Former legendary BHS coach remembered

F. James White

By Joe Ragozzino and Daniel Jackovino
Staff Writers
BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Former Bloomfield High School coach F. James White died March 9 at the age of 82. He lived in Charlotte Hall, Md.
A long time physical education instructor, White was a BHS graduate, class of 1954, and a member of the BHS Hall of Fame. He amassed more than 600 combined wins as the head coach of the BHS girls basketball and boys soccer teams.

His girls team won the Group 4 state championship in the 1988-89 season and played in the inaugural state Tournament of Champions finishing with a 28-4 record. As the basketball coach, White compiled a 341-112 record in 18 seasons, from 1981 to 1998. Under White, the Bengals also won three Essex County Tournament and three state sectional championships.

He coached boys soccer for 27 seasons, from 1964 to 1990, ending with a 324-139-57 record. In 1974, the boys won the first-ever Essex County Tournament. The other boys ECT soccer title came in 1980, which they shared with Columbia High School. BHS boys also finished runner-up in the ECT three times, in 1976, 1979 and 1983.

Dana Morton, a former basketball player for White and herself a BHS Hall of Famer, followed in his footsteps as a head coach for the Bengals girls basketball team. Morton, a 1988 graduate on the squad that finished 25-4, winning county and sectional titles her senior year, served as the Bengals head coach for five seasons, until 2018.

“He set a foundation for many generations to come,” said Morton in an email. “He was more than just my basketball coach, he was like a second father. He brought the best out in all the players he coached and demanded 110 percent from everyone. He demanded and we responded, and look how that turned out. He was one of a kind and the Bengal family lost a legend — ‘F.James,’ as we called him. It was an honor to play for him.”

George Middleton, a BHS athletic director during White’s tenure, said White’s name would be remembered along with two other great BHS coaches, George Cella and William Foley.
“He had a good coaching personality and worked very hard to make himself a good coach,” Middleton said in a telephone interview. “He played basketball for Cella and he brought all those expectations to girls basketball.”

Before White took over the girls basketball team, Middleton said it had lost 39 in a row at one point.
“He turned the whole thing around,” he said. “He knew how to tweak a player and make adjustments. He understood their personalities. He was the greatest coach that I was ever involved with.”

Another BHS coach, Paul Williams, who coached track, remembered White as a long-time friend. They were elementary school classmates.

“We were in the same homeroom,” Williams said in a telephone interview. “Both our names began with the same
letter.”

As BHS students, both were on the spring track team. Even then, White showed the characteristics of a future coach.
“On the high school team, he was always encouraging the younger kids,” Williams said. “You could see he enjoyed doing that.”

White attended Springfield College. Williams said this school was designed for students who were going to coach.
“My son, Drew, played soccer for Jim, Williams said. “He and his friends really looked up toMr. White for the way he coached. He treated them all equally, but fairly.”

White and Williams also served on the salary negotiating team for teachers’ contracts. White was chairman of the committee. Williams was a math teacher.

“Jim and I were friends for a long, long time,” Williams said. “He could be a buster, but it was never malicious.”
White moved down to Md. to be closer to a daughter. Over the last several years, both men stayed close over the phone.

“He got involved with youth soccer because of his grandchildren,” Williams said chuckling. “He told me it was difficult because you had to give the kids the same amount of playing time. But his philosophy was if you’re going to play, you should certainly want to win.”

White died suddenly. But about 10 years ago, Williams said he was diagnosed with stage four cancer.
“He fought it and survived it,” he said. “But his heart just gave out; the strain.”

But an appraisal of his friend goes beyond wins and losses, according to Williams.
“Several of his high school athletes became coaches,” he said. “I think that is one of the biggest influences he had — an appreciation and love of the sport. My own son became a soccer coach. That’s a little bit because of me, but a soccer coach because of Jim.”

Superintendent Sal Goncalves, said he knew of White’s accomplishments.
“I am proud of all Jim did and we were fortunate to have had his service,” he said.

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