ORANGE, NJ — In his seven years as the Orange High School athletic director, Mo Abdelaziz has recognized the long, rich history of sports in the school.
To Abdelaziz, people in Orange, especially children, should learn about that history and feel the pride of being an Orange Tornado.
So he came up with a unique idea. He gathered three influential individuals who have made an impact on Orange athletics for decades: Harvey Grimsley, Al Thompson and Randy Daniel.
On Feb. 20, Thompson, Daniel and Abdelaziz came to Green Hill, an assisted living facility in West Orange where Grimsley resides. Grimsley turns 98 in March.
“This moment really brings a century of high school athletics to Orange High School for the community and the families, along with the alumni, really to life,” Abdelaziz said. “These gentlemen have done extremely great things for Orange High School. Their athletic careers are prominent; their coaching careers are prominent. They’ve gone on and really shaped what we have known as the Orange pride tradition.
“These gentlemen have gone through some extreme times in this country, from Dr. Martin Luther King and what the civil rights movement looked like and being these individuals who stood up for what was right throughout their lives, and to be able to bring that together on Feb. 20, 2020, to me is everything that I could possibly do to show the world how wonderful these men are and what they have done for so many children.”
Grimsley recalls his days in the 1940s
Grimsley is the nephew of the late, great Orange legend Monte Irvin. At OHS, Irvin was an All-State athlete in four sports: football, basketball, baseball and track and field. In baseball, he batted .500 for his career, including .650 with eight homers in his junior year.
A 1937 OHS graduate, Irvin became a Negro League All-Star for the Newark Eagles and later was one of the first African-American players to make it to the majors. He played in the outfield with Willie Mays, another African-American legend and Hall-of-Famer, on the 1951 New York Giants team that won the National League pennant. Irvin was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. Irvin died on Jan. 11, 2016 at the age of 96.
Grimsley, who played football and basketball at OHS where he was graduated in June 1942, fondly remembers his uncle.
“Just a great guy. He had a dynamic personality. Everything he touched, became big. The Irvin-Grimsley family left a helluva history there.”
When Grimsley played at Orange, it was all business.
“Let’s kick ass,” he said, referring to his competitive mentality. “Anybody who came to Orange High School was going to get their butts kicked; that’s what we always felt.”
Grimsley later played at football at Rutgers University from 1946-50 as a halfback and is a member of the Rutgers Hall of Fame.
He also was the first African-American man to be on a football coaching staff at a high school in the city of Newark. He helped guide South Side High School, now Shabazz, to a city championship. Grimsley went on to join the coaching staff at Piscataway High School.
Grimsley still has Orange pride, encouraging kids to “go to Orange High School and make sure you play football.”
Thompson played for and coached solid OHS basketball teams
As a youngster, Thompson attended the Orange school system, citing his mentors like Jesse Miles, Cary Wills Jr. and Walter Pressley, who introduced him to sports. When he was in eighth grade, Thompson was a member of the YMCA on Oakwood Avenue and became an accomplished swimmer. One day, the director talked to him and his mother about attending several high schools outside of Orange, that had strong swimming programs.
But there was no way Thompson was leaving Orange.
“I looked at my mother, and I said, ‘I’d rather go to Orange High,’ because I was groomed by my mentors and friends, to go to Orange High School. That was important to me. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”
At OHS, Thompson played four years of basketball and football. As a senior in 1968, he was a member of the basketball team that finished with a 27-0 record and No. 1 in the state. It remains the only undefeated team in OHS history. Thompson also went to school with Irvin’s daughter, Patty, a cheerleader who was two years ahead of him.
Thompson attended Montclair State where he played football, leading the team to a national championship and three straight league titles. The team also was the first division 2 team to win the Knute Rockne Bowl.
When he was a GED instructor, Thompson got the call to became the freshman football coach and later the freshman basketball coach at OHS. Thompson also taught social studies for 23-and-a-half years, as well as U.S. history, world history, criminal justice and legal and political education.
One day, basketball head coach Cliff Blake came up to Thompson and offerd to promote him to first assistant coach and JV coach.
“I was really happy and proud of that,” said Thompson, noting that his freshman players later won state championships on the varsity level twice.
After being an assistant for eight years, Thompson became the head coach in 1984.
Thompson enjoyed a stellar basketball coaching career. He guided the 1987-88 team to a 27-1 season and a state championship. The best season came in 1993-94 as the Tornadoes won the state Tournament of Champions title to cap a 25-3 campaign. Only a few public school teams have ever won the T of C. In all, Thompson guided the Tornadoes to 17 titles, including two group titles, five state sectional titles and four conference titles.
Daniel has coached great football players as he enters his 25th season at the helm
Daniel grew up in Louisiana. After going to college in Louisiana, most people in that state moved on to different states because of the poor economy, he said. Daniel decided to go to Orange where he had family. He never left Orange.
Since 1996, Daniel has been the head football coach of the Tornadoes. Under his guidance, the team has enjoyed several winning seasons and produced players who have gone on to major colleges. In fact, a few have made it to the NFL, most notably Jason Alford, a defensive tackle and Penn State product who was a rookie on the New York Giants team that won Super Bowl XLII. Alford sacked New England quarterback Tom Brady in the final minute of the Super Bowl as the Giants won, 17-14, spoiling the Patriots’ bid for an undefeated season.
Daniel also mentioned former OHS players whom he coached, such as Jamar Summers, a cornerback who is currently playing for the New York Guardians in the XFL this winter, and Willington Previlon, a defensive lineman who was named the team Most Valuable Player at Rutgers as a senior this past fall.
When he first came to Orange, Daniel said Thompson welcomed him with open arms. “Al Thompson was good to me when I first came to Orange,” Daniel said.
Though the Tornadoes haven’t won a state title, they have came close. OHS finished runner-up in 2001 and 2009. The 2001 team featured Alford and Cory Boyd, a running back who went to the University of South Carolina and later was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Boyd also played in the Canadien Football League.
“We have had a lot of players who have played in the NFL,” Daniel said. “Three years, we were voted as the No. 1 public school in Essex County who have had more players go on to Division 1 colleges. That’s my biggest goal: seeing kids go off to college.”
Daniel encourages young kids to “work hard; put your head down.”
Today, things are different in terms of where kids want to play. The best players are now opting to play for non-public powerhouses, instead of their hometown schools. But Daniel still will focus on helping to develop his players. Daniel pointed out that Previlon was a skinny, 6-foot kid, but grew 6 inches, worked hard and developed into a bona fide player.
Daniel also credits Abdelaziz for establishing structure and organization in the OHS athletic department. In fact, there are less problems with students being academically eligible, Daniel noted.
As he embarks on his 25th season this fall, Daniel still loves coaching the Tornadoes.
“I love it. I really do. I have a lot of Orange pride. I coached a lot of great players in 25 years. The only regret is we didn’t win a state championship. I’m proud to be a coach at Orange. I’m still excited and still love working with the kids. We’re still chasing that championship. We want to be the first one to win it.”
Photos Courtesy of Mo Abdelaziz