Coach plays big role in young lives

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.

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