New Johnson High School wrestling captain: a success story

Dwayne Williams, 17, at Johnson High School after his first day. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Dwayne Williams goes from shy freshman to ‘superstar’

Coming into Johnson High School, Dwayne Williams looked to be a kid full of distractions.

His grades weren’t great. He was hanging around with the wrong kids -- kids who drank and smoked. He even got into some trouble at school.

Living on the lower East Side without a father around, in a full household with five siblings and his mother, he was a bit directionless.

“I really didn’t care about anything my freshman year,” the 17-year-old says.

When he first showed up in the wrestling room freshman year, he was a quiet guy, someone who “wasn’t fully committed, both in sports and in school,” recalls Mason Fong, assistant wrestling coach at Johnson.

“It’s a neighborhood that has a lot of distractions,” adds head wrestling coach Andy Maseus. “We weren’t real excited about having him at that time, because of his attitude and the distractions that he had.”

Maseus says that Williams hardly won a match in his first year. “He was way behind the curve as far as ability.”

But he stuck with it. And slowly, something began to click for him.

Going into senior year, he’s going to be the new wrestling captain; he’s taking advanced placement classes, and he will also be playing varsity football.

“At first I hated wrestling because I sucked at it,” he says. Now, he can’t get enough.

Williams attributes his success in no small part to some adult role models.

“I think what’s changed me,” he says, “is adults around me that actually care about me and want to see me do good and push me to do good.”

Between having a mother who cared, and plugged in coaches, guidance counselor and teachers, he found some direction.

Pushed by role models

Williams recalls Fong asking him about his future.

“He just stayed on me to do better in school and better in life in general,” Williams says.

Jullone Glad, guidance counselor for the American Indian Education Program at St. Paul Public Schools, met Dwayne in the middle of his freshmen year. Williams has American Indian ancestry on his mother’s side.

Glad says that by the end of tenth grade, Williams “just really stepped up his game.”

She attributes some of his success to his involvement in a program for native youths called Dream of Wild Health. It offers programming about health, nutrition and farming for American Indian kids.

Williams has been attending Dream of Wild Health summer programs in Hugo for six summers. This year he filled the role of a youth leader.

Sammie Ardito Rivera, education coordinator for the program, says Dwayne has “this real quiet strength about him.”

It’s evident, she says, that he’s concerned about health and that he’s learned from the program.

Williams received a scholarship from the program this year, which allowed him to buy a laptop, so he can prepare for college.

Ardito Rivera says Williams has grown since he started coming to the program, from a very quiet kid to somebody youngsters look up to.

Looking out for others

Williams’ wrestling coaches also spoke of him as a role model.

For the last two years, Williams has helped kids get into wrestling, by volunteering with a youth wrestling club based at Johnson.

Maseus says he’s been a big part of boosting the membership, and providing a positive role model to the kids who participate.

He happily walks the boys from their houses to practice, and then back home afterwards, and also helps out with coaching them.

He’s brought his younger brothers and cousins along as well.

“I want to see my family out of trouble,” Williams says. “I see myself as a positive role model, I guess.”

Williams’ mother, Tippi Parkhurst, sees him acting as a positive role model for his younger siblings and cousins.

“He has led the way for my two younger sons,” she says. “It’s just amazing to watch him. He’s set nothing but positive examples.”

She says help from his coaches was pivotal.

“He had a lot of positive male role models.”

But she adds that Williams has also taken a lot of his own initiative. “He pulled himself away from anybody that was troublesome on his own.”

As for his father, whom he sees only a couple times a month, Williams finds motivation in the relationship. He says that he hopes to be more of a presence in his children’s lives, should he choose to have them.

“I want to be there for my kids when they need me, and provide for them,” he says.

 A superstar

Williams could be one of the first in the family to get a four-year college degree, something his mother is really pulling for.

Even to graduate from high school is a fairly big accomplishment for the family, Parkhurst says, adding that there’s just a handful of high school graduates in their family.

She says Dwayne makes her want to do better. “When I look at him, I want to show him better because he’s so outstanding,” she says. “He’s my superstar.”

While people may perceive him as a humble, serious and quiet teenager, at home he’s a jokester and can be very fun-loving, she says.

A few weeks ago, he noticed while he was playing basketball with friends that she’d paid his phone bill. When she came to pick him up, “he jumped into the car ... and gave me kisses and told me how much he loves me,” she recalls with a smile.

“He’s a complete package. I’m lucky to be his parent.”

As for his future, Williams has been playing with some ideas, including applying to several four-year colleges or joining the Navy.

His mom is pushing for him to go to college.

One idea is to be a physical therapist, something that could help him stay plugged into sports.

He also hopes to coach for a sports team, be it wrestling or football, or any sport. Wrestling is his favorite, but that’s not the point -- “I want to make a difference in somebody’s life like the coaches in my life make a difference,” he says.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at

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