Not only can the ubiquitous Willie Dixon always be recognized by the hats he always wears, but by the company he keeps. That company — local youth sports teams — have seen Dixon in a variety of roles on various fields of play…all of them inspirational. So, let us count the ways Dixon has impacted the local youth sports scene:
1993 — Took over the Hudson Valley Youth Football Program from Ralph Scandariato.
1993-94 — Assistant varsity basketball coach (for Bill Defino).
1993 — Coached the New Paltz drum line.
1993-96 — Coached New Paltz modified track.
1995 — Affiliated program with Pop Warner Youth Football (with Mark Valentino, Bill Judge, Ron Suits and Chris Savosh), coached until 2003.
1995-96 — Girls’ JV volleyball coach.
2003-07 — Coached the Poughkeepsie Pop Warner Mighty Mites (7-9 years old).
2008 to present — Returned to and still coaching New Paltz Pop Warner football.
Not bad for a former investment banker at CitiBank (for eight years, “retired” in an earlier recession) and former semi-pro offensive lineman for the New York Tomahawks (a Cleveland Browns farm team in 1987) and the Hudson Valley Vikings in 1991 (out of Kingston), and before that an offensive and defensive tackle at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, then a year at Texas Tech, then the Young Pros (a semi-pro team out of the Bronx — playing in the shadow of the old Yankee Stadium), and beginning his youth coaching career with the Martin Luther King Gamblers, a midget football team out of the Bronx in 1988.
Oh, and after Dixon moved here permanently in 1992 and as he was establishing his sports credentials, he worked for a year as a school monitor, then, in a thankless role, was the school tax collector for three years. “It was the years of the 38% tax increase,” laughs Dixon, “I wasn’t the most popular guy in town those years.” For the past 13 years Dixon has worked as — what else? — a counselor at the Division for Youth in Highland.
“I love working with kids,” says Dixon, but has no starry-eyed outlook about it. “I tell them the three D’s: discipline, determination and devotion.” And he explains each: “Discipline is being able to listen carefully and follow rules. Determination is that no matter your size or ability, you have a big heart and want to play. And devotion is the love of the game and to finish your commitment to it.” And Dixon, a devout man who belongs to the Master’s Touch, a non-denominational congregation on 32 North in New Paltz, gives the kids a sportsmanship prayer that he has recited since he was seven years old. It was given to his coach for his midget football team by a “homeless guy who lived near Yankee Stadium. He was the only Caucasian guy in the area, around 50-or-so, and he would help out with the coaching, saying he wanted to give something back to the kids.” The short prayer ends with, “if we should win, let it be by our standards and with heads held high; and if we should lose, let us stand and cheer as the winner’s go by…amen.”
As you can surmise from his resumé, Dixon has coached a lot of New Paltz varsity football players — past and present — and his 2004-05 New Paltz Mighty Mites (7-9 years old) went undefeated, as did his 2009 team, which then beat top-ranked Poughkeepsie in a bowl game in White Plains. The five years he coached in Poughkeepsie he had a 41-4 record and 90% of this past year’s Poughkeepsie High School Section 1 championship team was coached by Dixon “as little kids. It’s great to be connected that way.”
His connection to New Paltz football goes from this past year’s crop of top players like Kaason and Daryl Clark, Khariff Laboy, Nick Dimarco, Dixon’s son Deron, all the way back to Anton Armstead, Kyle Smith, Ellis Coleman, Matt Savago, Travis Odell, Travis Garcia, Mike Ferraro, James Mach, Chris Savosh, Joe Judge, Matt Suits, Kevin Murphy and many, many others.
“The program is still doing very well,” says Dixon, mentioning New Paltz Pop Warner president Rich Carageane and the board of Al Bonagura, Sue Bonagura, Jerry Barbato and Louis Rosado. “And I can always change my mind, I really love the sport, but Deron (now a junior and on varsity) and Devin (an eighth-grader on the modified team) both play, so I’d like to watch them do that with my wife (Janice). After all these years it would be fun to just watch them play the game I love so much.”
So it is the “dedicated fan” hat that Willie Dixon will wear from now on, and if his cheering-on of his favorite high school football team is anything like his cheering for his favorite high school boys lacrosse team (Deron Dixon is a hard-hitting defender), then all will be well in New Paltz sports-land.