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Spring Valley High School

Although he didn’t grow up or attend school in Rockland, Willie Worsley has made a lasting impression in the county with his coaching and youth mentoring activities, and brought fame to Spring Valley and the greater Rockland community through his ground-breaking exploits on the basketball court achieved prior to his move to the county some 45 years ago.

Willie’s affiliation with Spring Valley High School goes back more than three decades, to 1984. While he’s had success as a coach in various sports, including girls basketball and track, boys soccer, junior varsity boys basketball and as assistant in boys track, he is most associated with the Tigers varsity boys basket- ball team. Since taking over as head coach in 2000, Willie has led Spring Valley to 13 league titles, twice earned Rockland Coach of the Year honors, and com- piled an overall mark of 183-70 for a commendable 73% winning percentage.

Undoubtedly the highlight of Willie’s coaching tenure thus far was the 2014-2015 season, when he piloted the Tigers to a brilliant 25-2 season culminating in a berth in the New York State Final Four, large-school division. Rickey McGill, now at Div. I Iona, and Kai Mitchell were the stars of that edition of Tigers basketball, the most heralded since the 1981-82
state championship club of Coach Lou Kliewe. Willie was also on the bench as an assistant coach when Spring Valley defeated Mount Vernon for the Section 1 championship in 1996.

As impressive as his portfolio reads as a coach in Rockland, you could write a book about Willie’s life pre-Rockland. In fact, a book has been written, an autobiography called Our Reward Will Be in History co-authored in 2015 with Spring Valley HS English teacher Terry Mulgrew. “Terry and I talked about that book for a year before we did it,” Willie says. “I wanted to leave something for my grandkids, so they could have it all right there and look it up.”

The reference to history? It’s no exaggeration – Willie was a central figure in an epic contest in college basketball annals. As a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, Willie helped lead Texas Western to a 72-65 victory over favored and No. 1 ranked Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA Division I championship game. Why was it historic? It was the first time a team started five African-American players in an NCAA championship game. The starting unit was Willie Worsley, Bobby Joe Hill, David Hattin, Orsten Artis and Harry Flournoy. They played against an all-white Kentucky starting five coached by Adolph Rupp and featuring future pro stars Pat Riley and Louie Dampier. By virtue of their watershed triumph, Texas Western and its coach, Don Haskins, were credited with setting in motion the desegregation of college basketball teams in the South.

The team’s saga was depicted in a 2006 Disney movie called Glory Road and an eponymous book co-authored by Coach Haskins. Willie gained further distinction when a postgame photo of him cutting the hoop net ended up on the commemorative cover of Wheaties boxes. Willie and his teammates received the ultimate tribute in 2007 when they were inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, the first team to be so honored.

The NCAA championship was a seminal moment in Willie Worsley’s life, but other equally important chapters illuminate his story. A South Bronx native, he established himself as a New York City basketball legend at DeWitt Clinton High School, gaining All- America honors his senior year. His teams lost only one game combined in his junior and senior years and won the NYC public schools title in 1962-63, his junior year. Willie earned MVP honors in the championship game, played at the old Madison Square Garden.

A 1964 DeWitt Clinton graduate, Willie sifted through some 50 athletic scholarship offers before deciding to further his education at Texas Western College in El Paso, Texas. As a senior, two years after the cham- pionship season, he got a chance to play with his longtime friend from the South Bronx, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, one year his junior. They formed the starting backcourt during the 1968
season, just a few years removed from their days together on the DeWitt Clinton basketball team. Archibald later starred for several NBA teams, most notably the Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City Kings and the Boston Celtics. Besides Kentucky’s Riley and Dampier, Willie also got to play against future New York Knicks great Walt Frazier when his Southern Illinois team came to El Paso to play in UTEP’s Sun Bowl Carnival tournament at Christmastime.

After graduating from the University of Texas at El Paso (formerly Texas Western) in 1968 with a degree in health and physical education, Willie played one season, 1968-69, for the New York Nets of the professional American Basketball Association – for those who remember, that was the league with the flashy red, white and blue basketball and pre-NBA three-point shot.

Willie then embarked on a career helping young people. He was director of recreation at Woodycrest Youth Services in the Bronx, a group home for emo- tionally troubled children. In 1973 Willie came to Rockland, serving as residence director for Greer-Woodycrest Children’s Services in Pomona, and then at the Lake- side School in Spring Valley. He later became deputy executive director at Lakeside’s successor, Edwin Gould Academy, and then spent more than a decade as dean of students for the Boys Choir of Harlem.

Many of Willie’s former players at Spring Valley went on to thrive at the collegiate level, including three currently at Div. I colleges (Iona, Rutgers and Ole Miss). Besides his coaching tenure at the high school, Willie also coached the Spring Valley-based St. Joseph’s School boys and girls basketball teams to numerous state CYO championships over a 25-year period. Willie has been inducted into several halls of fame, in addition to the team honor in the national basketball hall: Spring Valley and DeWitt Clinton high schools, Texas Western/Texas El Paso, NYC Basketball, NYC Sports, Boys & Girls Club of NYC, Texas Black Athletes, and State of Texas (team induction). And now, the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame.

Willie was also recently recognized with a Distinguished Service Award by the Rockland County Legislature during its celebration of Black History Month in February. Willie lives in Pomona with his daughter, Rosalyn, a former basketball star at Albertus Magnus, and her 16-year-old twin daughters, Kayla and Mahogany. Rosalyn also has a 20-year-old daughter, Brianna.

“I’ve been fortunate to have been elected to different halls of fame,” Willie says. “But this one is very personal to me. I’ve been in this [Spring Valley] community a long time. With the other organizations, most people know of you. But in this community, many people know me as a person. That’s important to me.”