellect in Brick Township and not its apex.

And here's to hoping that at some point in the not-too-distant future, the big, bad Wolf acts more like the man who spent a lifetime putting others first - he served as mayor from 1971 through 1975, two terms on the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, one term as a state assemblyman and three terms on the Township Council - and less like the bitter pot-stirrer he has been for the past few months. Perhaps if he did nothing more than pay attention to what he, himself, has said, the problem would solve itself. When he announced his retirement on December 1, 2008, he said, "It's been a marvelous 51 years. I saw so many of my friends today, and in friendship you have treasure," Wolf said. "So many of my boys are still in contact with me. I think it's time they had new leadership. I'm going to step back now and do things I want to do when I want to do them."

Suddenly, December 1, 2008 seems as if it was a very, very long time ago. And unfortunately for Pat Dowling, opening day 2009 seems equally far away.

-AK

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