JERSEY CITY, NJ – A high school gymnasium here will be named after a Winton native who excelled as a prep and college athlete and later made her mark as a well-respected coach.
The Jersey City School Board voted to name the McNair College High School Gymnasium in honor of its longtime volleyball coach Sharon Felton. It is believed to be the first time that a sports facility at a Jersey City public school has been named after a woman.
Daughter of the late Reverend James A. Felton and Annie V. Felton, who made Winton their home.
From Grades 1 to 8, Sharon Felton attended the historic CS Brown School in Winton.
When the “freedom of choice” policy was implemented in North Carolina, one of the provisions allowed children to attend the school they wanted.
“During the 1960s, my parents chose for me and my siblings to go to the Euro-American Integrated School in Ahoskie,” recalls Felton. “My father was one of the main civil rights leaders in our region. He and others fought for an equal education for African Americans.
Felton joined the Ahoskie High basketball team where she played from 1966 to 1970.
“Coach Tommie Mitchell was a great coach [at Ahoskie High School]”said Felton.” He treated me fairly. He showed no bias because of his color or race. It was a pleasure to have him as a coach and mentor.
Felton took her growing athletic talent to St. Augustine University in Raleigh, where she played basketball for four years and graduated in 1974.
“Under coaches Dean Twitty and Dean Forte, we were unbeaten in my last year, won the conference championship and I was named MVP,” Felton recalls.
After college, Felton moved to Jersey City to seek employment and where his aunt and uncle were educators.
“There were more job opportunities for African Americans in the North,” she noted.
Felton landed a job in 1976 to teach at the newly opened McNair Academic High School.
According to an article written by Jake Maher of the Jersey Journal, Felton has become a living legend of the school, known for her success as a volleyball coach and her larger-than-life personality.
In her interview with Maher, Felton said she was “honored and grateful” for this recognition. She thanked the board, her former students and especially her parents.
“My parents were educators and emphasized the importance of learning, being honest, respectful and giving to others… it’s in my DNA,” she said.
“(Felton) is someone who is seen as something of an icon in the McNair community,” said Jersey City School Board Chairman Mussab Ali, whom Felton taught when he was a student there. “Her legend spans the generations of students who have had her.”
Felton began coaching volleyball “around 1987,” she said, and posted an impressive record, winning seven city championships and the 2011 league championships with the women’s team and the 2009 divisional title for. the men’s team. Winning those volleyball championships was the favorite memory of her 37 years at McNair, she said.
She has developed a reputation for a formidable presence on the court, captured by her nickname: “The Feltonator”.
“She stalked the sideline with passion and fire, chewing on referees and players when she felt they had done something wrong,” Jalia Carter said in a letter to the school board recommending the gym’s name change.
Carter played for Felton at McNair and she is now the school’s volleyball coach.
But Felton wasn’t just tough for the sake of being tough. She demanded the best from her players because she knew they could do it and wanted to see them succeed, Carter wrote.
“Yes, I have been tough at times because of the principles and values I inherited from my parents,” Felton said. “Both were educators and my father served in the United States Marine Corps. In fact, he was a Marine from Montfort Point and a drill instructor. My philosophy aligns with the qualities my parents instilled in our family, that we should use our gifts and talents for the greater good of all.
Felton was known as much for her community leadership in McNair as for her athletic leadership. She often organized events for good causes, such as charity car washes the team had to attend and breast cancer awareness walks. She has continued this commitment since she retired from McNair. No, she participates in the Union Street Block Association, voter registration campaigns, women’s history events, and cancer marches.
In 2014, she founded the Mandela Garden where she grows kale, cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers, among others, and shares the products with her community.
“It wasn’t just about volleyball,” Carter wrote. “Mrs. Felton was and continues to be about people.