They Came To Honor Him

Roosevelt Community Dedicates Stadium to James Y. Tillerson

By Jervon McClain and Lawanne Johnson
Staff Writers

tillerson dedication on field.jpg
James Tillerson and wife Gertie Tillerson were honored before the Roosevelt-Coolidge Clash of the Titans football game. Roosevelt's stadium was renamed the James Y. Tillerson Stadium

They came to relive a time when life was good and uncomplicated. They came to recapture a spirit that, like an embryo, has grown over the past 10, 20, 30, 40 years. They came to see old friends and old rivals of a time not long ago. Bodies, once chiseled in stone or proudly flashing an hour-glass figure, now shows the wear and tear of age and children, splattered with a touch of gray and a wrinkle here or there. They came because they had to. They came to honor him. They came for former head football coach and mentor James Y. Tillerson.

On Friday night (October 10, 2008) the Roosevelt administration, faculty, student body, alumni and community honored former coach Tillerson by dedicating and renaming the Roosevelt's football stadium the James Y. Tillerson stadium. It was a very emotional ceremony, which preceded the Roosevelt-Coolidge Clash of the Titans football game. As coach Tillerson, who once was a giant of a man in stature, importance and size, was carried out to the center of the football field in a wheel chair, his body slumped over and crippled by Parkinson's disease, tears filled the eyes of family members, close friends, former players and past students. He was being honored for his courageous, dedication, and never-ending desire to help children and getting them to make the right choices.

Coach Tillerson has come a long way since his journey through Roosevelt, from experiencing different faces, attitudes, and emotional scenarios each and every year for many years. He coached Roosevelt for 24 years and won seven west division championships, three Interhigh (now known as the DCIAA) championships, and one city championship (he won the last actual city championship ever played in DC - beating St. John's 41-7). More importantly, he touched so many lives in a positive way. To many, this ceremony was more than just an award presentation for "some coach", but an award presentation to a mentor, a father figure, a man who demanded respect and demanded that children have respect for themselves and to respect their fellow man.

"He's a living legend," stated Andre Oates, a member of Roosevelt's class of 1987. "He helped so many people out. He sacrificed his time and his family's time so he could help us so attending this ceremony was the least I could do." "He was like a surrogate father to me, but also to other young men in this school and in this community," stated a reflective Derrick Posey, Roosevelt class of 1975. "He took us under his wing, he kept us out of trouble, he gave us an outlet, and he kept us on the right path. If it wasn't for him, I probably would not be here today." "He was my mentor," stated an elated Jay Adams, Roosevelt class of 1979. "He did a lot for me. Through his teachings I was able to grow as a person and his strong regiment and discipline helped me through college and my USFL experience. I teach the same principles he taught me to my son and the team I now coach." "Coach Tillerson was a mentor to the guys and kept us women in check," exclaimed Lydia Desborces, Roosevelt class of 1973. "He let us know that we were young ladies and they were young men and we should respect each other. "I haven't been back here in 25 years," Gwendolyn Vinson, class of 1983, stated. "I came out tonight because they were dedicating the stadium to him. I had to be here."

The setting was a football game in a brand new stadium featuring arch rivals. The air was filled with the smell of hot dogs and chicken, and the sounds of hip hop and rhythm and blues blaring over the public address system. The atmosphere was festive and the football was fierce. Coach Tillerson wouldn't have it any other way.

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By Maurice Butler |  October 18, 2008; 12:42 PM ET
Previous: More Than Just a Football Game |


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Coach James Tillerson, The Greatest Motivator of my Lifetime!!!!

Posted by: chris pompey | October 20, 2008 7:07 PM

What a wonderful tribute to Coach Tillerson, a school hero and great man! Although I never met him, I have heard so much about him and the impact he had on students at Roosevelt.

Posted by: Athelia Knight | October 21, 2008 7:32 PM

I played for this great man from 1982 to 1983. This man motivated me and kept me focused. His words got me through tough times in the Marine Corps during Desert Storm. I will never forget him! Thank you COACH for everything!! Torrence Brewer class of 1983. "Jersey Number 84"

Posted by: tbrewernaz | October 30, 2008 2:40 PM

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