Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, there were certain individuals I knew were destined to be leaders. Participating in sports and playing a particular position on a team provided the precursor to this assumption.
There are many theories about how leaders are determined. Some theorists say they are born; others say leaders can be developed. However, leaders must have a combination of both.
Benjie Wimberly is a combination and example of being born and developed into a leader. From his days of being a star quarterback at Passaic County Technical High School in Wayne, New Jersey, and becoming one of the most successful high school football coaches in the state’s history to becoming Assemblyman and Speaker Pro Tempore leading the 35th District of New Jersey. His ability to lead individuals, teams, and communities has become his trademark.
I’ve witnessed his leadership abilities from our childhood days while attending grammar school together and now. His accomplishments are no surprise to me. Assemblyman Benji Wimberly’s leadership style is transformational and servant, as stated when speaking to some former players, students, and constituents.
He credits many people with providing him with the foundation of learning to lead and serve others, as well as being a devoted father, a husband, and a role model.
I had a chance to sit down with Benjie Wimberly and ask him a few questions about his coaching career, his influences, and why he chose a career in politics, among other topics.
Where were you born and raised?
“I was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey.”
Talk about some of your influences growing up.
“My youth coaches; Tom Fields, New Jersey Bank Shorties (Baseball), Howard Tolbert, Paterson Boys Club (Football), Lou Mathis, Neighbor/Football Legend. My most significant influence growing up was my Mom.”
What sports did you gravitate towards as a kid growing up.?
“ I always found myself loving Baseball and Football growing up more than the other sports.”
When did the love for coaching begin?
“As a kid coaching Street Teams.”
You have coached many student-athletes (Head Coach -Paterson Catholic/Hackensack HS) that went to play collegiately and NFL; who are some of those be student-athletes?
“I was fortunate to coach some great student-athletes during my career who went to play collegiately and professionally, but some of my most notables are Victor Cruz – (NY Giants pictured below), TJ Clemmings – (Vikings, Redskins & Raiders), Alquadeen Muhammad – (Saints, Colts, Bears).”
You are one of the co-founders of the New Jersey Minority Coaches Association; how did this association come about, and what is its mission?
“After the George Floyd’s murder and during COVID-19, many minority coaches were doing zooms on various topics. I, Marion Bell, Luther Johnson, Tarig Holman, and Darnell Grant founded the organization. The mission is to recruit more minority teachers, coaches, and administrators, providing them with professional development and coming together to share knowledge, ideas, and issues that affect coaches of color.”
You have seen and been a part of many decades of football; which decade was the most impactful and why?
“My time at Paterson Catholic from 1995-2009. We took a program that never had a playoff appearance and won 7 State Championships and 8 League Championships. To go along with helping hundreds of kids to get football scholarships and ultimately become productive citizens.”