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Byrd to "fight" to get back Camden job

By Phil Anastasia

Cetshwayo Byrd coached the Camden High School boys' basketball team to the South Jersey Group 3 title in each of his first two seasons.

He hopes to take Camden to the state title next season.

Two sources close to Byrd indicated that the coach intends to "fight" to get back his job as controversy continues to swirl around one of South Jersey's most fabled athletic programs.

At the Camden Board of Education meeting tonight, a recommendation to name former Cherry Hill East coach John Valore as Camden High School's new coach is likely to be tabled.

At the same time, the board is expected to form a committee to take a closer look at the circumstances of Byrd's suspension for the 2013-14 season.

Byrd's supporters are expected to attend the meeting and push for the coach to be re-instated as the Camden coach.

Byrd is believed to have received a letter from the Camden school's central administration in early February indicating that he would be suspended for the 2013-14 season because he had allowed an independent filmmaker, Tony Paris, to produce a documentary on the 2011-12 season without approval from the Camden Board of Education.

Paris' documentary, which focused on the program's history of success and included interviews with Camden High School administrators as well as behind-the-scenes footage in the locker room, was shown a few times on Comcast SportsNet this past winter.

Byrd continued to coach the team after receiving the letter. Camden went 11-5 after Feb. 1, beating powerful teams such as St. Augustine Prep, Camden Catholic, and Eastern, and capturing the program's 43d sectional title with a 67-54 victory over Timber Creek in the South Jersey Group 3 title game March 5.

Camden beat Central Jersey champion Lawrence by 56-52 in the state semifinals on March 8 before losing the state final to Newark East Side, 60-54, on March 10.

Byrd, a Camden graduate who teaches in the Pennsauken school district, was 39-24 in two seasons. He took over a struggling team that had compiled an 8-18 record in 2010-11.

Several sources have indicated that Valore's recommendation along with the unusual circumstances over Byrd's suspension after last season had created the liklihood for protests from the public at the meeting at 7 p.m. Dudley School in East Camden.

Valore, who won 549 games in 35 seasons from 1977-2011 at Cherry Hill East and spent last season as the head coach at Cumberland Regional, was expected to be recommended by Camden interim superintendent Reuben Mills.

Valore is believed to have the support of Camden High athletic director Mark Phillips as well as several former Camden star players such as Arthur Barclay and Dajuan Wagner, who led the team to the 2000 Tournament of Champions title.

However, sources indicate that the city was abuzz over the holiday weekend after word surfaced that Valore would be named the new coach, with some high-ranking political figures expressing concern.

Valore would be Camden's first non-African American boys' basketball coach since Tony Alfano retired after the 1970 season and was replaced by legendary former coach Clarence Turner.

The situation is complicated by concern on the part of some Camden basketball supporters and others in the community over the circumstances of the suspension of Byrd, a 1988 Camden graduate.

Byrd's supporters believe that a season's suspension was too severe of a punishment, especially since a couple of his supervisors, Phillips and principal James Thompson, appeared on the film.

Byrd has declined to comment since confirming his suspension shortly after the end of the season.

A source indicated that Byrd's suspension -- which was not a board of education action -- was brought to the board's attention at a meeting a couple of months ago.

But at the time, the board was pre-occupied with concerns over a state takeover of the school system and took no action on Byrd's situation, the source said.

Valore was the head coach at Cherry Hill East from 1977-2011. His teams compiled a record of 549-363 and won 20 games in a season 10 times.

The basketball coach at Cherry Hill East is named "John Valore Court."

Valore retired from coaching at Cherry Hill East because he also had retired from teaching and he said that the Cherry Hill Board of Education has traditionally been adverse to having adjuncts as head coaches of varsity programs.

He also knew his former player and assistant coach, Dave Allen, was in line to become the Cougars' coach.

Allen called Valore "One of the finest men I know" and expressed confidence that Valore would be a good coach for Camden.

"He's one of the best teachers and coaches I'ver seen seen," said Allen, the head coach at Cherry Hill East.

Valore was out of coaching during the 2011-12 season. He returned last season as the head coach at Cumberland Regional, a program without much of a basketball tradition.

Cumberland was 4-23 under Valore last season.

Some of Valore's best teams in the 1980s and 1990s played some memorable games against Camden. His 1986 team, which featured four 1,000-point scorers, lost two fierce battles with a Camden team that went 31-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.

Valore is believed to have the support of former legendary Camden players such as Arthur Barclay, Vic Carstarphen and Dajuan Wagner.

Barclay, a 2000 Camden graduate who was a voluntary assistant under Byrd last season, has indicated a willingness to stay on Valore's staff.

Carstarphen, a 1988 Camden graduate who played on two state championship teams, interviewed for the head coaching job but was not considered to be a viable candidate because he doesn't have a teaching certificate. He also has indicated a willingness to serve as an assistant under Valore.

Wagner, a 2001 graduate widely regarded as the best player in South Jersey history, also has expressed support for Valore, according to a source close to Wagner.

Contact Phil Anastasia at Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.