Not much certainty for emergency coaches

The Baltimore Sun

Taking a team to the state basketball championship game, where you lose by five in double overtime with a player on the winning team having to score 25 points and pull down 28 rebounds, ought to earn a coach a measure of security.

Yet, for Darnell Dantzler, Dunbar's new boys coach, there is no guarantee he will be back next year to lead the Poets.

"Nothing has been settled yet. What I try to do is take it one game at a time," Dantzler said last week before the 1A semifinals. "My job is to try to keep the boat afloat and make sure what needs to be done [gets done]. We want to make sure we win a state championship and win all of our games. Everything else will take care of itself."

Maybe. Maybe not. Dantzler, who took over for Eric Lee just as the season started, is a so-called emergency coach, someone who runs a team in the absence of a qualified teacher.

State educational rules regulating the use of emergency coaches aren't overly demanding on either side. The Code of Maryland Regulations states that a person "acceptable" to the local school system, who is at least 21 years old and has a high school diploma, may be a high school coach on a one-season basis.

Of course, the regulations don't specify what is "acceptable" for an emergency coach, nor, for that matter, do they spell out what is acceptable for a so-called professional educator.

Those nebulous terms have worked out well for principals looking to hire talented coaches who can run talented teams, as well as for coaches who want to guide good teams without having to be tied down in the classroom all day.

Where things become problematic is in those instances when a principal and an emergency coach can't see eye to eye, especially since coaches in those situations don't have the same job protections as teachers on the regular staff.

That's how Dantzler got the Dunbar job in the first place. Lee, who, like Dantzler, played at Dunbar, was fired by principal Roger Shaw in December over "some administrative concerns with problems of protocol and process. Mainly, we're moving in another direction at this point," Shaw told The Sun's Lem Satterfield in January.

Lee had won 143 games and five state championships in six years before he was summarily fired with hardly a public explanation.

Likewise, the eyes of public school lacrosse in this area will be perched on Severna Park, last year's boys state 4A-3A champions, where principal James Hamilton dismissed coach Jim Beardmore, who won 50 of 58 games and two state titles in three years, before the start of practice for the season.

Hamilton, in his first year as principal at the school, did not specify a reason for Beardmore's termination in a letter to the coach, the son of former Maryland lacrosse coach Bud Beardmore.

Nor does he have to. Greg LeGrand, Anne Arundel County's athletics supervisor, said a school's principal has the responsibility of hiring and firing coaches, though he often consults with the athletic director.

It should be noted that there were clouds hanging over Lee and Beardmore before they were let go, though reasonable people could disagree about whether their situations warranted firings.

Lee permitted players in an adult basketball league that is funded by his brother's foundation to use the school's gym in mid-December.

Beardmore was reportedly present when water was splashed on Severna Park players who did not attend the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park in late January. The gathering at the plunge and the subsequent dousing are presumed to be improper out-of-season organized team meetings.

A number of Severna Park players and their parents organized an impromptu rally to lobby the county school system to overrule Hamilton and keep Beardmore.

Instead, Hamilton hired Larry Kramer, the Northeast boys lacrosse coach, the day before practice opened, leaving the Northeast team in the lurch. Beardmore, meanwhile, has taken a job coaching the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse.

The lesson for Dantzler and coaches like him is simple: Winning is nice, but winning alone may not be enough, especially if you and your principal aren't on the same page.

"It can be difficult at times, but that's our job as emergency coaches," Dantzler said. "We already go into the season knowing that we're on a year-to-year basis. I don't worry about it. The key to it is trying to develop the kids to grow them as young men, and also try to get them prepared for college, for their careers outside of high school and also to try to win basketball games. It's a full circle of what needs to be done, but we go through it every year, the emergency coaches, and that is fine. But my key to it is trying to get these kids to win."

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