The words “Coach Don Kent” are now inscribed into the basketball court at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst.
The honor couldn’t have been bestowed upon a more deserving person.
On Jan. 6, at its annual alumni basketball day, Msgr. McClancy celebrated the legacy of its winningest boys’ varsity coach. Many of Kent’s former players came out to relive their cherished high school moments playing under the longtime coach.
For a coach, the highest honor one can receive is to have the court named after them. From 1982-2014, Kent guided countless young lives on and off the basketball court.
“I’m honored, and it’s nice to be remembered,” said Kent, who coached for 31 seasons at McClancy after starting his coaching career with stops at Mater Christi H.S., Astoria, and Christ the King H.S., Middle Village. “I gave my heart and soul to McClancy. I was good for McClancy, and McClancy was good for me.”
From his early days as a grammar school student at Holy Name of Jesus, Park Slope, Kent knew basketball would be a central part of his life. He played at St. Francis Prep, Williamsburg, and then at St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge City, Kansas.
After returning home to earn a master’s degree in history at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and another master’s degree in physical education and athletic administration from New York University, Manhattan, he was eager to begin his career as a teacher and coach.
His attention to detail was a guiding factor in his long, successful career. While addressing the crowd on alumni day, Kent recalled his first CHSAA league game win over Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, in 1982.
Despite being extreme underdogs, the Crusaders turned in an impressive 70-69 victory over the Stanners, who were led by future NBA player Kenny Smith.
He called that first year a “miracle season” after the team finished in second place and advanced to the CHSAA city semifinals. Over the years, his teams were consistently competitive, with some highlights being the 1990 CHSAA ‘B’ city championship crown and winning a school record 20 games during the 1992-1993 season.
Kent is a member of several halls of fame, including the Msgr. McClancy Athletics Hall of Fame, CHSAA Hall of Fame, New York State Basketball Hall of Fame, St. Francis Prep Hall of Fame, and Basketball Old-Timers of America Hall of Fame.
Though health problems slowed him slightly toward the end of his career, his passion for the game and for helping young people never waned. His reputation as a true gentleman is rooted not in the 343 wins he tallied while at the helm of the Crusaders but instead in the values of sport he displayed.
An example can be seen in a letter sent to then-McClancy President Brother Robert Connolly, SC, in February 2000 by Father Anthony J. Sansone of St. Rosalia-Regina Pacis, Bensonhurst.
Father Sansone, currently the pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood, had just attended a basketball game between McClancy and Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, and felt compelled to inform Brother Robert of the indelible impression Kent left on him.
“Mr. Kent is in a class all by himself,” the letter states. “I met a coach who finally knows how to inspire greatness and at the same time be sensible and sensitive to his players. … What a wonderful role model and guide for young people who so much need this kind of caring in our time. I believe young people could learn so much more from someone of his caliber.”
It’s the content of this letter — not the wins, not the championships, not the Coach of the Year accolades, not the Hall of Fame enshrinements — that ultimately led to Coach Kent’s name being on the McClancy court.
The impact he had on the McClancy, CHSAA, and local basketball communities will forever live on in East Elmhurst. Now that’s the true definition of a legacy.