Remembering Walter Williams Sr., Rochester’s first African American basketball coach

Remembering Walter Williams Sr.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The community is remembering a giant.

Friends and loves ones will gather for the funeral of Walter Williams Sr. on Saturday. He died last Friday.

Williams was the first African American basketball coach in Rochester.

He was known in the community as an agent of change, a legend who used sports as a way to unite and inspire young people and adults.

Walter Williams is pictured with the Rochester American Giants. (Provided photo)

The elder Williams started his sports career playing for the Rochester American Giants, a baseball team in the Negro League. He was just 15. One of his fondest memories had been meeting Jackie Robinson at the YMCA in Rochester. Robinson told him to “keep up the good work.”

And he did, working as a camp director and site coordinator at the Rochester Housing Authority and then as a physical education teacher at School 9 before retiring in 1996.

His son Mel Williams says his father’s biggest impact was at home. It was his father’s life and influence that made him want to win on the hardwood and in life.

“He had me later in years, but I was blessed to have him because he was a bundle of joy, love and laughter, and knowledge,” the younger Williams said.

His father was the first African American coach to win the Section V Class AAA championship in 1977 while coaching at Madison High School.

Walter Williams Sr. is pictured with his award-winning team at Madison High. (Provided photo)

Almost a quarter of a century later, his son led Aquinas Institute to that very same championship in 20000. It was a moment like no other.

“Just to see him with tears [brought] me tears as well. But I was glad I was able to put that inside him, you know? Give him that joy,” Mel Williams recalls.

I was just going there to get an education and play. But I wanted to also leave a mark, kind of like my dad did.

Mel Williams

Calling hours will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 3 at Mount Olivet Baptist Church, 141 Adams St. A funeral service will be held at noon. Interment in Mount Hope Cemetery.