The Middletown High School Alumni Association would like to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Coach Jim Williams for his many years of service to Middletown High School. The dedication of the newly named James M. Williams Gymnasium is a fitting tribute to a wonderful man and his legacy. #islanderpride personified!
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(The following article was written by Scott Barrett in the Newport Daily News December 13, 2016 edition.)
MIDDLETOWN — The current players on the Middletown High School boys basketball team likely have never heard the name Jim Williams, but on Friday night, they’ll get a pretty good history lesson about the man who built the program.
Williams, who coached the boys basketball team for two decades from its inception in 1961, will be recognized during a ceremony before the game against Portsmouth. Going forward, generations of basketball players at Middletown will compete in the James M. Williams Gymnasium.
“Last year, I heard John Dias — who was on Jim’s very first team — on the radio, and he said there was really no reason why this gym shouldn’t be named after him. And he was right. His bio really spoke for itself,” said Paul Murphy, who also played for Williams and now serves as president of the Middletown High School Athletic Boosters Club.
The junior varsity game on Friday has been moved, and the ceremony will begin around 6 p.m., before the Islanders and Patriots tip off at 7. Williams, now 86, and a large contingent of family and friends will be on hand, and former players are invited to attend the event.
Middletown Athletic Director Karen Massaro will serve as the master of ceremonies, and Principal Gail Abromitis and Dias will be among those to speak. School Committee member Doug Arnold will present a proclamation, Murphy said, and members of the Middletown choir will sing the school’s fight song. Current members of the boys and girls basketball teams will line the court.
“For someone to name a building after you, or part of a building after you, that’s something,” Williams said during a phone interview on Monday. “I’m humbled by this award and this tribute, and my family is, too.”
Inducted into the inaugural class of the Middletown High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011, Williams finished his career with 292 wins, won more than 65 percent of his games, seven division titles and three championships. The Islanders defeated Lincoln 56-41 to win the 1981 Class B title. It was the final game Williams coached.
All the success would not have been possible without the help of Williams’ wife, Catherine, who died in November 2015. The couple had four children, James Jr., Danny, Scott and Susan. Catherine was a staunch supporter of her husband and the program. Williams said that during basketball season, there were times when he didn’t return home until close to midnight, leaving Catherine to feed the the kids and put them to bed.
“She was the matriarch, the organizer, having everything ready for the away games and playoffs,” said James Williams Jr. “She made it easier for him, enabling him to focus on practices and games, as well as his job as the AD.”
In addition to his role as basketball coach, Williams was the athletic director at the school, and even took on baseball coaching for one season in the mid-1980s. The Islanders won the division title that year.
“He’s a great guy, and I never heard anyone really get ripped at him,” said Bill Seiple, a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame committee. “When you’re coaching, people can get upset at you, but I never heard any of that with Jim Williams. Nor did I hear it the other way. He knew what he was doing.”
The younger Williams was around the basketball program from a very young age, and later served as team manager and statistician. A student at De La Salle Academy in Newport, the elder Williams gravitated toward baseball, playing with famed Rogers High School coaches John Toppa and Duke Abbruzzi, but eventually gained a passion for basketball.
“He loved to develop the kids, and the attitude that came with it,” Williams Jr. said.
Allen Corcoran, a member of the 1981 championship team, said Williams was a “very cool, very calculated and very calm” coach, but he could get your attention when he need to. Still, he had a great affection for his players and the feeling was mutual. When Williams was having health issues a few years back, and when Catherine passed away, he received a great number of phone calls, letters and messages from former players.
“That was so important to me,” Williams said.
In Williams’ final two seasons as coach, the Islanders didn’t suffer a home defeat. Now, that gymnasium, the house that Jim Williams built, will bear his name.
“I really couldn’t think of a guy who deserves this more than him,” Corcoran said. “He was so influential in the lives of so many players. I’ve seen it with other coaches, but not to the degree I’ve seen it with him. Kids wanted to play for Jim Williams.”
~Scott Barrett (Newport Daily News)