Very rarely do I write a first-person sports column. There are just so many great sports events and features to report in this diocese!
However, once in a blue moon, a situation warrants itself to giving my personal take.
Recently, I was informed that longtime Msgr. McClancy M.H.S., East Elmhurst, boys’ varsity basketball coach Don Kent would be resigning from the post that he manned for the past 32 seasons.
Basketball became a way of life for Kent, from his days in the schoolyard at Holy Name Elementary School, Park Slope, to St. Francis Prep at its Greenpoint/Williamsburg location and on to St. Mary of the Plains College, Dodge City, Kan.
I knew Coach Kent has had his share of health problems the past few years, but it was never enough to keep him off the court. So when I heard this news, I certainly was a bit upset.
But when I saw him Sept. 6 at his surprise 70th birthday party planned by his good friends Don Hazelton and Sammy Albano, I was glad to see Coach Kent enjoying the company of others while reminiscing about his passion: basketball.
In the wake of Kent’s decision, I can easily use this entire page to rattle off his basketball achievements, such as him being the winningest hoops coach in McClancy history or the fact that he’s been inducted into four different Halls of Fame.
But instead, I’ll take a different approach to display how much of an impact Coach Kent has had on me.
Let’s flashback to the fall of 2010. A wide-eyed young sports reporter Jim Mancari had just broken into the sports landscape of the Diocese of Brooklyn – not knowing much about the diocesan leagues and not having much of a source list whatsoever.
But at the annual McClancy Brother Arnold Bakutis basketball tournament that December, I was introduced to Coach Don Kent.
From day one, Kent welcomed me into both the McClancy and CHSAA families, and he made it a point to introduce me to everyone I needed to know in the diocese’s sports scene. I still have many of the notecards with contact information that Coach Kent had given me at various sporting events.
Over the past few years, every so often I’d receive a phone call from Coach with the scoop for a potential story. I would always ask about his health, and no matter his status, he’d always be in good spirits, which made me feel good upon hanging up.
I’ve been able to turn the far majority of those scoops into sports columns, so for that, I’m very grateful to Coach Kent.
But even more so than always providing me with a good idea, I’m grateful for Coach’s kind demeanor in all aspects of his life. I can only imagine the countless young lives he’s helped form into good, Catholic men during his 40-plus-year coaching tenure, with the first 10 at Christ the King R.H.S., Middle Village.
Though I’m not much of a basketball player, I feel that Coach would have gotten the best out of my abilities with just the way he handled himself and took a special interest in each one of his players on the court. To Coach, every one of his kids was Michael Jordan, and that’s how he went about his business.
It will take some time getting used to not seeing Coach on the Crusader bench when I head out to a McClancy basketball game this winter. But though he may no longer be coaching, I fully expect to see him around the game, especially in helping new varsity head coach Anthony Olszewski – formerly the boys’ junior varsity coach – adjust to his new role.
From my experience in having Coach Kent guide me through a new position, I’m very confident that Olszewski will be in good hands.
In the coming years – hopefully many – I wish Coach the best of health so that he can continue being a positive influence in the lives of everyone from high school basketball players to sports reporters and everyone in between.
No matter where my career as a sports journalist leads me, I’ll always be indebted to Coach Kent – who, more so than a work colleague, I consider a dear friend.
Thanks for everything, Coach!