Montclair school district honors Mounties legend Aubrey Lewis
PHOTO BY ADAM ANIK
by Andrew Garda
This past Saturday, the Montclair school district honored legendary town athlete Aubrey Lewis with the dedication of the Aubrey Lewis Athletic Complex. The complex combines both Fortunato and Woodman Fields, as well as the Furlong Field House.
Speakers at the ceremony, held in front of the field house, included Montclair Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kendra Johnson, Board of Education president Laura Hertzog, Mayor Robert Jackson, former New York Giants receiver David Tyree (who is Lewis’ nephew), and current Mountie Willie Matthews.
Lewis’ son, John E. Lewis, Sr. represented the family at the podium and Aubrey Lewis Jr., Aubrey Lewis III and Dasia Alona Lewis helped unveil the new signage.
Lewis was born and raised in Montclair, and under coaches Clary Anderson and Angelo “Butch” Fortunato, helped guide Montclair High School to two state championships. Lewis rushed for over 4,500 yards and 49 touchdowns during his football career, but also set state records as a sprinter in the 100 and 220-yard dashes, and as a discus thrower, helping win MHS track championships in back-to-back years. He was also a member of MHS’ only unbeaten championship basketball team in the 1953-54 season.
The Newark Star-Ledger named Lewis the Offensive Player of the Century as well.
Lewis attended the University of Notre Dame where he again played football and was named captain of the track team, the first African-American ever named as captain of a Notre Dame athletic team. It was as a track athlete that he won the collegiate 400-meter hurdles championship in 1956.
Lewis was also nearly an Olympian, just missing out on the slot on that 1956 team when his foot hit the final hurdle and he stumbled.
He accomplished all this despite having a heart murmur, which he concealed so he could compete.
After a brief stint with the Chicago Bears, which ended prematurely due to an ankle injury, Lewis continued to break ground as one of the first two African-Americans to complete Federal Bureau of Investigation training at Quantico, VA and when he served as a special agent under J. Edgar Hoover.
Lewis went on to work for Woolworth as an executive recruiter. As commissioner of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, he helped develop the Meadowlands Sports Complex where the New york Jets and Giants still play.
Lewis’ impact continues to be felt today, both by those in the sports community and throughout the township.
“The Aubrey Lewis Sports Complex, it’s well overdue and a great story,” head football coach John Fiore said after the Mounties beat Bloomfield 51-14 in a game attended by much of Lewis’ family. “I’m happy we won… you can’t screw up a dedication day.”
“He was definitely a GOAT [Greatest of All Time] for Montclair, as you can see. [His number] 17 up on the press box. It’s a blessing just to witness something like that,” senior running back Josh Crawford said.
Crawford is also coached by Lewis’ grandson, Aubrey Lewis III.
“To have [Lewis] do what he did in Montclair and then have his grandson coach me and make me a better running back, it’s a blessing to have everyday,” Crawford said.
Lewis, who died on Dec. 10, 2001 at the age of 66, has inspired many generations of student-athletes at Montclair High School, and will continue to do so every time they enter the athletics complex bearing his name.