EAST ORANGE, NJ – On a balmy, Saturday afternoon, March 18, in East Orange, a bunch of former players of the East Orange-based Promoting Progress for Youth, Inc. decided to get together and have a lunch. But it wasn’t just any lunch. Spearheaded by Ron Harris, Clarence Turner, and Clyde Davis, they brought almost all of their former teammates from the original PPY Panthers Basketball and East Orange Panthers Football squads together to celebrate one of their last architects and brain trust, and one of the “Three Amigos” in legendary coach Bill Oliver.
Oliver came to coaching, as he puts it, when he met the late Lewis N. Miles II in 1965 as a young police officer with the East Orange police force. Mr. Miles was with the Port Authority Police at the time. Both were looking to give back to the community and felt they would be successful with it. They were both a part of the East Orange Tigers, which was the first Pop Warner Football program in the city, headed by the late George Crowley.
“By 1966, it was evident that we wanted to start our own program after our experience down at the Oval,” stated Oliver. He went on to explain that they had little guys and were asked to scrimmage the middle team in which the little team beat the older squad. Both Miles and Oliver were offered to coach the middle team in lieu of the little team of the Tigers back then.
“We started the Panthers that very next year up the hill at Elmwood Park,” said Oliver. “There were not many kids that would make the trek up the hill to Elmwood Park to play for us.” It was also unheard of to take a group of young boys to the Small Fry Basketball Tournament in Chicago or the Little Lads Tournament in Puerto Rico for basketball, or play against squads that were mostly over the age and size requirements but were able to win the games any way in football. “We won a lot of games together and lost very few,” said a former player who was one of several in attendance.
It was always the idea to show the youth a different style of play and expose them to the levels of sports, culture, education, and sportsmanship that would last for generations to come. Also in attendance was Oliver’s family, which included two of his grandsons. “We have heard all the stories about my grandfather, and to know what he’s done and finally see it, I would like to thank you,” said William Oliver, who is named after his grandfather.
Bill Oliver is now retired and can be seen at most high school games for football and basketball in the general Greater Newark and suburban Essex County areas. He still jokes with all his former players who look at him as a second father and who would help them when they needed it. “Mr. Oliver, on behalf of everyone here, including my brothers, Luqman Miles and Lewis N. Miles III, I want to thank you for giving us that spark in which we continue to do so today over 50 years later,” said Tyrone Miles, who is the current President and Head Coach of Promoting Progress for Youth, Inc. “We continue to carry your legacy that you, my father, and James Pitchford Sr. started. We traveled well in two station wagons for trips to Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Chicago, along with the start of the very first Youth Games that took place in Baltimore. You helped shape and mold many young men and women’s lives over the years, and for that, we like to say thank you.”
For more information on Promoting Progress for Youth, Inc. follow at www.facebook.com/ppypanthers.
Photo #1: PPY co-founder, the late Lewis N. Miles II (center), poses with a couple of his players after the their second-place finish in the Little Lads International Basketball Tournament in Puerto Rico, circa 1971. Photo credit and published with permission by Bill Oliver.
Photo #2: Bill Oliver (center) jokes with former players, including Promoting Progress for Youth, Inc.’s current President Tyrone Miles (left) who is one of three sons of the late co-founder Lewis N. Miles II and former player.
Photo #3: Clarence Turner (left) and Clyde Davis (right) presents Bill Oliver with a plaque for his leadership and service to the community and the City of East Orange.
Photo #4: Bill Oliver accepting and thanking everyone for doing this in his honor. He proceeded to tell the history on how Promoting Progress for Youth, Inc. came about. He also stated “I am happy to see the continued legacy that we started is living on through the next generations to come.”
Photo #5: A piece of PPY history is shown when Bill Oliver pulls out pictures of the 1971 PPY Panthers Basketball team in Puerto Rico after placing second in the former Little Lads International Basketball Tournament. Photo credit and published with permission by Bill Oliver.
Photo #6: Coach Oliver (center in tan jacket and hat) and the PPY They Panthers as they are checking into a hotel in Chicago for the Small Fry Basketball Championships in 1971. Photo credit and published with permission by Bill Oliver.
Photo #7: Circa 1971, PPY Panthers enjoying some down time during their trip to Puerto Rico for the Little Lads International Basketball Tournament. Photo credit and published with permission by Bill Oliver.
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected to read that George Crawley started the Tigers, not John Crawley, as had originally been stated.