The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its Annual “Essex County Celebrates Youth” Program on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, at the Hall of Records in Newark. This annual event acknowledges outstanding young people throughout Essex County for their notable achievements.
This year’s honorees were: Jaala Williams of Montclair High School, Benjamin Levitt of Livingston High School, Kai Strothers of Tuscan Elementary School in Maplewood, the University High School Girls Basketball Team of Newark, and the East Side High School Boys Basketball Team of Newark.
Williams, a senior at Montclair High school, made history by participating in NJSIAA’s Inaugural Girls Wrestling Championships at Atlantic City’s famed Boardwalk Hall, where she defeated several opponents to claim a victory as the States Silver place winner in the 136 lb. weight class. As a sophomore, she broke the gender barrier when she joined her high school wrestling team and still receives recognition as Montclair’s only female wrestler.
Williams has competed in dozens of wrestling matches against both girls and boys. In 2019, she was one of the first girls ever to compete at the Essex County Tournament at the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange as part of an historic first season for girls wrestling in New Jersey. In addition, she qualified and placed at the NJSIAA District 11 individual championships in Red Bank, where she was one of only two Montclair wrestlers to qualify for Regionals. She went on to defeat several opponents at Regionals, and was Montclair’s sole wrestler to advance to the State finals in Atlantic City.
When she is not competing on the wrestling mat, Williams has a passion for architecture and an interest in Science and Technology. She is enrolled in programs such as Black Girls Code, the Weston Science Academy at Montclair State University, the Army’s ARDEC Gems, and the W.E.B DuBois Scholars Institute at Princeton University. She has received a scholarship by Udacity for Computer Programming, is a member of the National Society of High School Scholars, and dedicates her time to mentor and encourage other young athletes to pursue and participate in wrestling regardless of their gender.
Eliana Pintor Morin offered greetings to the honorees on behalf of County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and the audience was graced with a performance of the “The Star Spangled Banner” by Jacob-Malachi Appiah of Montclair High School, as well as a rendition of “Tell the World” by Lecrae. Also in attendance were Freeholders Robert Mercado of District 1, Leonard Luciano of District 4, Carlos Pomares of District 5, and At-Large Freeholders Romaine Graham and Patricia Sebold.