A portion of the county road Brookside Avenue, between Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road, was renamed July 8 for beloved Freeport educator, coach and school board member Ernest J. Kight Jr.
Kight was a Freeport native who graduated from Freeport High School in 1971, taught social studies there starting in 1975 and subsequently served as principal of J.W. Dodd Junior High School. He returned to Freeport High School as assistant principal in 1991, stepped into the role of interim principal there in 2008 and then became principal in 2009. After retiring in 2015, he ran successfully for the Freeport Board of Education, serving as the board’s president from 2019 until he died unexpectedly on Feb. 27 this year at age 68.
In addition to his work as an educator, Kight coached the victorious Lady Red Devils, Freeport’s girls’ high school basketball team. The team memorialized their coach after a March 10 tribute ceremony by walking en masse along South Brookside Avenue to the high school. Five of them carried a large red sign with white lettering that read, “Ernest J. Kight, Jr., a Man of Integrity, Honor, and Respect. The Lady Devils Salute You! Your Legacy Will Live Through Us.”
According to the Freeport Public Schools website, many who knew Kight had dubbed him “Mr. Freeport” for his unparalleled involvement in his community.
At the July 8 renaming, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran was accompanied by County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams and Legislators Debra Mulé and Steve Rhoads, as well as educator and former guidance counselor Dr. Diane Caruso, Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, Schools Superintendent Dr. Kishore Kuncham, Freeport School Board President Maria Jordan-Awalom, School Board Vice President Gabby Castillo, School Board Trustees Vilma Lancaster, Sunday Coward and Ron Ellerbe (who is also Freeport deputy mayor), and Kight’s family, friends and former students.
Mulé emceed, saying Kight was principal of Freeport High School when her daughters attended there. “He was a take-charge person who at the same time was a calming presence,” Mulé said. “That’s a rare gift.”
Mulé drew laughter when she reminded her listeners of Kight’s well-known red sports car. In remembrance, Mulé, Abrahams and several others attending the renaming wore red.
“After [the renaming] was approved,” Mulé said, the Freeport Department of Public Works “asked what color the sign should be. Spoiler alert: It’s red!”
Curran said, “The fact that so many of you are here really speaks to how important Ernie Kight was to Freeport. . . . He touched so many lives, generations of lives.”
Abrahams said many who had been under Kight’s tutelage did well in life, “some of them going on to the best universities, some of them going on to the best work environments. . . . That is a testament of who he was, inspiring and getting others ahead of the game as well.”
Kennedy said, “Ernie will be missed by his students, his teachers and all the Village of Freeport residents. . . . I’m proud to join our elected officials and all of our residents here in renaming this street in his honor.”
Kuncham said, “Certainly Ernie, in his role as the coach of the Freeport girls’ basketball, his combination of discipline and integrity, turned Freeport Lady Devils into a basketball powerhouse, bringing pride to the school district and to this great community. And his value as a mentor to hundreds of young girls far surpassed anything that happened on the court.”
Caruso thanked Mulé and Freeport phys. ed. teacher Jimmy Jones for coordinating the event. “Ernie would be so proud and humbled and honored having this particular street named for him, as he spent so many happy years up and down Ernest J. Kight Jr. Way,” Caruso said.
The legislators presented Caruso with a copy of the street renaming resolution, a citation in her husband’s honor and a copy of the street sign. Caruso then took the string attached to the black cloth bag covering the actual sign. Cheers and applause erupted as she pulled the bag aside to reveal the red sign that read, “Ernest J. Kight Jr. Way.”
“It is an everlasting tribute to all his work and love of the Freeport community,” Caruso said, “and it ensures that his legacy will not be forgotten.”