By Alan Goldenbach
Thursday, December 17, 2009; D02
Blog excerpt from voices.washingtonpost.com/prepspost-dc
Willie Stewart, one of the Washington area's iconic coaching figures, has been fired after 29 seasons of leading Anacostia's football program.
According to a letter sent by first-year Anacostia Principal R. Malik Bazzell to Stewart that was obtained by The Washington Post, the coach's failure to implement a "mandatory study hall" for his team and "no noticeable change in [Stewart's] players' behavior or attitude toward school" were the causes for his dismissal.
Stewart, who has coached at Eastern and Anacostia for the past 41 years, said he plans to file a grievance with the Washington Teachers' Union, citing that establishing a mandatory study hall is not among the responsibilities outlined in the D.C. Public Schools' Coaches Handbook.
"I was shocked," said Stewart, who, over the past two years had talked about retirement coming closer. "After all that I've done for the kids in my time here, and this is what he does to me? I'm not going to let a first-year principal come in and tell me when I'm going to stop coaching.
"It's not over yet. Not even close."
In an e-mail, Bazzell declined to comment.
Stewart coached Eastern (1976-80) and Anacostia (1981-2009) to a combined seven Interhigh/D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championships and a record 13 appearances in the Turkey Bowl. Nearly two dozen of his former players have gone on to professional careers, either in the NFL or CFL. In addition, eight former assistants later became head coaches at DCPS middle and high schools.
DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor called Stewart "a great man, a great coach, a great community leader," and recalled a clinic McGregor held last summer where the keynote speaker was University of Pittsburgh Coach Dave Wannstedt.
"All of a sudden, out of the blue, Dave said, 'Is Willie coming today?' " McGregor said. "That's the respect Willie has, not just from high school coaches, but from college and the NFL, too."
But Stewart's legacy extends off the field.
"You have a person who, for more than 40 years, has dealt with the most difficult things you could imagine in a school," said Cato June, who was the 1997 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year at Anacostia and is in his seventh NFL season. "He's one of the bright spots of Anacostia. There would be no other reason my mother would have sent me to Anacostia if it wasn't for Willie Stewart. None."
In 1993, Stewart led Anacostia to a 10-3 mark and a runner-up finish in the DCIAA, despite having four of his players shot in separate incidents during the season.
The following year, Stewart was given the Giant Step Award, presented annually by Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, the NCAA and the National Consortium for Academics and Sports to "individuals and/or organizations who exemplify the ideals and provide the support necessary for student-athletes to achieve academic and athletic success."
"You can't save everybody, but, believe me, I still try," Stewart said at the time.