IRVINGTON, NJ — For the first time ever, Irvington High School’s football team, guided by coach Ashley Pierre, better known as Coach Smoke, are state champions. To recognize the achievement, the township had a parade on Saturday, Jan. 8.
“We were the Group 4 North Jersey state champions. Coupled with that, we also won the regional championship,” Irvington Superintendent April Vauss said on Tuesday, Jan. 11. “It’s sort of like a bowl game, if you follow college football. We won our state meet, our division, and then we went to play another division, and we beat them as well. Back in November, we won our state match and we won the regional in December.
“There was a coach from Ramapo High School who passed away unexpectedly, so our meet was pushed back a week, because it normally happens Thanksgiving weekend. But everything was pushed back, because we would normally have our regional game at MetLife Stadium, but we were unable to, so we had our final match at Rutgers University.”
The superintendent said it was the first time in the school’s history this had ever happened. She said the team seems to win something every year, but to win a state championship after all these years is something else entirely.
“Many of the alumni have come out and said, ‘Hey, we had a great team, but we’ve never done this.’ It’s pretty special,” said Vauss. “We’ve heard from so many alumni who are so proud of this accomplishment. For example, Bill Foley from the Class of 1949 got heaters for the players when they stand along the sidelines, so that they’re warm. Of course, they’re so many people in our leadership within town that are quite supportive who are strong alumni, such as the mayor, Councilwoman October Hudley, Councilwoman Jamillah Beasley. They were all instrumental in making sure that the parade took place on Saturday.
“I’m just so incredibly excited and proud,” she continued. “It has brought a sense of pride to our community. The scholars have done things that we know that they can do, but it has now manifested into something tangible like this championship.”
Pierre was named NJ.com Football Coach of the Year 2021, which is also a first in Irvington history. To honor this, IHS Athletic Director John Taylor and staff came together and awarded Pierre with a championship belt at the team’s banquet on Friday, Jan. 7. The belt was also donated by Foley, who is Taylor’s father-in-law.
“I think we made history. I think we did something that’s going to be talked about for a long time,” Pierre said on Tuesday, Jan. 11. “It’s one for the record books. We’ve accomplished something as a program that has affected this entire community. This state championship that we won this year was amazing, to say the least, and I think it impacted so many community members and alumni that are forever tied to Irvington. This is historic.”
Pierre said the team worked tirelessly to get to this point, spending nearly five hours together every day at IHS, which is not common for high school football or any other program. The amount of work, studying and mental preparation they put in day in and day out makes the reward feel so much better, he said, adding that they are building young men to become leaders of tomorrow.
“The award for the Coach of the Year only goes to one person, so to achieve something like that, it feels good,” said Pierre. “We changed the landscape of what the township of Irvington looks like and the stigma here. … To have a team that’s ranked in the top 10 in the state of NJ, I feel like I have the best public school football team and, to be awarded the best coach in NJ, it feels good. That was the frosting on the cake, so to speak. It lets me know we’re doing the right things at IHS. It’s bigger than football.”