ELIZABETH, NJ – Jets head coach Todd Bowles was welcomed home by his alma mater Elizabeth High School marching band, family, boyhood friends, and legions of neighbors who remembered growing up with him on Second and Pine streets.
The occasion was the dedication of the Waterfront Sports Complex in Bowles's honor. Born and raised in Elizabeth, Bowles graduated from Elizabeth High School in 1981. He went to Temple University
on a scholarship and played with the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers. In retirement, he coached six NFL teams and was named head coach of the New York Jets in 2015.
Speaking of where he grew up, Bowles said, "I miss Pioneer Homes, but the object is to keep moving forward. This is a far better place than when we were growing up."
Bowles was grateful to all those helped him along the way. "There are a ton of people who shaped me, especially the people in the first court," he said, getting cheers from former Pioneer Himes residents. "I can't tell you how much this means to me."
In the audience were members of his family, some of whom he had not seen in a long time. His aunt Sandra Grant, who taught in Elizabeth for 38 years, was there with her friend and fellow teacher, Carmen Rooney. The latter was Bowles's fourth grade teacher. "He was a great student," she remembered.
Also with him were two childhood friends Anthony Rose and Rodney Carter, both of whom played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Said Rose, "When Todd got his scholarship to Temple, I knew anything was possible."
"I walked in Todd's footsteps," said Carter. "What he has given to this community is not just things. He has given us hope. Growing up, we didn't have anything to touch on. Now young people have a history to touch on."
Two of those young people were P.J. Walker
and Jahad Thomas
, who are Elizabeth High School graduates and football players at Temple University
where they are both seniors.
With Board of Education Commissioner Stanley Neron acting master of ceremony, a number of community leaders were called to the podium. State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who grew up a few blocks away on Franklin Street, said, "My entire life I have been a Giants fans, but as of today I am a J-E-T-S, J-E-T-S, J-E-T-S, Jets fan!"
Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage observed, "This field never looked better, except when young people are playing football here."
He continued, "The Bowles family has continued to support Elizabeth High School. They have given back here to the City of Elizabeth."
And they continued with that tradition. Todd and his wife Taneka, along with their three sons, presented the Board of Education with a $25,000 check. Bowles also donated the 50th
Super Bowl Trophy to the BOE's athletic department.
Councilwoman-at-Large Patricia Perkins-Auguste presented a resolution from the city to Bowles renaming the fields in his honor. Also speaking at the podium were BOE Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer and Freeholder Sergio Granados, who also grew up in the port area.
One of the last speakers was First Ward Councilman Carlos Torres, who organized the event. "Never did I dream that I would be honoring someone I looked up to when playing football for Elizabeth High School," he said.
"Dreams do come true in the City of Elizabeth. Dreams do come true in downtown Elizabeth."