- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

WALDORF, Md. — When Alayna Dent was 5, she decided she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, Wallace "Pie" Dent, a former top-ranked star in football, wrestling and track at Thomas Stone High School here.

Mr. Dent agreed to help his younger daughter by coaching her, and that led to a big change in his life. He took up coaching part-time as a hobby, but nine years later, he has returned to his alma mater as assistant football coach.

"She really wanted to play football," Mr. Dent says, thinking back to his experience with his daughter on the football field. That was in 1994, when boys of the same age were playing in the "ankle biters" Pee Wee League.

Few spectators or parents knew a girl was on the team.

"For a long time, I wouldn't let them know she was a girl," Mr. Dent says. "I would wrap a bandanna around her head when we went out to practice and games.

"But she had to get up too early," Mr. Dent adds, explaining that they had to set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. to get to practice at 5 a.m. Alayna was allowed to play football only that year.

Now 14, she is still engrossed in sports, playing basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball and also having competed on a swim team for a couple of years.

"I still like football best," she says.

The football infection logically stuck with Mr. Dent, who was a running back and linebacker for three years as a student at Thomas Stone and was a runner as a senior. In one game, he carried 17 times, averaging 15 yards, for a total 268 yards, but he says, "I never played a whole game my senior year."

Mr. Dent then played two years on the "developmental squad" of the National Football League's Cleveland Browns.

"I wasn't good enough to make the 48," the Browns' professional team, Mr. Dent says, explaining that if a Browns running back had been seriously injured, he would have been called up to fill in.

Even after Alayna stopped playing football, Mr. Dent, 42, continued coaching youth-league teams, moving up to work with older youths, many of whom were children of his high school friends. With a big smile, he remembers, "I coached them since they were little kids.

"My biggest gratitude has been teaching kids to grow up [with] the work ethic, to walk the walk and talk the talk," says Mr. Dent.

He has coached some boys from youth league through high school, including Ronnie Wade, Mike Fenimore and Bobby Brown as a quarterback. Bobby Brown is the only white player on the Anacostia High School team and has the nickname "White Chocolate."

"Even though I don't have a son, I've got 32 sons," Mr. Dent says of the players he coaches.

Athletic Director Kevin Heider says, "He's a tremendous coach. He's inspirational, a positive young black role model."

Mr. Dent is pleased with such compliments but says he has adopted traits of his middle school, high school and college coaches.

"I know what my coaches did for me," Mr. Dent says about carrying on that tradition. "Playing with a team makes you unselfish."

Most of all, however, he credits his 65-year-old mother, Amelia Dent.

"Mom is a strong person," Mr. Dent says. " 'I can't' is not in our vocabulary, [but] 'I will' is in our vocabulary."

His brother, Derrick, agrees, saying, "She was a mother and father. She's been a pillar in the family. Her siblings say so, too."

Mrs. Dent, who works for the U.S. Postal Service, instilled a spirit of "equality" in her three sons and insisted they do well in school and go on to college.

Derrick, 41, who attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, is an accounting manager for a publishing firm, and Ganziel, 40, who attended North Carolina A&T State University, works for United Parcel Service.

Mr. Dent, who also attended Morgan State, transferred to Louisiana State University, where he played three years as a running back.

His uncle Damon nicknamed him "Pie" because as a little farm boy, Mr. Dent had a round face like a pie. "Even now, he is better known as Pie," Derrick says.

Mr. Dent credits his grandfather's farm, where he grew up, with providing the qualities needed in athletics.

"I was naturally strong from the farm," says Mr. Dent, who is 5 feet 8 and 225 pounds.

He has been employed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority since 1989, and during the recent snowstorms worked long hours repairing and upgrading Metro engines and cars. He says he sometimes worked 16-hour days during five weeks without a day off.

"I got the work ethic down in the country," he says.

Mr. Dent lettered four years each in football, track, high hurdles and wrestling. He still holds several Thomas Stone High School records, although his career mark of more than 3,000 yards gained in football was broken a couple of years ago by Marcus Whalen, now playing for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

He was a running back on the Fort Eustis, Va., football team during his four years of service in the Army. Then he became a tugboat engineer with the Marines.

He met his future wife, Kimberly, in a French class at Thomas Stone in 1978, when he was a sophomore and she was a freshman. They began dating and were married in April 1985.

Mr. Dent says his older daughter, Breanna, 16, is more like Kimberly, who is a history teacher at Westlake High School. Mrs. Dent coaches the Westlake varsity cheerleaders, including Breanna; they are performing in a Maryland state contest this weekend.

Mrs. Dent is not very enthusiastic about another of her husband's avid interests racing hot rods. Driving his 1969 Camaro, he won the ESPN drag race in 2001.

Mrs. Dent prefers that her husband spend his time coaching, which sometimes keeps him away from home until 9 p.m.

"She knows where she can find me when I'm coaching," he says, but hot rod racing takes him out of town every other weekend or even for a week at a time.

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