Retired cop desires to be Lawrence High basketball coach

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Billy Chester is the first to admit that he has been called many names over the years, from “Billy,” “Detective Chester, “Dad” to “Granddad” – but the name that he cherishes and covets most is “Coach.”

Chester has coached youth basketball for the Lawrence Township Recreation Department since 1990, and also coached in the City of Trenton’s Cadwalader Park summer basketball league.

Now, the retired Lawrence Township police officer would like to coach boys’ basketball at Lawrence High School – but for one detail. Chester does not hold  a teaching certificate or substitute teaching certificate to be able to coach.

State law requires public school athletic coaches to hold teaching or substitute teaching certificates. Earlier this year, Chester unsuccessfully petitioned the state Board of Education to change the rule to allow any public school district employee – not just a teacher or substitute teacher – to coach, provided that the employee has coaching experience.

Chester retired from the Lawrence Township Police Department in December 2014 and was hired by the school district in August 2015 to work as a security monitor at Lawrence High School. As a police officer, he had been assigned to the high school as the school resource officer.

Now, Chester has asked the Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education to consider writing a letter on his behalf to the state Board of Education that would accompany a re-submission of the petition for a rules change.

“It would mean very much to me to have the additional support of the Board of Education of this township that not only helped groom me as a child, but has also inspired me throughout my career and adult life,” Chester told the school board at its July 10 meeting.

Chester said he is “passionate” about basketball. He played on the Lawrence High School boys’ varsity basketball team that finished with a 24-3 season he said.

“There is no one in this entire school that builds positive relationships with the students at Lawrence High School more than me,” Chester said. He tries to push and encourage each student, from the valedictorian to the students with the lowest grade point averages, he said.

“I look at coaching basketball as an organized mentor program, where you have 10 or 12 young men on a team that is led by a mentor who positively coordinates and molds their lives in a way that maximizes their individual potential,” he said.

“I just want an opportunity to interview for a coaching position at Lawrence High School this upcoming school year,” Chester said.

Meanwhile, several recent Lawrence High School graduates who Chester coached in recreational basketball leagues encouraged the school board to honor his request.

Edward Williams said Chester knows how to talk to young people and personally mentored him, while Michael Chilinski said Chester treats everyone with respect and is a role model for them.

Tom Compettielle said teachers make sure students go to class and do their homework, but Chester “pushes you and he sees the potential in everyone.” There are more qualities to being a coach than holding a teaching certificate, he said.

School board president Kevin Van Hise said the request for a letter of support would be referred to the school board’s personnel committee and would be placed on its Aug. 7 agenda.

The personnel committee will study the request and talk about it, and bring it back to the full school board with a recommendation – possibly as soon as the school board’s Aug. 10 meeting, Van Hise said.

“We can let you know what we can and what we cannot do,” Van Hise said.