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Dennis George is no stranger to the sidelines. He began his coaching career as a sophomore in high school with the St. Augustine Cardinals basketball team. He continued on for several years there, ending his tenure there around the same time as former Marion County High School athletes Patrick Campbell and Matthew Thomas were finishing up at St. A.
Down the road, former Lady Knights Head Coach Freddie Leathers asked George to help out. George spent five years on Leathers' staff. He also served several years, off and on, as the president of the basketball booster club since its inception in the early 1990s. On top of that, George coached with Jim Reed at Lebanon Middle School.
To say George is entrenched in the Marion County hoops scene would be an understatement, which is why it may have seemed odd to some fans at the Roby Dome on Friday night to see him on the opposite bench helping coach the Lady Commanders of Washington County. George was brought in to help Washington County Head Coach Bernard Smalley before the season.
"Bernard approached me last year but it didn't work out due to schedule conflicts. This year I'm a volunteer assistant. I've always had the utmost respect for Bernard as a person and a coach," George said.
George said Smalley tells people that since George couldn't beat the Lady Commanderettes, he decided to come over and join them.
"I don't know if I could work with anybody better than Bernard. He gives me a lot of responsibility," George said. "I learned a lot under Freddie. Freddie is one of the best basketball minds I've ever been around. With Bernard, I can take the things I learned and pass them on."
So, what was it like to revisit the floor he spent five years coaching on?
"I wasn't sure what to expect the night of the game. I'm sure a lot of people didn't know I was helping. I was wondering what people's reaction would be," he said. "As far as preparation, it was no different than any other game. I was unsure of people's reaction more than anything else."
"Was it emotional? No. We prepared just like any other game. It didn't mean anything to me after the ball was thrown in the air," George said.
George opted to don a green vest and a navy shirt instead of the Lady Commanderettes red and blue duds.
"It's neutral colors," George said before the game.
George said he contemplated a call to former Knights basketball Head Coach Tim Davis to see how he handled his return to the Roby Dome for the first time after leading the 1993 team to the state title.
George emphasized that the game wasn't emotional like it could have been.
"Most of the kids I coached are no longer in the program," he said. "If those kids were there that would have been difficult. Especially the last group, Jim Reed and I were extremely close to those girls. Most of them are no longer a part of the program. I think the world of those kids, even today. The fact they are gone made it easier. It would have been emotional to see them on the other side. I don't think I could have coached in that game if those girls, who are now seniors, had been on the floor."
George and the Lady Commanderettes lost round one of the rivalry 62-34. They have a chance to avenge the loss on Feb. 13, at Washington County.