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Lifelong bonds through football

Malverne, East Rockaway high schools to honor former coaches


Malverne High School’s former varsity football coaches Colbert Britt, Ron James and Dr. Ken Leistner were known for establishing the program’s focus on developing well-rounded student-athletes. The football communities of Malverne and East Rockaway hope to honor their memory during the Britt-James-Leistner Youth Clinic at Malverne High on July 26 at 7 p.m.

The event, which is free of charge, will be held in conjunction with the Lakeview Youth Federation — a group that creates community sports organizations for local youth — and is for young people ages 10 to 18. The clinic will include practice drills and individual exercise instruction, and high school students will mentor the participants.

“It was definitely a no-brainer when we sat down and put this together,” said Kito Lockwood, the high school’s current varsity football coach and a program director. “It means the world to me, and I’m thankful to be given the opportunity to work with kids in the community. It’s truly an honor.”

Leistner’s wife, Kathy, said that the schools had held an annual football clinic in the past, but a lack of funds led to the cancellation of last year’s. After Leistner died in April, the family received numerous donations, and she wanted to use them for something meaningful.

“It made perfect sense to put it towards a football clinic,” said Leistner, who recently became an advisory board member of the Youth Federation. “I have big shoes to fill, but Dr. Ken made it easy for us to pick up where he left off. It meant so much to him, so I’m glad to be a part of this.”

While the two schools have been longtime rivals through their annual “Battle of Ocean Avenue,” Russ Pajer, East Rockaway’s varsity football head coach, said that they have put that aside for meaningful causes.

“I never really thought of it as a rivalry, but more of a partnership,” Pajer said. “We go at it for four quarters on the football field, but after each game, both teams get together to talk about how we’re all trying to turn kids into young men.”

Pajer also noted that the most of the coaching staff of Malverne and East Rockaway’s football teams are school alumni. “We’re here because of what our coaches taught us,” Pajer said. “Success isn’t about money. It’s about being good to people and giving back to society. The next coach of Malverne or East Rockaway could come from this clinic.”

While Pajer wants children to enjoy the clinic, he also hopes they learn about the impact that people such as Britt, James and Leistner had on the community. “They put everything into their program,” Pajer said. “For them, it was all about making a difference and building lifelong relationships. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Guest speakers for the clinic will include Fred Brewington, who coached with the honorees, and Vincent DiGaetano, an assistant coach at Fordham University’s football program. Lockwood said he looks forward to sharing the legacies of Britt, James and Leistner. James died in February and Britt in 2015.

“It’s a beautiful thing for both programs to work together,” Lockwood said. “The coaches we’re honoring all had the same beliefs when it came to doing something positive for the community.”