By Robert Traverso
The football communities of Malverne and East Rockaway honored the legacies of former Malverne High School varsity football coaches Colbert Britt, Ron James and Dr. Ken Leistner at the Britt-James-Leistner Youth Clinic on July 26.
The event, which took place under the lights at the Colbert J. Britt Jr. Memorial Field, was conducted by coaches from Malverne and East Rockaway high schools, as well as current student-athletes.
The event, which was free of charge and open only to local residents, was held in conjunction with the Lakeview Youth Federation, a group that works to increase participation in organized sports among local youth. Participants at the clinic ranged between ages 10 to 18.The clinic’s 30-plus participants engaged in several exercises that included hurdle and cone drills for speed and agility; ladder drills for footwork and tackling, and blocking drills, among other activities. Towards the end of the clinic, guest speakers that either played under, or coached alongside Britt, James and Leistner spoke to the children.
Russ Pajer, East Rockaway’s varsity football coach, said that Britt, who died in 2015 at 76, prepared him as a young coach. He said that Britt taught him to always show class and treat opponents with respect. Pajer also was mentored by then-head coach Ron James, who preached a lot of the same values. James died in February at 65.
“We’re just trying to pass on what we were taught,” Pajer said.
“One of the biggest things was working as a team and two schools coming together to serve one community and help out the youth,” said Ramel Smith, a high school student that took part in the clinic.
Kito Lockwood, Malverne’s current varsity football coach, played under all three of the clinic’s honorees at during his playing career. Lockwood said they all stressed the importance of character, and that he is blessed to be in the same position to give back.
“Regardless of how good of a football player you were, they focused on what type of a person you were,” Lockwood said. “They’re the reason why I’m able to do this today.”
“People think that sports are always [about] competition and you’re not supposed to like the person you’re going against,” Pajer said. “Football is something special . . . we’re like a big family.”
During Leistner’s time as head coach at Malverne High, he adopted East Rockaway’s program, Pajer said, ultimately paving the way for the relationship shared by the two schools today.
The Malverne Mules and the East Rockaway Rocks frequently go head-to-head in what has been dubbed the “Battle of Ocean Avenue.” At midfield after the game, a trophy named after Leistner — who died in April at 71 — is awarded to the winning team by the losing coach.
“Win or lose, both teams [come] together,” Pajer said.
Although it is often seen as a rivalry, Pajer likened the Malverne-East Rockaway matchup to a “partnership” instead. “It’s about building young men to be our future,” he said. “You don’t win by having a winning record. You win by looking down the road 10 years later, and seeing that your kids are successful.”
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Herald Community Newspapers and on LIHerald.com. It appears here with permission.