By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
In February of 2003, Kearny High School wrestler Dawayne Amos Rozzelle enjoyed the biggest Cinderella story perhaps in the history of the Kardinals’ program.
Dawayne Amos Rozzelle entered the NJSIAA District 16 tournament that year with a sub-.500 record and a low seed in the tourney, but he managed to overcome the odds to capture the district gold medal. It was clearly the shining moment in Dawayne’s young athletic life and a moment that is forever remembered in Kearny wrestling folklore.
“That’s who Dawayne was,” said his father, Arthur Rozzelle. “He was a hard worker and an overachiever.”
Almost four years later, on Feb. 13, 2007, Dawayne Amos Rozzelle was gone, dying tragically at the tender age of 22.
Rozzelle was in his second tour of duty with the United States Army, having served 18 months in Iraq and more than three years overall. He was preparing for his next deployment out of Fort Lewis in Washington, but then flew off to Hawaii and for some unknown reason, he took his own life.
“We always wondered what we could have done,” Arthur Rozzelle said. “He was battling things we weren’t aware of. He was our first born. No one prepares you for that. Of course, the military had to have some effect on him. I served in the Marine Corps, so I know what goes on, but it’s hard to blame the military. We’ll always wonder.” “
When he was home the last time during the holidays, we did notice a little struggle in him,” said his mom, Irma. “I just saw him fighting to be himself. He was always the one who wanted to talk to everyone. It’s still hard for us.”
While Dawayne was living in Kearny, attending Kearny High, inspiring others with his never-ending desire to improve, he left an indelible legacy. He was a volunteer coach for the Kearny Recreation wrestling program, constantly giving of his time to help younger kids reach the success that he did as a District 16 champion. He was loved and beloved by all.
“I’ve had people tell me stories about my son that I did not know,” Arthur Rozzelle said. “You hear about the people he touched and it’s amazing. He was a very humble kid who didn’t want credit for what he was doing. He did what he was supposed to do, not what he was told to do. The end was not what we wanted or what we expected, because he was certainly on the right path.” “
He was a great kid,” Irma Rozzelle said. “Anyone who had him in their lives was lucky, because he was just a great kid.”
Since Dawayne’s untimely passing, the Rozzelle family has been working hard to raise money to keep Dawayne’s memory alive. They organized the D.J.A.R. Scholarship Fund (for Dawayne Joel Amos Rozzelle), to award scholarships to graduating Kearny High School seniors to assist with the cost of attending college, university or a trade school.
The scholarship is presented annually, preferably to a wrestler, who displays a lot of the character traits that made Dawayne Amos Rozzelle the special young man he was.
“We look for that,” Arthur Rozzelle said. “We look for the kid who no one expected to do well, who gives 100 percent and achieves, a lot like Dawayne did.”
On Saturday, Sept. 15, from 8 p.m. to midnight, there will be a special ‘80s dance at the LCCC on Davis Avenue in Kearny to help raise money for the D.J.A.R Fund.
Tickets for the event are $35 in advance and $40 at the door.
The response to the dance has been outstanding thus far.
“It’s really been very overwhelming,” Irma Rozzelle said. “It’s a great feeling to know so many people cared, but it’s been an emotional roller coaster. We want this to just be a big party, a celebration of his life and everyone who was in his life. When he left to join the Army, we wanted to have a big party for him. Dawayne loved to dance and loved to have a good time, so this is a big celebration of life. We don’t want it to be a sad party. We want to just be able to help someone and keep his memory alive at the same time.”
But it has been an emotional time for the Rozzelle family.
“The event is a great and worthy cause, but it conjures up memories as well,” Arthur Rozzelle said. “It’s hard. We’re elated to know that the town is organized in helping and it’s amazing to see the love for Dawayne is still there. But the pain doesn’t stop. It’s with us every day.”
The Rozzelle family had six boys. Son Nathaniel is currently in the Marine Corps. The youngest, Michael, is currently a freshman at Kearny High.
“Michael was only nine when Dawayne died,” Irma Rozzelle said. “He looked up to him so much. And there are so many things that Michael does that reminds us of Dawayne. Having this event is great and I can’t thank people like Carol Manley (the manager of the LCCC) for doing what they’ve done. But it does bring it all back a little. The whole event is emotional. He definitely had a champion in him and we’ll remember that champion.”
But it will also bring people together who remember and love Dawayne Amos Rozzelle five years after his unfortunate passing.
For further information about tickets for the 80s dance party fundraiser to benefit the D.J.A.R. Scholarship Fund, log onto www.djarfund.org or call Irma Rozzelle at (917) 751-0665.