Girls Varsity Basketball Coach Passed Over at Knox County
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By David Sharp
According to the Publicly Accessible Executive Session Minutes from the March 14, 2023 Knox County R-I Board of Education Meeting, Head Girls Basketball Coach James Dent was not offered employment by the district for the 2023-24 school year.
The motion and subsequent 7-0 roll call Board vote was “Upon the Recommendation of the Administration”. The adopted Board motion did not specifically mention the teaching or “extra duty” portion of contracts typically extended to extracurricular activities coaches or sponsors.
The Motion not to offer employment was contained in the section of the Executive Minutes regarding “Employment-Certified Staff Probationary Contracts.”
The Minutes of the March 14, 2023 Knox County R-I can be found in this, or a future edition of the Edina Sentinel or on the Edina Sentinel web site, www.edinasentinel.com
The Edina Sentinel reached out to James Dent and to Knox County R-I Superintendent of Schools Mr. Andy Turgeon for comment. Mr. Dent issued a statement to sportswriter David Sharp and to the Sentinel.
As of this writing, Mr. Turgeon or any representative of the District has not responded to our request. Most of the time, school districts do not comment to the Media about personnel matters.
The Lady Eagles have struggled to get girls out for varsity basketball ever since James Dent was hired as head coach after District champion coach Kelsey (Dorsey) Calvin resigned to accept a teaching and coaching job at Louisiana, Missouri HS.
The Lady Eagles have not had enough basketball players for a JV squad since their most recent district championship season. In full disclosure, Knox County has struggled to get girls out for track and field as well as softball in the same approximate four year time period.
Part of James Dent’s statement to the Edina Sentinel addressed the lack of success in terms of varsity wins and losses in the most recent two seasons. “I also think having back to back two win seasons was a factor here,” James Dent said. “If that’s the case, let’s be honest about it.”
Mr. Dent began his statement with a frank admission of the circumstances under which he is leaving the Knox County R-I School District at the end of the current school year.
“My departure from Knox County R-I as a teacher and coach was not my decision,” James Dent said. “It was my intention to remain here until retirement. Two years ago, we graduated the core of the (varsity girls’ basketball) team and it was obvious that this program would struggle to compete due to lack of numbers and experience.”
“Despite that and an opportunity to go elsewhere, I opted to remain loyal to the players and ride out this rough patch with them. I didn’t want to be one of those coaches that leaves when times get rough,” Coach Dent said.
“Too many times coaches leave to avoid those so called down years, and the kids suffer,” Dent said. “Many of these kids had never had the same coach year to year. I thought I could change that. I thought loyalty mattered.”
“All that came to a screeching halt on December 21, (2022) when I was summoned to the Principal’s office. I was informed that I didn’t have enough votes with the Board of Education to get rehired for next year,” James Dent said.
For background purposes, Knox County had varsity girls’ basketball games with Canton and at Milan cancelled because of a lack of available players. The Lady Eagles played with five or six active players most of the 2022-23 season.
Knox County finished with a varsity girls record of 2-20 on their most recent season.
“I was told this was due to the lack of growth of the girls’ basketball program in terms of numbers. After that conversation, and a subsequent conversation in early March, I was left with the impression that my removal was a Board of Education driven decision,” James Dent said.
“After it was clear I would not be turning in a letter of resignation, on March 14 I was given a summative evaluation in which I was not recommended for a contract renewal,” Dent said.
“This makes it an administration driven decision rather than a decision driven by the (Board of Education.) Either way it doesn’t really matter. It just seems odd that the same person who recommended my contract not be renewed wrote me a letter of recommendation to work at another school,” James Dent said.
“In my opinion this was a (Board of Education) driven decision and someone didn’t like the optics of that.”
James Dent continued to talk about the issue of player numbers since his hiring at Knox County. “I have done everything in a coach’s power short of recruiting players from other schools to change that,” Dent said. “The time to get kids interested in a sport is in that pre-middle school phase. I have taken action to address that with camps in the summer.”
Most of the kids currently in High School were in that pre middle school phase before I got here. I think that fact is being ignored.” Mr. Dent talked about Covid related restrictions on high school and other sports during the 2020 season.
“Since then, I have held camps for both youth and middle school players. The last two years I took our middle school players to Brashear for their summer shootout,” Dent said. “I feel like these efforts have helped increase the interest level within that age group,”
“It seems those efforts and the increase in numbers at the middle school level are being ignored. I feel like if I’m blamed for low numbers at the varsity level, you have to give me credit for the increased number at the middle school level.”
High school sports participation numbers as well as wins and losses tend to be cyclical. During a recent track and field season, Knox County had as few as four girls go out for track if memory serves.
The Lady Eagles may have nine girls from their incoming freshman class go out for basketball next season. Knox County will likely have at least five girls off their 2022-23 team return next season.
The Edina Sentinel asked James Dent about his future plans. “I plan to stay in education for at least four more years so I can get full retirement,” James Dent said. “I have been offered and accepted a science teaching position at the Canton RV school district.”
As of now, I will not be coaching. Maybe in a couple of years, I will look to get back to that,” Mr. Dent said. “To be honest, the experience here has left me feeling negative about coaching high school sports.”
“I am open to changing, but that’s going to take some time.”